By M.J. Bale Staff
It’s been a year since the launch of M.J. Bale’s single-source Kingston suits, constructed entirely from merino wool produced at 113-year-old, fourth-generation run Kingston farm in the Tasmanian wilds. “M.J. Bale’s funding… has impacted in terms of the type of sheep I want to run and the improvement of the local environment here,” says Kingston owner, Simon Cameron. “It’s also made me realise how far customers are removed from the products that they purchase… it helps people understand that what they’re buying does have an origin. It’s not just a piece of clothing.”
MJB: Simon, it’s always great to speak to you. We know you’re in the cottage at Kingston, because we called your landline. How is everything down there?
SC: I’ve actually only arrived here. I’ve been away for a few days. But, yes, it’s just lovely coming back. As our former manager Lyndel used to say, ‘the only good thing about leaving Kingston is the drive back in here of a morning’. It’s still and it’s quiet. It’s a bright sunny morning and I’m looking across the hill right now. It’s pretty dry time of year, but the bush still has a green tinge. It’s a good place to be right now.
MJB: How are those Kingston merinos going? We trust they’re well, too.
SC: Yes, they’re going ok. The wethers that produce the really good wool are scattered about the bush. I hope that they’re doing what sheep need to do at this time of the year, which is growing good wool.
MJB:We know you visited Vitale Barberis Canonico (VBC) last year, the Italian mill who weaves Kingston wool into fabric for our Kingston suits. That must have been a nice experience, for a number of reasons. Firstly, though, did you wear one of your own Kingston suits to VBC?
SC: I’m very proud of my Kingston suit, and, yes, I wore it to VBC. I have one of the Made in Japan Collection ones, and being a farmer I don’t get a lot of opportunities to wear it. But I’m a very proud owner. Yeah, look… for a number of years we’ve been providing the wool to Italian mills. The wool we produced on Kingston was graded and auctioned off, then blended with wool from other properties and turned into suiting fabric. And that’s ok. You felt the fabric and it’s alright. But this single-source collaboration with M.J. Bale actually put me in touch with VBC and the fabric that came just from Kingston wool. I don’t know how to describe the difference between M.J. Bale’s Kingston fabric and the previous stuff, but the touch and the feel of these suits is incredible.
The visit sort of struck a chord with me and it really made me think about my breeding of sheep at Kingston. Sheep are not static. The breeding changes over time and it made me think that I’ve got to be careful what I do and not lose the qualities of traditional superfine sheep that have been the mainstay of the Kingston flock. I have to say that I’ve now put my money where my mouth is. I recently bought a couple of rams from a stud near Dunkeld, Victoria, that some people would argue is turning back the clock. I’ve bought a slightly smaller sheep that doesn’t produce the same volume of wool as the bigger merinos, but the quality is far greater. It will ensure that we maintain the integrity in the wool that gives the end fabric the drape and other amazing qualities that they have. I need to do this to retain the quality of my wool that are now ending up in M.J. Bale suits.
MJB: We’re very glad to hear it, Simon. Speaking of quality, can you tell us how your project to improve the natural values of Kingston is going? (As part of the M.J. Bale-Kingston collaboration, M.J. Bale buys up to 40% of every wool bale produced on Kingston, then gives back to the Cameron family a percentage of every Kingston suit sale to be reinvested into on-farm projects that protect the natural environment and threatened flora-fauna.
SC: To a small business such as Kingston, the contribution from M.J. Bale is not insignificant. I’ve received a number of payments now and they’re much appreciated. And they are enough to make a difference, let me tell you. The first round of funds I used to help with erosion work. It was part of a program I had started earlier, but I needed additional funding to do some work on the river here. And that’s been successful. Mother nature is a very powerful beast and at certain times of the year we get a lot of water through Kingston. A lot of water comes through the river and the other water courses. This can do a lot of damage, where it can cut into the banks of the river and so on, so we have to shore up those banks. And by shoring the banks up it lessens the erosion. This means less damage on the farm and less silt going down the river and creating problems downstream. It has a positive impact on the farm and benefits the community.
There’s a number of other things I’m working on. One that I think is very important in terms of land management is protecting our hilltops. There tends to be bare hilltops in many areas of our country, where the vegetation has disappeared over time. This might be because sheep tend to graze those areas heavily. They camp there at night and trees and shrubs don’t grow. I’m exploring ways to regenerate the vegetation on the hilltops. We’ll plant trees and shrubs within the areas, such as a native bush called prickly tree violet. It’s a small, very prickly bush that provides ground cover and shelter for small wild animals. The trees that we prefer to grow are eucalyptus pauciflora, a type of snow gum. I’ll fence off 50 acres at a time so wild animals or sheep can’t graze there while the regeneration takes place. I think it’s very important for long term land management. It’s like a lot of land conservation stuff: you don’t do it for the economic benefit, because there just isn’t any in the short term. By restoring the hilltops I can’t graze more sheep or do this or that to earn more money. But if you want to manage the land I believe these projects are very important. So much time and effort is involved here to make it look as though nothing has happened.
MJB: From our point of view that’s music to our ears, and we’re equally proud to be working with you. I guess we had always hoped this project would make a positive impact, but until you hear what’s actually happening at a farm level, you don’t fully understand the flow-on effect that a suit purchase in, say, Brisbane, can have on a farm in Tasmania, and following on from that the environment around it.
SC: Yes, I think the collaboration itself has had a number of spin-offs. We’ve talked about one, and that’s the benefit of M.J. Bale’s funding and how that has impacted in terms of the type of sheep I want to run and the improvement of the local environment here. It’s also made me realise how far customers are removed from the products that they purchase, or at least the luxury fibre, in this case, that goes into the products. What you guys have done – in particular, Matt Jensen – has provided the opportunity to bridge the gap a little and I hope that’s something we can keep developing. Look, it helps people understand that what they’re buying does have an origin. It’s not just a piece of clothing. There’s a story to how the fibre was produced. Coincidentally, a couple of weeks ago we had a visit from a guy who was an M.J. Bale customer and had bought a suit from the Kingston collection. For him to visit the farm it joined up a number of dots that hadn’t been obvious to him until he came here.