Wool Buyers Come to the People

Navajo Times / Cindy Yurth
Daisy Begay of Burnt Corn, Arizona, waits for her wool to be weighed Thursday in Pinon, Arizona.

Published June 18, 2017

PIÑON, ARIZONA – For decades, the only place for Navajo ranchers to sell their wool was at the trading post. As trading posts became fewer, and fewer of them stayed in the wool business, the prices fell, but most ranchers grit their teeth and accepted it, not having the money to drive out of the area looking for a better price.

For the last six years, they’ve had another alternative, and many of them are taking advantage of it. A coalition of wool and mohair buyers has been coming to the rez.

Not only do the growers not have to drive as far — the buyers say they figure any one of their stops is within 40 miles of most of the ranchers in the area — but the prices are better. These guys are sort of reverse capitalists. They’re deliberately trying to drive up the price, as long as they can still make a modest profit.

“I call it economic jujitsu,” said Edward R. “Teddy” Varndell, the mohair buyer. “The first year we came out, the border towns were offering 40 cents a pound for mohair. I started offering 75 cents. The border towns went to $1.50. So we went to $1.60.”

This is not something you’re likely to learn in business school. But Varndell and the other buyers, Stanley Strode of Mid-States Wool Growers and Peter Hagerty of Peace Fleece, are not your average businessmen.

“It’s not philanthropy by any means,” said Varndell. “We are trying to make a living. But we want to do it in a way that we can help support the economy and the culture on the reservation.”

The group will be at the Kaibeto Chapter House June 16, the Tuba City Fairgrounds June 17, the Dilkon Chapter House June 18 and Navajo Nation Fairgrounds June 19.

Buying will be from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. except in Window Rock, where it will end at 11. At most of the stops, the wool will be checked for quality and the seller will be offered cash. Window Rock will be a “wool pool” where the sellers will be offered a price based on the average grade of all the wool, but may get an extra check later after the wool is graded separately.

“So if you want cash immediately, don’t come to Window Rock,” advised Varndell. “But if you know you have a good product, and you’re willing to wait for your check, then Window Rock might be your best option.”

Editor’s Note: This article was first published in the Navajo Times. Used with permission. All rights reserved.

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