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article imageUnique business created to save North America's monarch butterfly

By Karen Graham     Aug 22, 2018 in Business
What do farms and parkas have to do with monarch butterflies? It's all part of an initiative by farmers in Quebec and Vermont to grow milkweed for the endangered butterflies, and it's getting a boost from a parka company using the plant's fibers..
The initiative is all part of an experimental manufacturing and retailing effort, which started in 2016 when Quebec-based startup, Quartz Co. made and sold a few hundred coats with milkweed fiber as the insulation.
The special milkweed insulation was created by Quebec's Fibres Monark using vegetable fiber from milkweed plants grown in the Saint Lawrence valley. "Milkweed was considered to be a bad weed for a long time. We knew it had thermal benefits, but it was impossible to transform it for industrial use," Nathalie Morier, the general director of Fibres Monark, told CBC Canada in 2016.
"We worked hard. It took a few years of research and development in order to be able to extract the fiber and the seed to transform it into insulation." After perfecting the process, Quebec entrepreneur Jean-Philippe Robert heard about it and jumped on the bandwagon.
Parkas from Quartz  based outside Montreal  are sold in more than 275 stores in 20 countries as well...
Parkas from Quartz, based outside Montreal, are sold in more than 275 stores in 20 countries as well as online.
Robard and his brother had bought the winter clothing company, Quartz Co. in 2014, and they decided to take a chance on creating a unique product using the milkweed fiber while helping to save an endangered species. Quartz Co. partnered up with Fibres Monark to manufacture the jackets, which are being sold online.
“When we heard about milkweed we jumped on it,” said Francois-Xavier Robert. “It’s part of our generation to be a bit more eco-friendly and responsible. The project seemed pretty aligned with our values.”
Not surprisingly, after experiencing modest growth of its distribution last year, the company is introducing its third generation in September and additional styles in October, according to the Toronto Star.
Over the past two decades  the number of Monarch butterflies migrating south  mainly to Mexico  in w...
Over the past two decades, the number of Monarch butterflies migrating south, mainly to Mexico, in winter to escape the cold has dropped by 90 percent
Yuri Cortez, AFP/File
Monarch butterflies depend on the versatile milkweed plant
It may be hard for people to understand, but monarch butterflies depend on the American milkweed, Asclepias, for their survival.
The leaves of the Asclepias species are the only food source for monarch butterfly larvae and other milkweed butterflies. Milkweed is also the sole host plant where the butterflies lay their eggs.
Milkweed is just that, though - a noxious weed and is toxic and may cause death when animals consume large quantities of the plant. Milkweed also causes mild dermatitis in some who come in contact with it. And over the years, the plant has all but disappeared from our farms, highways, and byways.
But surprisingly, milkweed has had it day in the sun. The milkweed filaments from the coma (the "floss") are hollow and coated with wax, making them good for insulation qualities. During World War II, as part of the war effort, more than 5,000 tons of milkweed floss was collected in the United States as a substitute for kapok.
Photograph of a Monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus ) caterpillar feeding on a leaf of the Swamp Mil...
Photograph of a Monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus ) caterpillar feeding on a leaf of the Swamp Milkweeden (Asclepias incarnata).
2007 Derek Ramsey
A wartime pamphlet encouraged children to gather milkweed. A brochure produced by the Soil Conservation Service for War Hemp Industries urged: “School children of America! Help save your father’s, brothers’, and neighbors’ lives by collecting milkweed pods.”
Today, milkweed is grown commercially as a hypoallergenic filling for pillows, used for cleaning up oil spills, and now, as insulation for winter coats.
Today, more than 100 farmers in Quebec, Canada and more than a half dozen in Vermont are growing milkweed for the Monark co-operative, tapping Quartz Co. as their only market for the clothing insulation. And Quartz parkas are now sold in over 275 stores in 20 countries, as well as online, according to the Associated Press.
More about Monarch butterfly, Quebec, Vermont, Milkweed, Quartz Co
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