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The future of wool - Australian Wool Innovation

RECENTLY, Australian Wool Innovation (AWI) hosted an information evening at the Hamilton Exhibition building for those in the wool industry to identify future wool trends.

Marius Cumming of AWI explained that the wool grower is a long way away from the designer and the catwalk, and there is a lot of processing that goes on between the two.

Although wool itself has been refined through genetics, breeding, and selection, so too has the woollen garment.

Marius showed us new looks for woollen clothing – everything from sports attire to high end Prada plaid bomber style jackets. At first glance, we may not recognise them as wool, but the touch is unmistakeable. Designers like Prada and other top end fashion manufacturers are featuring more environmentally and sustainable fibre choices.

We have had machine washable wool for some time but with continued development and an emphasis on wearability, versatility and reducing wastage, there is a whole new range of clothing that is likely to appeal to everyone from the cyclist, to those working in the corporate sector.

There were knitted blazers and jackets that could be scrunched into a backpack, then worn in a corporate environment, and there was a blazer that you could seriously put on and ride your bike to work in.

Another really exciting change is that we are now producing these knitted jackets in one piece – circular knitted. What that really means is there is no cutting and stitching of pieces together to make a jacket – there is no wastage. This is incredibly exciting, given that traditional forms of joining garment pieces means that there is significant wastage that goes to landfill, it is more financially efficient for the manufacturer, and better for our environment.

Another change is digital printing onto wool. If items don’t sell, then they can be changed. Cycling wear is also an expanding market – replacing lycra with woollen products.

Multifunction and ease of wear and care, coupled with environmental benefits, is where this industry is heading, and is doing so quite rapidly.

Marius highlighted the fact that 85 per cent of Australia’s wool goes to China, and that we are to a large degree, reliant on that market. He also said not to lose sight of the fact that China is reliant on our wool – in order to sustain their factories, levels of employment, and sales of the finished products, that reliance is two-sided. China cannot purchase the levels of wool they require from other sources.

AWI is developing other markets, in particular Vietnam for manufacturing, but China will remain the dominant market because of their diverse technical manufacturing capabilities. It is interesting to note that the Australian industries that the Chinese Government have chosen to punish in our trade dealings are industries that the Chinese do not further manufacture. For example, our wool and iron ore are manufactured from a raw product through to a useable end product. Our wine, beef, and sugar exports to China require no manufacturing or processing (value adding) and have been crucified.

AWI had to change strategy drastically during the onset of the pandemic. They cut their marketing budget to markets that had a strong online presence and could remain trading. It is also very interesting to note the different marketing approaches that are required for different cultural groups i.e. the advertising campaigns for China compared to American ones.

Notably, our purchasers are changing the way they buy – this was occurring before the pandemic hit but has been accelerated by it.

During the evening, AWI chief executive, Stuart McCollough attended the gathering via Zoom from Sydney. He answered various questions from the audience and addressed the issues of dealing with China. He stressed that AWI is a research and development organisation, and although AWI remain non-political, they have stressed the importance of the Chinese relationship regarding our wool trade – but reminded the audience that the Chinese government need our wool as much as we need their market. He reminded everyone that of the 85 per cent of our wool clip that goes to China, the Chinese purchase 50 per cent of what is produced.

You may be interested to know that Victoria produces a quarter of Australia’s wool clip, and of that, the Hamilton region still produces the most (and the best). Just wear wool because it feels so good!

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