From Australia to the world

David Jones and Woolmark have kicked off the ninth annual joint celebrations for Wool Week to shine a light on the Australian wool industry’s most important fashion export – merino wool – and the tens of thousands of local woolgrowers working on the farms.

According to a David Jones press release, Australia produces 90 per cent of the world’s fine wool for apparel, supplying the fibre to almost the entire global fashion industry.

“By heroing Australian wool, Wool Week provides consumers with the opportunity to check the label for a garment’s fibre composition, choose wool and throw their support behind Australian woolgrowers,” said the statement.

The event is spearheaded by a campaign created by Woolmark featuring supermodel and David Jones ambassador Jessica Gomes and shot at the iconic Nundle Woollen Mill in NSW, one of the first wool-producing areas in Australia and with one of the last surviving traditional mills.

The campaign is featured in activations throughout the flagship David Jones stores and window displays in Market Street, Sydney; Bourke Street, Melbourne; and in Wellington. Brands involved include Dion Lee, Bassike, Viktoria and Woods, Jac and Jack, Bianca Spender, and Camilla and Marc.

“We are proud to be taking part in the David Jones Wool Week campaign, as everything we do at Bassike starts with beautiful, ethically sourced fabric,” says Bassike co-founder Deborah Sams.

“We consider sustainability, practicality and wearability key to our design, and wool on its own is a natural, renewable fibre with low environmental impact. Wool is perfect for the Australian trans-seasonal way of dressing, and it features in a number of key pieces from our current AW19 collection.”

According to Woolmark managing director Stuart McCullough, it’s a significant time for the Australian wool and fashion industries to come together.

“This is the ninth year we have celebrated Wool Week in Australia, which not only shows the admiration Australian consumers hold for our homegrown fibre but also gives our woolgrowers a great sense of pride.”

Offshore sales dominate

While the worldwide fashion industry may use Australian wool, very little of the product is actually sold here on our shores. In fact, 99 per cent of the projects that Woolmark takes on are based in the northern hemisphere. It seems that in the last few years, there has been harmonised growth in the G7 countries, leading to positive consumer confidence, says McCullough.

“We’ve spent a lot of time marketing our fibre and partnering with retailers and brands and manufacturers to make sure that the product is well spruiked in their markets.

“I’m pessimistic about the growth continuing and I’m not sure if that harmonised growth will continue. There are a bunch of things going down that worry me a little [such as the slowing down of economies], but it’s been good, and wool prices have responded nicely.”

The international projects that Woolmark is currently working on are wide and far-ranging, such as creating all the woollen uniforms for gondoliers in Venice. Not only are the garments Woolmark-branded, but so are the the gondolier stations, points out McCullough.

“Being a gondolier is one of the highest vocations in the world. They’re wearing our product and profiling our brand and showing people that it’s wool. That’s ongoing for the next five years,” he says.

Meanwhile, the organisation is collaborating with Prada to develop high-tech woollen garments for the America’s Cup in 2021 in Florence, while also working with car manufacturers such as BMW, Volvo and Audi to get wool into car seats.

“Many of these manufacturers have really big, fully electric programs now and in an electric car, you can’t reverse the polarity in the batteries to get heat in the seats. So they’re working out how to get comfort in the seats in a natural way, so we’re engaging with them in wool seats,” McCullough says.

Woolmark also has an ongoing collaboration with Adidas. Traditionally runners have been largely polyester and nylon, but now the sportswear brand wants to feature natural fibre in their products.

Tradition meets technology

Technology and innovation have played a significant role in many of the projects that Woolmark is working on and at the moment, the organisation is working with overseas tech companies on automated assistance, so consumers can ask their devices questions about how to care for wool.

“We’re aiming to make sure that if any question is asked of these devices that pertains to wool, they have all the information in the algorithm to respond as a Woolmark response, as a responsible authority,” explains McCullough.

McCullough also predicts that with the rapid growth of commerce, more suppliers will be sewing NFC chips in their garments and moving away from traditional swing tags. These chips allow customers to access more product and care information by simply waving their phone in front of the garment. Woolmark is currently developing AR products to support this kind of technology.

Devastated by drought

As Australia has been in a drought for several years now, it’s unsurprising that it has had a significant impact on the local woolgrowing industry, the biggest effect being that there are now fewer sheep on farms. According to McCullough, 12 per cent of the local wool clip was lost this year and the industry has taken a big financial hit.

“Competitive land use in Australia for the farming industries is really tough. You’ve got to have a product that sells well, and farmers are very spreadsheet-savvy. When they look to build their flocks, they’ll be closely comparing what they can yield per acre to maximise the profit from their land,” he explains.

“Wool prices are good, so we think we’re competitive there, but it can go down quickly. If there’s one year that there’s a vast drought, it can knock a big percentage out of the Australian wool clip. The rebuild is slow.”

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