The Woolmark Company: Merino wool exports to USA grow, streetwear labels boost demand
The Woolmark Company, the Australian non-profit association representing 66,000 local merino sheep farmers (with a total of approximately 70 million head of sheep), is observing a significant increase in output in 2022, with booming merino exports to the USA and a sharp rise in demand from the streetwear sector, while it is also busy on a number of projects with Scandinavian outdoor apparel brands.
“After years marked by flooding and droughts, Australian sheep farmers are currently experiencing an increase in wool production – essentially at the shearing phase – with output up 6% in the first half of 2022 compared to the same period the previous year,” said Francesco Magri, Regional Manager C&E Europe of The Woolmark Company. Magri talked to FashionNetwork.com at the Milano Unica trade show that took place on July 12-14 at the Rho exhibition centre in Milan.
Meanwhile, the price of wool has returned to 2019 levels. “[Prices] are roughly $14-15 per kilo. Wool is a raw material whose price hasn’t been driven up by the various international geopolitical crises, since supply is buoyant, both in terms of quality and quantity, and demand has increased,” said Magri. “Our client brands are increasingly demanding long-lasting raw materials for their garments, and wool is one of the most durable and most sustainable,” he added.
In the last five years, sportswear and casualwear brands in particular have increased their use of wool as a component for their outfits, blending it with other materials. “Until recently, [they were mixing it] with performance fabrics, now [they mix it] with other natural raw materials like Tencel,” said Magri. “We are currently setting up a project in Scandinavia, a region that is a forerunner in outdoor apparel trends, working with several all-natural brands,” he added. “Many brands are in fact abandoning polyester, because they have realised that it is not so environmentally friendly, as it cannot be recycled indefinitely. After the fibre is recycled two or three times, it shortens and can no longer be used, unlike natural materials,” said Magri.
While wool demand is rising thanks to the growing interest of fashion and luxury labels in 100% natural and sustainable fibres, to the excellent performance of formalwear and the increased use of wool in sportswear and casual apparel, another growth market for wool fibres is streetwear. Magri noted that “in the past, [streetwear products] often featured low-quality fabrics. Nowadays, all the top names in classic streetwear, from Stüssy to Carhartt and Vans, are paying attention to the requirements of Gen Z consumers, who demand naturally sourced materials. We are receiving so many requests from this sector.”
As China has once again introduced strict lockdowns because of the pandemic's renewed spread, Magri noted that the strongest growth is occurring in traditional markets: “Exports of wool fabrics to the USA (mostly from Italy) are extremely buoyant, thanks to the favourable euro/dollar exchange rate, now at 1.02 from 1.17 a year ago, which means a 15% gain for US [importers]. Also, demand for merino wool, both for classic outfits and outdoor apparel, is growing again in markets that seemed to be somewhat stagnating, such as Italy, France and Germany.”
Additionally, many brands have gone back to manufacturing in their own countries, or in nations closer to Europe. “A huge shift in manufacturing is currently taking place, from the Far East to Turkey and Portugal,” acknowledged Magri. “The Woolmark Company is collaborating with a number of Portuguese companies, traditionally more jersey-oriented, to assist them on product innovation,” he added.
Sourcing from Italy is an increasingly popular choice, and companies in the Biella district have recorded a 30% increase in aggregate knitwear revenue compared to their 2019 pre-Covid levels, concluded Magri.
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