Carrying Wool Forward

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Education and the environment were the twin themes at IWTO's 2016 Wool Round Table, held in Biella, Italy 28-29 November, where more than 120 members of the international wool community gathered on the campus of Città Studi along with experts in wool textile education, wool growers from around the world, and representatives from retail.

“We have a central message in wool: sustainability and environmental excellence,” said IWTO President Peter Ackroyd in his opening remarks. “The woolgrowing countries are dedicated to education; the question is how can we carry this forward to the full benefit of students and industry.”

Educators from Australia, Belgium, Germany, Italy and New Zealand emphasized the benefits of collaboration between industry and universities, underlining the need for corporate investment in industry-led research projects where government funding currently falls short. Projects such as Pitti Filati's Feel the Yarn and Campaign for Wool's Wool School (and here) were cited as examples where the properties of wool could be showcased. Cross-disciplinary approaches were also highlighted, as was the need for universities to respond to the needs of modern industry, and for degree programmes to be linked with research.

Several speakers noted the role played by competition with other fibres, and the image of the wool industry. "If we want to have more students in textiles, we must bring something extra. Science technology does not have a sexy image," said Professor Paul Kiekens, of the Faculty of Engineering and Architecture at the University of Ghent, where he leads the E-TEAM master programme for advanced studies in textiles and clothing. While hundreds of textile students graduate each year, they do not go into manufacturing, but want to be buyers for brands. 

"We need to help students understand that wool is not a declining industry," said Dr Beverley Henry of Queensland University of Technology during her presentation on Wool and Environmental Science. "I would like to see bright young minds applied to science and also to communication, so we can show wool is an environmentally viable product."

On the Trade Extension side, The Woolmark Company will open its second Wool Resource Centre early next year in London, Emily King of Australian Wool Innovation announced. Following the successful opening of a Hong Kong centre in May, this multipurpose space is designed to support the entire wool supply chain, and includes innovative displays, a product resource library and training and seminar space.

IWTO is equally committed to supporting wool textile education. "We will continue the focus on education in future events and propose special rates and working groups to encourage industry participation," said Dalena White, IWTO Secretary General.

Participants also heard from young woolgrowers farming in Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.  Passion for the land they manage and the animals they live with stood out as a common element across all three, along with true dedication to eco-friendly farming practices. Indeed, commitment to the environment united the event's presenters. Lorenzo Dovesi, COO of Benetton Group, shared the retailer's vision of a wool-rich future, moving away from the fast-fashion model towards a system that is more sustainable. The European Outdoor Group's Dr Pamela Ravasio, Head of CSR and Sustainability, urged the wool supply chain to provide hard and fast evidence of sustainability to outdoor apparel brands who want to incorporate more wool in key segments of their markets, such as next-to-skin base layers. Use of wool in the outdoor apparel market in the 2000s was close to zero, according to her statistics, but has grown today to just under 4%. 

"A brand that uses wool at this stage uses it as true trail blazers," Dr Ravasio commented.


Wool Goes Digital

Prisca Rolando, Product Manager at the Italian venture Lanieri, was one speaker whose focus was innovation,  demonstrating the company's made-to-measure platform, which allows customers to create their own unique garments including fabric choice and detail customizations. “Wool in a digital age” is a theme IWTO will be exploring further, when it takes its annual Congress to Harrogate, UK, 3-5 May 2017. Harrogate is a quintessentially British spa town in North Yorkshire, near the heart of Britain's wool industry, Leeds. Check the IWTO web page for full details, or follow us on social media (Facebook, Twitter and Instagram) for more information.





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