Wool Round Table 2019

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New Options for Strong Wool 

A celebration of New Zealand 's finest at IWTO's Wool Round Table

A bedrock of New Zealand's culture and economy, wool is an integral part of New Zealand identity. The world's third largest wool producer, New Zealand wool can be found around the world in carpets, interior textiles, bedding products and apparel.

Welcomed by the National Council of New Zealand Wool Interests, IWTO Members met in December for a special two-day journey into the heart of the New Zealand wool industry, at IWTO’s annual Wool Round Table.

Guest speakers included the Hon. Damien O’Connor, Minister of Agriculture, Biosecurity, Food Safety, and Rural Communities, and Minister of State for Trade and Export Growth, who addressed the need for the collaborative marketing of strong wool, in the face of low returns.

New Zealand has some 25,000 farms that are home to 27.5 million sheep, with the average farm running 3,000 sheep. The majority of New Zealand’s wool clip is greater than 25 microns, known as strong wool. This type of wool is also known as broad wool in Australia, and coarse wool in the UK. IWTO uses the term broad wool to refer to wool that is 22.6-25 microns, used in thicker sweaters, socks, blankets, rugs and industrial felts, and the term coarse wool for 26-32+ microns, used in rugs, carpets, upholstery and insulation.

“There will always be demand for a quality product that has a story behind it,” the Minister said.  We can’t, however, “assume that the benefits and qualities of wool will be understood unless we get out and market them.”

This strategy has worked very well in the fine wool sector where brands sign multi-season contracts with growers, ensuring stable supply and strong relationships.

Necessity has also brought forth entrepreneurial creativity. Lucas Smith founded Wool+Aid in Lake Tekapo, creating a range of biodegradable, high performance adhesive plasters made from Merino wool.

“The idea came from an old Kiwi trick of pulling wool off the wire fence and pressing it against a blister,” he said.

Made of a woven wool fabric, there is no plastic in the plaster at all.

Hamish Acland founded Merino base layer brand Mons Royale after spending 10 years as a professional freeride skier.  Motivated to create a category of clothing that represented the global action adventure culture, Acland combined the performance of wool, the energy of Red Bull, the confidence of a lingerie model and designed for the professional athlete.

Ten years later, Mons Royale is stocked by 700 retailers globally and has 50 staff in three offices, Innsbruck, Vancouver and Wanaka.

Messages about the benefits and qualities of New Zealand’s wool are already reading one key demographic – adolescents.

The star of the Campaign for Wool New Zealand Trust’s Wool in School programme is The Wool Shed, a converted shipping container that visited 32 schools in 2019, bringing the wool experience to students 11-13 years old.

The Wool Shed uses interactive tools to educate students on wool’s qualities and processes.

“It resonates so well with this generation of students who are passionate about renewable, sustainable and biodegradable fibres that are not going to ruin their environment,” said Tom O’Sullivan, Chair of the Campaign for Wool New Zealand.

The experience is so popular, it is almost fully booked for 2020.

Other speakers included the late John Dawson, Chair of the National Council of New Zealand Wool Interests; Stewart Collie, Science Team Leader at AgResearch; Stephen McDougall, Director of the Studio of Pacific Architecture; Geoff Kingwill, Chair of IWTO’s Sustainable Practices Working Group; Ryan Cosgrove, Marketer at John Marshall and Co.; Colin McKenzie, CEP of CP Wool; Philippa Wright, Managing Director of Wright Wool; Sandra Heffernan, Associate Professor of Textile Design at Massey University; Kazuhiko (Ken) Nagao, CEP of Nagao Shoji; Angus Ireland, Chair of IWTO’s Product Wellness Working Group, and Rachel Friend, Executive Director of the Neonatal Trust New Zealand.

The seventy-six attendees, from 12 countries, represented all stages of the global wool textile supply chain. 

The next Wool Round Table will take place in Nuremberg, Germany, 30 November - 1 December 2020.

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