I recently travelled to represent WoolProducers at the International Wool Textile Organisation (IWTO) Round Table, held in Nuremburg, Germany.
The round table was hosted by the German Wool Federation and the Südwolle Group, bringing together 80+ representatives from the global wool textile industry after an all too long 3 years stuck meeting on screens!
Prior to the Round Table I chaired a workshop to develop a biosecurity framework for the trade of wool from Emergency Animal Disease (EAD), e.g., Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD)effected countries / areas using certification of time x temperature storage to ensure that disease causing agents are denatured and no longer able to spread disease. Establishing an international industry level framework will assist governments of importing and exporting countries to negotiate market access conditions following an EAD outbreak and allow export facilities to make the necessary investments in “peacetime”.
Much of the framework is based on the South African experience of restoring market access for greasy wool following FMD outbreaks in 2019 and again in 2022. The workshop was attended by delegates from Australia, South Africa, New Zealand, Uruguay, and the United States of America. Working Group members will consult with their respective industries and governments throughout January - February 2023. These consultations will inform drafting of a final document that will be presented to the General Assembly of the IWTO Congress in May 2023.
The working group sessions held before the Round Table provided a great opportunity to receive an update on industry work underway to ensure that wool is positioned to meet the needs of designers, consumers, and regulators. Australian Wool Innovation continues to lead work to ensure that the EU Product Environmental Footprint (EU PEF) methodology proposed for textiles does not misrepresent sustainable fibres such as wool. Efforts include engagement with the Technical Secretariat and the European Commission in addition to the Make The Label Count Campaign.
Later in the Round Table we heard from Norwegian colleagues that their consumer protection authority had recently ruled that the Higg Materials Sustainability Index (which largely aligns with the proposed EU PEF methodology) mislead consumers in relation to sustainability claims of textiles. Seemingly regulators are finally starting to wake up to the “greenwashing” that has been constructed by fast fashion houses reliant on large stockturns of petrochemical based textiles.
The Round Table sessions provided visibility that all members of the wool supply chain have been suffering from inflation, interest rates, high energy (and input) prices and challenges associated with logistics and labour. While there had been a “post-Covid” increase in sentiment within the processing sector, recent cost pressures have dragged sentiment down despite many processors having a full order book, in many cases extending out 6-12 months.
The disruption associated with Covid has undoubtedly changed the world forever, and subsequently, fashion trends and consumption patterns. While the last 12 months have seen a recovery in suit and formalwear sales, many view this as a “dead cat bounce”, largely being driven by postponed weddings and celebrations taking place in the last 12 months. Many business professionals are now working between the home and office, and as such their wardrobes are becoming more casualised. The short to medium outlook is that suit and formal wear sales (particularly traditional business wear) will drop.
On a positive note, many who were attending the Round Table had recently attended the ISPO Munich and reported a positive outlook for wool. Many brands were considering including wool in their ranges or increasing the amount of wool that they use.
Klaus Steger of Südwolle Group said that “Wool finally sits at the sweet spot of natural, sustainable, fashionable, and cool. Wool is also affordable, if you take into consideration the longer-term effects of a woollen garment compared with one made of other fibres.”
Discussion amongst Round Table attendees was positive with many believing that there was no sign of a plateau for the increasing use of wool in active wear, sportswear and performance materials and that much of the growth in this sector would offset (if not exceed) the market loss in suiting and formalwear.
A final key message coming from the Round Table was the increasing importance of sustainability to brands, consumers and regulators. In relation to wool, brands are increasingly focused on regenerative agriculture, animal welfare, social fairness, and supply chain transparency. This is why WoolProducers are so proud to be co-owners of the world-first Sheep Sustainability Framework.
Many brands are adopting their business models to align with the “circular economy” model being pursued by many regulators. Brands are increasing the percentage of their range that is made from regenerative or recycled materials, making items that last longer and making items that can either be repaired, or recycled.
Regulators are now focusing on “fair trade”, as opposed to the traditional “free trade”. Fair trade includes measures to ensure that environmental and social responsibilities have been maintained.
I may be biased, however coming away from the Round Table, it was apparent that the future of wool is positive. We are in a great position, however, must continue to work collaboratively as a global wool industry to sustain demand for our fibre by continuing to meet the evolving demands of brands and regulators.
Hanging onto the mantra of “we sell every kilo that we grow” as a justification to distance ourselves from innovation will only further divide, and ultimately shrink our industry.