Opportunity knocks for wool as pandemic eases

Opportunities for wool through COVID-19 induced fashion changes

Wool
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Wool could be a big winner from a post-pandemic fashion revolution.

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More casual woollen clothes have proved popular during the pandemic and the focus on comfort could continue as workers return to offices. Photo courtesy Fleece to Fashion.

More casual woollen clothes have proved popular during the pandemic and the focus on comfort could continue as workers return to offices. Photo courtesy Fleece to Fashion.

Opportunities abound for the wool industry to take advantage of changing consumer attitudes to fashion wrought by the pandemic.

Lecturer with RMIT Centre for Urban Research Tamzin Rollason said as more Australians return into workplaces, that didn't necessarily mean a return to traditional workwear, with knitwear on the rise.

"There does seem to be a shift towards what they're starting to call hybrid workwear, which is that sort of more comfortable mix between formal workwear and the more casual, comfortable attire that we've got used to," she said.

"Particularly because the US is a little bit further ahead of us to the transition to their offices, there does seem to be that sort of a trend over there, however long it may last."

Ms Rollason said changing attitudes towards fashion provided a real opportunity for the wool industry to capitalise on people's desire for comfortable, durable fibres.

"The reports towards to the end of 2020 and earlier this year are indicating that the fashion and textiles industry was down by 93 per cent," she said.

"I think what we can anticipate out of that is a lot of people will be thinking differently about how they shop and how they dress.

"There may well be more of a focus on those garments that we already have that are long lasting and that are easy to wear and look after and that following on from that when people do buy new clothing, they will be aware of that longevity that has served them well through the pandemic.

"Wool and natural textiles are certainly in that category."

Ms Rollason said shoppers are also more focused on supporting local businesses and goods that are locally made where possible.

"It could be that with the disruptions to supply chains and changes to consumption patterns that there is an opportunity to capitalise on that with local production," she said.

"I think traceability will become more important with a sector of the market, I don't think it's something we would expect right across the market.

"There's certainly efforts from some of the bigger companies to promote that traceability... some of that is around locally produced fibres like wool and cotton.

"I think we're still very much in a transition phase... but I think there is an opportunity to gently push thinking in that sort of a direction."

Fox & Lillie national wool brokerage manager Eamon Timms said huge advances in the technology behind the knitwear process would also help drive growth in that area.

"Now you can produce such a wide variety of garments in finishes, textures and designs that were really difficult to even visualise 10 or 15 years ago... we're moving much closer to that point where we'll be able to knit garments to people's body shape as captured in 3D format," he said.

"That will be a theme in the future but certainly currently there's a great deal more in terms of fully fashioned garments and less wastage with knitwear because it's so much more precise with the way the garments are being produced."

Mr Timms said the wrongly held perception of wool of being scratchy and uncomfortable to wear had been put to the side.

"If you look at the last 20 years there's been quite a fining of the Australian wool clip... so certainly that's allowed lighter, more refined knits to be produced as well," he said.

"There's a genetic factor in what we're seeing nowadays as well as a technological factor with the processing."

Fox & Lillie has been connecting a growing number of fashion brand with woolgrowers through its traceable wool program Genesys but Mr Timms said from an Australian consumer perspective, the trend towards traceability is still a fairly small move.

"When we look at wool exports out of Australia and the sustainable and ethical purchasing that's happening, a lot of that's being driven by Europe and US-based customers," he said.

"Certainly what we have seen in the last two years is a greater push and awareness of provenance and the sustainability of the whole textile pipeline, whether that's the production of fibre or at the manufacturing level... if anything the pandemic may have slowed it up somewhat.

"But I think we're starting to see signs of that movement or trend is now growing to grow legs and gain more momentum from the inquiries and the interest that we're starting to see more of."

It's not just shoppers who might be proving more willing to embrace wool, with budding designers also turning to the natural fibre.

Fleece to Fashion awards board member Liz Foster said even though the awards had been cancelled for 2021 due to COVID-19 restrictions, they had received a big uptake in entries.

With plans to reschedule the event for the first half of next year, fashion students from across the country have answered the call to create designs from wool.

"We approached all of the fashion schools and we've had a huge response from them," Ms Foster said.

"It looks like we will have 30 to 40 collections, there's 17 coming from one school alone.

"It's been a huge uptake in interest.

"We're really encouraged by that."

Ms Foster said the cancellation of the 2021 event, first scheduled for September and then postponed until November, had allowed for garments that needed to go through final assessments for their designers' studies to be entered.

"A few garments have arrived already," she said.

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