x) The Australian Wool Industry


Despite being in an age of rapid technological change, some industries work at a slower pace when reinventing themselves.

In the early 19th century soon after the English colonisation of Australia, the Australian wool industry was started. This is linked with the Napoleonic Wars (1803 -15), ie the need for warm clothes for soldiers fighting in the European winters. Within 50 years of settlement, sheep had moved into every colony. The annual wool clip was over 2 m. kg and it became Australia's main export.

Over the years, wool has experienced booms and busts from both market and climatic conditions.

In the markets, it has experienced competition from other natural fibres, like cotton, and then in the mid 20th-century, synthetic fibres, like polyester, nylon, etc. As wool is a natural fibre with a varied quality and finite supply each year, it is different from the synthetics where factory production produces more consistent in both quality and quantity. Also, wool fibres require more processing as it has to be cleaned, scoured, carded, spun, dyed and fabricated.

Also, the introduction of central heating reduced the need for warm woollen clothing.

From 1895 to 1903 during one of the most severe Australian droughts in the history of European settlement sheep numbers almost halved and it took 30 years for the Australian sheep numbers to recover to around 100 m.. Other dry periods include the 1990s and the late 2010s.

In the mid-1920s, Britain still purchased around half the wool clip; with Japan and USA emerging as major buyers. By the 1930s wool represented over 60% of total export value of primary production from Australia.

After World War II there was around 10 m. bales of wool in a stockpile. Then in the early 1950s with the Korean War, wool boomed, ie a war in cold winters. Over the next 20 years, wool prices generally declined to hit rock bottom in the early 1970s.

Despite technological changes around sampling and testing procedures (objective measurement of wool's characteristics, like fibre diameter, vegetable matter, staple length and strength, etc), marketing ideas (reserve prices, stockpiling, sale-by-sample, etc), promotions (fashion focus, etc), many organisational changes (including restructuring, etc), etc, the wool industry's bumpy ride continues, ie
"...during the 1980s exceptional seasons and high demand leads to wool production increasing to over 1000 million kilograms..."
Barry White, 2020

Then in the early 1990s the wool market collapsed with a stockpile reaching around 5 m. bales. During the 1990s, wool prices remained flat as the stockpile was sold down and wool production fell, ie in late 2010s it is around half of what it was in the 1990s.

Current situation (2018)

Wool is being used to create performance clothing (including wetsuits) for this 36th edition of the America's Cup. Wool is recognised as a tailoring fabric and is becoming a performance fabric as well, ie something that you can sweat in. Merino wool is breathable, soft and holds moisture, ie takes away moisture from the skin naturally. Also, it is an active fibre, ie

"...it adjusts to the temperature of the wearer, keeping them cool or warmer as need be and it's also UV-resistant..."

Lauren Sams 2019

The wetsuits are lined with Merino wool.

Wool is good for outdoor adventure sports as its

"...stain resistant, its light weight, it naturally regulate your temperature......wool is a renewable material that's 100% natural......biodegradable. It can be recycled and reused..."

Lauren Sams 2019

The top end of the fashion industry (Zegna, Chanel, Adidas, Burberry, Thursday Finest, etc) has helped the wool industry reinvent itself realising it is a superior fibre to synthetic owing to its breathability, durability, sweat-wicking, odour absorbing qualities, eco-friendly, sustainable, biodegradable, comfortable, soft touch, heat-keeping capacity, resilient and elastic, quick drying, easy-care, etc. 

"...wool textile is able to absorb 30 - 15% of its weight in dampness and, therefore is able to pull sweat away from the body, thus protecting it from temperature change..."

Mark Abernethy 2018

"Wool fibres.....can be bent 30,000 times without damaging or they can be stretched up to a third of their length and then spring back in place..."

Paolo Zegna as quoted by Mark Abernathy 2018

Over the recent decades, there has been a demand for wool as a high-quality, high cost fashion apparel. Now, there is an increasing demand for merino wool in the "atheliesure market". For example, Adidas has recognised wool as a superior athletic clothing fabric.

"...Adidas has a range of woollen running wear called ZNE and a woollen version of its UltraBoost shoe, Nike has Dri-FIT wool, UnderArmour has a brand called Charged Wool, Lululemon's woollen range of yoga gear is called Swiftly and Puma's latest golfing outfits are heavily reliant on wool..."

Mark Abernethy 2018

"...The value of the wool industry has gone from $1.9 billion in 2010 to a  $4.3 billion industry..."

Stuart McCullough as quoted by Mark Abernethy 2018

It can be blended with synthetics like polyesters and other natural fibres like cotton to increase the performance.

"...wool apparel sells most strongly in markets with high disposable income, and in places where it gets cold in winter. So China is a driver for this industry, as a middle-class about 300 million affluent Chinese emerges..."

Stuart McCullough as quoted by Mark Abernethy 2018

In addition to the Millenniums and sporty types showing interest in wool, it has been found that 75% of woollen garments from some fashion houses are sold to women.
Will wool reinvent itself in the
"atheliesure market"?


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