Interview with Stuart McCullough

Face2Face
Stuart McCullough
Stuart McCullough
CEO
Australian Wool Innovation Ltd.
Australian Wool Innovation Ltd.

What are the creative changes made in wool products in the recent past? Besides sweaters and suits, can we see a transformation in the woolen products to casualwear and formalwear? Please explain.

Although men’s suiting is the mainstay of Merino wool with the majority of Australian wool being woven into men’s suiting weight fabric, new innovations pave the way forward for the Merino wool industry, allowing it to be a dynamic one that is forever changing. Innovations can be introduced into Merino wool at any stage in the manufacturing process – reaffirming Merino wool as versatile and adaptable fibre. Technology allowing garments to look good and feel better promote the positive aspects of woollen products and therefore increase consumer demand for these products. From allowing knitted products to feel as smooth as silk or promoting them as having a high level of natural UV-protection, having easy-to-care for garments and ones which revitalise the wearer thanks to aromatherapy, innovations in knitwear have come a long way since the first knitted sweater hit the runways. During recent years The Woolmark Company and its partners have developed a host of Merino wool innovations, making Merino knitwear a stellar choice for all those involved in the production process.

China is increasingly importing wool for garment manufacturing. Do you foresee the country emerging as a major global player in the wool industry?

China has been the largest manufacturer of wool apparel since the 1990s when it took over from Japan, Taiwan and Korea. It is also the most important growth market for wool consumption where the demand for luxury goods is very strong. China has always had two of the three key triggers for mass consumption of wool: they have always had the suitable climate and large population; and they now have the third trigger which is wealth. China is the second largest luxury market in the world. The country consumes over a quarter of the world’s global luxury products; Chinese luxury purchasing will surpass the USA by 2015. The tailored men’s apparel market has experienced exponential growth over recent years. One of the contributing influences driving the demand for wool at a consumer level is the rapidly growing consumer demand for products consistent with a Lifestyle Of Health And Sustainability (LOHAS) – the so-called 'LOHAS consumer’. Consumers are insisting on greater integrity and authenticity in the products they buy with an expectation that they are environmentally friendly. As a natural, biodegradable and renewable fibre, wool is well placed to take advantage of this growing consumer base.

Counterfeit/inferior products often affect the sales of luxury items. Does this problem persist in the case of woolen luxury garments and what is being done to overcome the problem?

It is very difficult to mimic the inherent qualities of wool; man-made fibres have profited from doing so within the sports apparel market however at the cheaper end of the market, inferior wool and low quality blends are very easy to pick from first sight due to the product’s drape and performance. The Woolmark brand provides consumers with guaranteed fibre content and an assurance of quality and is backed up by technical specifications and stringent independent testing. A Woolmark licence permits the use of the logo as an independent quality endorsement of wool products. All accredited Woolmark licensees receive a unique licence number and certificate which entitles access to Woolmark branded tickets, labels and merchandising support material. The Woolmark Company and its brands have a reputation and legal requirement to provide consumers with a quality assurance endorsement and as such carry out spot checks on products labelled with our trademarks and take action to remove sub-standard or counterfeit products from the market.

What are the new innovations in the wool industry and how are they likely to transform the behavior of the world wool industry in near future?

Thanks to new processing technologies and the efforts of Australian woolgrowers who continue to produce finer Merino wools, the introduction of lighter weight Merino wool fabrics and yarns – such as those under our Cool Wool program – will define Merino wool as the ideal trans-seasonal fibre – extending wool’s reach into the warmer seasons and environments. Many cities of the world are burdened with extreme temperatures for long periods of each year. We expect these fabric weights will offer consumers some real options for summer suits and other apparel. The mercerisation process for Merino wool will continue to exert its importance. This process creates a “cashmere like” feel, and a “silk like” appearance. The actual diameter (micron) of the fibre does not change, but the perceived improvement in hand feel is the equivalent of using wool two to three microns finer. Also, to enable wool to take advantage of the global trend towards a more informal style of dressing, we continue to work closely with the manufacturing industry to develop new processes that provide a range of unique and stylish effects on wool. A number of new manufacturing processes, such as novel dyeing and finishing techniques, have been developed and commercialised, aimed at producing casual effects (visual and textural) on wool products. These collections have a stylish new "edge" targeted at the young fashion-conscious street wear and casual wear markets.
Published on: 22/10/2013

DISCLAIMER: All views and opinions expressed in this column are solely of the interviewee, and they do not reflect in any way the opinion of Fibre2Fashion.com.

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