Interview with Stephane Thouvay

Stephane Thouvay
Stephane Thouvay
MD - Product Management & Innovation
Sudwolle Group
Sudwolle Group

Wool is a high-tech and sustainable product
One of the world's leading spinner of pure wool and wool blend worsted yarns, Südwolle Group's product portfolio covers the entire range of worsted yarns from traditional knitting and weaving material for clothing to functional fibres and technical yarns. The Germany-based company is the global market leader for worsted weaving yarn and a premium supplier of high quality yarn for woven men's and women's wear. Stéphane Thouvay, managing director, product management & innovation, speaks to Fibre2Fashion about the versatility of wool.

Let us know about your journey since the inception.

We are proud to be a German family-owned company with more than 50 years of history in production and sales of worsted wool yarns.

The concentration on a few raw-white standard yarns in large quantities was our winning formula in the 1960s. Since then, a lot has happened. Today, Südwolle Group is a global player in textile business, offering a huge variety of worsted yarns made of wool and wool blends. 

At present, we are producing 25,700 tonnes of yarn in long staple spinning in 15 production sites in five countries - China, Poland, Bulgaria, Romania and Italy - with 12 sales offices in eight countries. We have around 3,200 employees.

One thing, however, will never change: we know where we come from and our ambition will always be to be a real partner for our customers, with a passion for spinning yarns out of a great fibre.

Which segments in the textile market do you cover?

We specialise in worsted (long staple) yarns, but we also produce carded yarns (short staple spinning) in Italy through our company GTI and viscose yarns on air jet machines in China through our brand Soey.

Our products are processed in weaving, circular, warp and flat knitting. Applications are unbelievably versatile, from the traditional menswear, to fashion and women's apparel, hosiery, outdoor and sportswear and home textile, technical applications such as automotive and aircraft seating, uniforms, protective and work wear.

How do you adapt to market changes?

We are facing a lot of challenges. A typical customer doesn't exist anymore. Clients require customised yarns, small lots, quick response and innovations. 

We have recognised lot of our internal processes to follow this trend. We also made organisational changes and launched our new department, Südwebs, about a year ago. Like a 'web', Südwebs has been created to catalyse innovation - by creating new sustainable products, technologies or business models and by connecting people and ideas. To do so, we are using new tools such as Design Thinking and we enhance collaborative work, internally within all our departments and externally with clients and other stakeholders of the supply chain.

We do not only sell yarn, but also competence around the supply chain and, above all, ideas.

How does your supply chain network work?

One strong feature is our own company network along the supply chain that helps us to share knowledge and gain competence. It begins from our own sheep farm in Mount Hesse in Australia with 33,000 sheep, to various treatment mills, dyeing plants, spinning mills and know-how in Merino fabrics.

Our yarn is bought by customers all over the world. Therefore, we offer supply chains in all continents. We are facing very different market demands with large amounts of stock supported products on one side, and customised solutions for specific needs on the other side. Our clients are not just weavers and knitters, but also fashion, sports or outdoor brands interested in different parameters. Therefore, besides a logistic and commercial supply chain, we also offer competence in supporting customers in their own purchasing and production planning strategies. 

Furthermore, through our sister company Hoftex Group, we offer further expertise in non-woven, automotive and home textiles.

How do you view the wool industry faring these days?

The industry has rediscovered that wool is a high-tech and sustainable product. Through its unique performance features, wool is getting more and more important in sports, active wear and technical textiles. 

Wool is therefore increasingly in demand and we expect that this will not change in the coming years. High demand and limited production pushed wool prices to a historical peak. This is naturally good news for the farmers but puts a part of the wool fabric producers under severe pressure. A lot of them are currently struggling with high prices, especially in the fashion segment as brands and retailers very rarely accept increased prices of the fabrics to maintain a stable selling price for the consumer. This very often leads to downgrading of quality, by using blends instead of 100 per cent wool, for instance.

This is the wrong way to approach this topic. The discussion should not be how to avoid the price increase by reducing the quality, but how to convince consumers to pay a bit more for a top product. The wool industry is working more in a niche market than ever before. Niche markets have different rules than mass markets and we should all appreciate our valuable material. If we keep our efforts directed on how to make our product interesting and wanted, then we can live with prices remaining at the present level. Nobody is questioning the price of a cashmere sweater, right?

Where is the wool sourced from?

Australia - as the biggest producer of wool - is also our biggest supplier. Apart from that, we source naturally in all producing countries, such as New Zealand, South Africa, South America and a few others.

What is your annual export of worsted yarns - wool plus wool blends? Which regions do you export to?

We are producing around 26 million kg of long staple yarn every year that is sold to customers all over the world in more than 70 countries. Countries like China, Japan, Vietnam, Thailand, New Zealand or Australia are the main buyers in Asia Pacific. In Europe, Italy, the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Scandinavia and Turkey are the major destinations. The United States is also a huge market as many fashion apparel brands are based there.
Published on: 29/03/2018

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

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