Interview with Rajesh Bahl

Rajesh Bahl
Rajesh Bahl
Technical Consultant
Australian Wool Innovation
Australian Wool Innovation

Merino wool works well for sportswear
Rajesh Bahl has over 25 years of experience in the textile industry and is an expert in wool education from Australia. Currently he is working on a wool education extension project in India led by The Woolmark Company (TWC), which is working with leading Indian textile universities and institutes for imparting the Woolmark wool education courses to tertiary level students. In an interview with Fibre2Fashion, Bahl talks about the versatility of wool as a fibre and its applications in apparels beyond the luxury segment.

How big is the market for Merino wool? What percentage of this is used for the luxury segment?

Wool from the Merino breed of sheep is the preferred wool fibre for use in apparels. The wool fibre is around 1.5 per cent of the world's consumption of fibres by weight and 8 per cent by value. Of this, nearly 45 per cent wool by weight is used for apparel applications such as fine suiting, cardigans and pullovers, outerwear, undergarments, sportswear and outdoor wear. Merino wool is a fibre that is used in the premium and luxury market segments. Australia produces around 60 per cent of all apparel wool (< 24.5 um), which is mainly Merino wool, and around 90 per cent of the fine apparel wool (<19.5 um), which is all Merino wool.

Tell us about the use of Merino wool in sportswear and outdoorwear.

Consumers are increasingly using sportswear and outdoorwear made of Merino wool for its natural attributes. Additionally, wool is renewable and biodegradable. The moisture management, breathability, odour management properties of wool make it a performance fibre - a fibre of choice for sportswear applications. More and more sportswear and outdoorwear global brands are creating collections that feature wool, from mountaineering and snowboarding to sailing and yoga. Merino wool is finer and therefore, comfortable than other wools, which make it perfect for next to skin base-layers and have made it popular in the outdoor and sports sectors.

Which varieties of Merino wool are popular in the apparel and fashion industry? Which new varieties are textile designers exploring?

Merino wool is used for its fineness, richness of colour, comfort, elasticity and exceptional drape in the apparel and fashion industry. Australian Merino wool is categorised and available in fineness varieties, such as fine, superfine, ultra fine that makes it the preferred fibre for use by the industry. Each textile designer has a vision for their collections and Merino wool products made by international manufacturers help achieve these diverse requirements through a vast array of yarns, knits and fabrics.

Which are the emerging markets for wool? Which are the biggest markets for Australian wool?

Australian wool is used by leading international brands and retailers of premium apparels inclusive of fine suiting, cardigans and pullovers, outerwear, undergarments, sportswear and outdoorwear. The sportswear and outdoorwear category is the fastest growing market segment for the wool industry. Merino wool's ability to combine comfort and flexibility with casual elegance is also making it well placed to cater to the growing market for athleisure - activewear that can be used for non-active and casual, everyday use - with a modern, comfortable and stylish look. Europe, the United States, China, Japan and Korea are the biggest markets for Australian wool products.

The pricing of wool products are comparatively high. How is the market for wool in India and globally?

Wool in India sells in the premium segment. Wool blends sell in the high-price to sub-premium segments of the Indian market. Wool fibre is similarly positioned globally.

What are the major changes that you have noticed in the Australian wool industry in the last decade?

I have had the opportunity to work closely with the Australian wool industry for the last seven years. The wool industry led by Australian Wool Innovation, owner of The Woolmark Company, is pursuing a scientific approach towards growing wool and its sales, including sheep health, paddock management, shearing, testing and standardisation of raw wool, supplemented by digital technology at all levels.

Do you have any suggestions for improvement for the Indian wool industry?

The Indian wool industry is manufacturing wool products for global brands and retailers. It would be worthwhile to explore growing areas such as sportswear, outdoorwear and undergarments in both the domestic and export markets.

What are the latest production and finishing technologies being used in this industry?

The Woolmark Company continuously drives innovations in wool. Some of the latest innovations are Wool Denim, Neulana Protect and Neulana Double. Manufactured by global manufacturers and adopted by international retailers and brands in their collections, these are examples of commercialised innovations.

Which companies or designers are doing groundbreaking work with wool?

There are many companies and designers working innovatively with wool. For example, products using the water- and wind-resistant Neulana Protect fabric, made using OptimTM technology from 100 per cent Merino wool and without any chemical treatments, are now available to consumers across the world from brands including Taylor Stitch/CIVIC (USA), ICICLE (China) and Devold (Norway). Another example is luxury Italian sportswear label Z Zegna - the sportswear line of the iconic Ermenegildo Zegna Group - which unveiled its Techmerino Spring/Summer 2018 collection, in collaboration with The Woolmark Company, during the Pitti Uomo tradeshow.

What sustainable technologies are being used in Merino wool production?

Australian Merino wool is a natural, biodegradable and renewable fibre, making it the perfect choice for those seeking clothing that has minimal impact on the environment. For generations, farmers who produce this fine wool have shown how the Australian rural landscape can be managed effectively while protecting the natural environment, supporting rural communities, and meeting the needs of the increasing environmentally-aware customers. Well looked-after sheep living in a good environment produce the best wool. So Merino farmers are committed to exceptionally high standards of animal welfare, sustainable farming for the benefit of future generations, and responsible use of land and water resources. (HO)
Published on: 03/04/2018

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