How is the merino wool industry faring currently? How do you see sustainability driving the industry worldwide? How can players of your kind contribute towards this cause?
Back in 1994, you could barely give merino wool away. People didn’t even want to talk about wool; they thought wool was dead. The outdoor market was dominated by synthetics, but it seemed crazy to me that people would go into the outdoors wearing plastic. I wanted to switch them on to the natural performance benefits of premium merino wool – which include temperature control, softness, breathability and odour-resistance.
The world has woken up to merino wool since then. A few years ago, only a few companies used merino in their sports and outdoors collection. Now, we have more than 60 competitors. Merino wool prices have soared and there is a fast-growing consumer demand for natural fibres. The merino clothing category has gone mainstream, so our job is to lead innovation and quality.
As wool prices rise, companies have to decide where they stand. It’s challenging, but we’re committed to taking a premium market position – we see ourselves as the Prada of the outdoor market.
Another strong international trend in the garment industry is sustainability, and that’s been a core part of our business from the start. In 1997, we pioneered the system of signing up merino growers to long-term contracts rather than buying wool at auction. It gives growers the security to do long-term financial planning, and allows us to set requirements on environmental management, animal welfare and wool quality.
The contract model is increasing in popularity in the New Zealand merino wool industry, and has helped to protect the fragile alpine ecosystems where our wool is grown.
We have the same philosophy through the rest of our supply chain. Our contract manufacturers must agree to abide by our ethical manufacturing standards on areas such as clean manufacturing technologies, fair treatment of workers and garment quality.
Transparent is a word that’s increasingly heard in many industries. For us, transparency is linked to traceability. That’s why we launched our garment traceability programme that allows customers to use a unique number on their individual garment to trace the merino wool in that garment back to the New Zealand sheep stations where it was grown.
We’ve found that customers increasingly care about where the things they buy come from. They want to know about the ethical commitment of the companies they buy from, and the impact of their purchases on the planet.
We are committed to a business model that doesn’t put profits ahead of the environment, and a growing number of companies around the world are making a similar commitment. It’s exciting to be part of a growing movement towards sustainability.
Published on: 20/06/2012
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.