High-end wool goes sporty

Zach RelphCountryman
Sydney model and jumps athlete Amy Pejkovic in the Adidas apparel collaboration with The Woolmark Company.
Camera IconSydney model and jumps athlete Amy Pejkovic in the Adidas apparel collaboration with The Woolmark Company. Credit: The Woolmark Company

Comfort-chasing consumers filling their wardrobes with brands like Adidas, Puma and Nike will underpin WA’s $826 million wool sector long-term, industry figureheads say, as the activewear trend gains popularity.

The growing fad has already provided a shot in the arm for the State’s woolgrowers on the back of rising demand for fine Merino wool, used to make activewear, across Europe and Chinese mills.

Australian Wool Innovation chief executive Stuart McCullough attributed last year’s record prices, when the greasy commodity was trading at more than 2200¢/kg, to the fibre’s global return to fashion.

“We are seeing the reinvention of wool as an athletic-clothing fabric,” he said.

“Wool is making serious inroads into the previously polyester-only athleisure or active-wear market, in everything from running shirts and shoes to hoodies and yoga leggings.

“There are 300 million affluent Chinese on our doorstep, and another 300 million coming up behind them.”

AWI last year flagged wool demand from leading sportswear companies, such as Adidas, to use in clothing and running shoes would support ongoing demand strong for the fine fibre.

The sportswear trend prompted The Woolmark Company, an AWI subsidiary, to release an apparel and shoe range in collaboration with Adidas mainly made of Merino wool last year. Competitors Nike and Puma are also using wool in sneakers and clothing in an attempt to benefit from consumers opting for natural fibres over synthetic.

It comes as WA’s 14 million head flock produces about 70 million kilograms of greasy wool each season, with China importing about 80 per cent of the State’s wool clip.

India accounts for 8 per cent and the Czech Republic takes 4 per cent, according to Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development figures.

Fine wool between 18 to 20 micron is considered ideal for sportswear because of its ability to stretch, absorb moisture and be stain-resistant.

Kojonup woolgrower Steve McGuire said the WA clip had averaged about 19 micron in recent seasons, making it suitable for a variety of clothing markets and changing fashion trends.

“We need a range of industries for our wool — the more outlets, the better,” he said. “We are at the luxury end of the market, generally, and the greater variety of usages for our wool, the better.”

Elders wool selling centre manager Simon Hogan said he expected parts of Europe and America to also firm as major consumers of Australian-produced wool.

“They want to know what they’re wearing is made from, if it is environmentally-friendly and sustainable,” he said.

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