SupplyCompass speaks to Stuart McCullough, Managing Director of The Woolmark Company—the global authority on wool. The Woolmark Company connects the global apparel and textile supply chain on behalf of about 60,000 woolgrowers that help fund the not-for-profit company. We speak to Stuart to uncover the common misconceptions about wool, learn about their recent collaborations and vast investment into wool research, and hear more about the latest innovations in the industry.
About The Woolmark Company
The Woolmark logo is one of the world’s most recognised and respected brands, representing a commitment between woolgrowers, brands and consumers on the authenticity and quality of the fibre that connects us. Their business units are designed to support their partners to showcase the natural benefits and unique properties of Merino wool, provide sourcing support, pioneer innovation and deliver training and education to help promote wool product.
In Conversation With is SupplyCompass' interview series, highlighting fashion businesses from around the globe who are balancing people, profit and planet, and are leading the way when it comes to responsible business.
Tell us more about The Woolmark Company?
The Woolmark Company is the global authority on wool. Our iconic logo represents quality, longevity and authenticity. Acting on behalf of more than 60,000 Australian woolgrowers, we take great pride in celebrating the unique versatility and infinite potential of wool — working across the entire supply chain, from the farm, through the processors and manufacturers, with designers, brands and retailers and ultimately educating consumers on the fibre’s inherent benefits.
Why should brands consider Merino wool as part of their sustainability strategy?
No other fibre, natural or man-made, can mimic all of the benefits of wool. It truly is nature’s original eco fibre. It’s 100% natural, renewable, biodegradable, recyclable and is the ultimate fibre for circular design. We also invest in science-backed research to ensure we can substantiate all of our claims, ensuring they are credible and factual. With microplastics continually being a strong topic of conversation at both the brand and consumer level, we can say without any level of uncertainty that wool—and machine-washable wool—does not contribute to microplastic pollution. This, along with other bodies of research, can help brands champion a plastic-free wardrobe and build consumer confidence they are being as environmentally friendly as possible.
With microplastics continually being a strong topic of conversation at both the brand and consumer level, we can say without any level of uncertainty that wool—and machine-washable wool–does not contribute to microplastic pollution. This, along with other bodies of research, can help brands champion a plastic-free wardrobe and build consumer confidence they are being as environmentally friendly as possible.
What are the most common misconceptions about wool?
Time and time again our global consumer surveys show the biggest barriers to wool are prickle and itch, hard to care for and that it doesn’t breathe. This couldn’t be any further from the truth. Years of refined breeding and processing techniques have made Merino wool the finest and softest wool in the world. Merino wool fibres are super fine and flexible so they bend with your body, making them gentle on even the most sensitive skin.
Unlike traditional, coarse wool from decades ago, modern Merino is largely machine washable, taking the chore out of doing the laundry. And because wool is naturally resistant to odours and stains, wool garments actually require less washing than apparel from other fibres. This not only saves you time but saves you money on water and energy bills whilst reducing your eco-footprint. Finally, Merino wool is loved by athletes across the globe, not only because of its odour resistance but also its inherent breathability, wicking away moisture to ensure your Merino performs with you.
Additionally, the common misconception that people are allergic to wool has also been found to be false. A major study conducted by an expert group of allergists, immunologists, and dermatologists from across the globe reviewed the past 100 years of research and found no evidence that wool is an allergen. In fact, superfine Merino wool can actually be beneficial to those suffering from skin conditions such as eczema.
Can you share more from some of your recent collaborations?
One of our recent collaborations is with US-based running brand Tracksmith, which recently released its Run Commute collection. During these uncertain times, more and more people are seeking alternative ways to commute as they look to avoid public transport. Cities across the world are creating more cycling lanes, people are walking or running to work and wool’s technical and performance benefits take you from the road to the office without needing to carry a change of clothes. Collaborating with Tracksmith, the Run Commute collection combines fashion and function to meet the demands of the lifestyle-oriented consumer.
What innovations are occurring in the wool world?
We have a range of exciting product and process innovations, promoting reduced-impact end garments and driving the adoption of cleaner wool processes and technologies. From Merino fur to footwear, digital printing and eco dyes, Merino wool’s innate ability to bring your deigns to life is unrivalled.
Health and wellbeing has been key focus for Woolmark across a number of departments for a few years now, yet Covid-19 has escalated it to become a top priority. Products offering health benefits and optimised living are carving a position in wardrobes, not just pantries, and we have seen consumers looking for holistic user-led approaches to address body and mind. We will continue to position Merino wool as a solution to optimise health and performance across the entire supply chain.
We are working on treatments which bolster wool’s health and wellbeing benefits even further. We are currently doing rigorous research and trials with applied antibacterial and antiviral treatments to wool, which would be a value add to many products in the health and wellness industry, including face masks. Our research, development and technical teams are busy working with supply chain partners and investigating the type of filter needed.
Whilst Merino wool face masks will not be of medical grade, they can be worn for the wearer’s benefit or for the benefit of those around them. By providing alternative solutions we can prevent medical masks being taken away from healthcare workers. Our research, development and trials into antibacterial and antiviral treatments will be of particular significant in this space.
What advice would you give to fashion brands wanting to be more responsible?
Responsibility and sustainability are no longer ‘nice to haves’ – they must be integrated into every aspect of a brand. Do your research and have a clear vision of what you want to achieve. If 2020 has taught us anything it’s that consumers want clothes that offer comfort, quality and longevity. Designing for circularity and eliminating waste are ways to extend product life and reduce the need for new resources. Choose circular fibres, such as wool – which is by nature a circular product. This will also allow you to perhaps rethink your current business model to utilise recycled wool yarns and develop take-back or rental schemes.