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Beyond the Bale : June 2018
Wen Qingnan, Chairman of Tianyu Wool Industry. DRAMATIC GROWTH IN CHINA AND ITS WOOL PROCESSING From the early 1980s, there was an increased growth in exports of Australian wool to China and trade visits to China became more regular. “The China of today compared with the China we saw on some of those early visits is like comparing chalk and cheese,” said Andrew Thomas, the former CEO and board member of Michell Wool in Adelaide and former president of Australian Wool Processors Council. “It was just a completely different country in those days. I recall that the first time I went there everybody was riding pushbikes everywhere, as there was essentially no form of motorised transport. You went back two years later and everyone is on motorbikes. And then I was there in the year they purchased 400 taxi-cabs from Japan, training people to drive them. And today you go there and it’s the one of the biggest markets for luxury cars in the world – and that’s really impressed me: how fast, and how dramatically, it changes. “The Chinese wool processing industry has been very well planned and absolutely correct in everything they’ve done, and it’s evident in their market strength today. “One of the great qualities of the Chinese that I really admire is their desire to build relationships, something that they’ve invested in for a long time and put a lot of work into. They have always wanted to be friends as well as colleagues.” Earlier in his career, AWI General Manager for the Eastern Hemisphere, John Roberts, spent three years based in Shanghai. “I was always so impressed at how quickly the Chinese wool industry was able to learn, improvise, adapt and ultimately satisfy the highly quality-conscious consumers from around the world,” he said. “They transitioned from buying and processing broad micron wools for domestic consumption to sourcing some of the highest quality ultrafine Merino wool on the planet which needed to be caressed through the supply chain, and then produced into the highest quality garments in the world. “Wool processing techniques were coming under increasing commercial pressure globally against a backdrop of highly industrial and low-cost mass production of synthetics that was on a rapid ascendency from the early 1990s onwards. China was able to breathe life back into the art of wool processing. Their immense and dedicated workforce and a passion to learn allowed the Chinese to reinvigorate wool processing and soon they were converting raw wool into semi-finished and finished products at the most competitive cost ever seen in the industry.” LOOKING TO THE FUTURE Once a manufacturing hub, China in recent years has also fast become a large consumer of luxury apparel. The finished high-end garments that were previously made for export have begun to find a domestic market thanks to the rise of middle income earners and the birth of a new Chinese fashion consumer. With increased affluence and a tendency towards leading healthier lifestyles, discerning Chinese consumers are now favouring natural, long-lasting garments, more so than following the latest trends perpetuated by fast fashion. As a premium and luxurious natural fibre, Merino wool is therefore one of the most coveted fibres in high fashion in China. Until recently, China’s fashion consumption market was dominated by the big luxury brands and their logos, but as a more sophisticated and nuanced Chinese consumer has emerged so too have home-grown Chinese designer brands, many of which AWI has been working with. As China stakes its claim as one of the world’s most dynamic fashion capitals, it has also become the global centre for wool research and development. The Wool Development Centre and International Wool Education Centre were established in China in 2013 and 2014 by AWI and leading woollen textile enterprise The Nanshan Group, to develop innovative, high-value woven fabrics produced from Founded nearly 20 years ago, Tianyu Wool Industry Co Ltd is the world’s largest importer of Australian wool. The company has five wool scouring lines and 12 sliver production lines, two of which are specially designed for domestic and foreign customers to produce ultra-fine Merino wools. “I have devoted my life to doing just one thing, and that is making wool!” said Chairman of Tianyu Wool Industry, Wen Qingnan. “From 1979, I worked with my older brother in a small wool and apparel production factory. In 1995, I opened a wool trading company. The company grew very quickly due to the demand for wool. Then, in 1999, we set up a wool factory at the Zhangjiagang Free Trade Zone. From wool clothes, fabrics, yarns to tops, I have come into contact with every aspect of the woollen textile industry chain. “More than 80% of our tops are from Merino wool purchased in Australia. In 2017, the purchase volume reached 30,000 tons of Australian wool. “Technology updates have not changed the [top making] process that much, however quality and service are at the core of our business. The advanced equipment from eight factories acquired in Europe have raised the company’s capacity by two-thirds, which has now reached 20,000 tons per year.” AWI General Manager for the Eastern Hemisphere, John Roberts. Australian Merino wool and educate university students on wool manufacturing. Knitwear manufacturing giant Xinao opened an innovative Knitwear Development Centre in collaboration with AWI in 2016. As China’s population has swelled, the cultural and commercial ties between China and Australia have strengthened – and the unique bond between the Australian wool industry and a future-facing China has spawned countless individual stories of business and friendship. The next chapter in the relationship is now being written by a new generation who are eager to build on the ties between the two countries first forged half a century ago. See overleaf to read about the experiences of two young Australian woolgrowers who visited China earlier this year as part of a self-funded study tour of the country’s manufacturing sector, organised by AWI. TIANYU WOOL INDUSTRY OFF FARM 25
In the Shops - September 2018