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Beyond the Bale : Dec 08 - Jan 09
16 Business Beyond the Bale Mill’s future stands on blending history and change tough times may not be over, but the Waverley australia woollen mill is set to capitalise on a new partnership opportunity and has strong local community support Waverley australia’s managing director ian sloan in the launceston mill, which has been operating on the same site since 1874. By Melissa Marino W hen Waverley Woollen Mills first opened, its looms were powered by electricity generated by a waterfall at the rear of the property. Bushrangers roamed the nearby Launceston hills and Port Arthur was still a penal colony. It was 1874. Today, some 134 years later, Waverley Australia’s mill is still operating on its original site, although it has grown substantially. It is this sort of provenance that has attracted The Merino Company (TMC) – a Melbourne-based international wool purchasing and marketing company, which, in a new collaboration, hopes to propel Waverley’s products further onto the world stage. Waverley Australia’s managing director Ian Sloan says TMC will be a partner in terms of marketing Tasmanian products. “We see opportunities for us in a number of areas overseas, and this strategic alignment will help penetrate those markets,” he says. Add the company’s provenance to the caché Tasmania already has as a producer, and that’s a powerful selling point, he says. “Tasmania is a brand. It is perceived, quite correctly, as one of the environmentally cleanest and most desirable places on the planet to have produce from,” Ian says. Waverley is in a good position to capitalise on that reputation. It is one of the last remaining manufacturers of pure wool blankets in Australia, and wears its ‘Australian Made’ and ‘Woolmark’ labels with pride. And despite its rich heritage, the mill has not languished in its past. Back in 1874 its waterfall-sourced electricity gave it power before the town. Today it continues to be an innovator, staying relevant to its buyers by closely watching textile trends. It still manufactures the blankets, for which it is famous, but is also moving further into homewares to keep in step with consumer demand. “We believe home textiles is the area that will have the greatest amount of growth, particularly as people – especially young people – become more house-conscious,” Ian says. “We’re now producing 18 micron superfine woollen throws that we expect will penetrate many of the top level department stores in the northern hemisphere in partnership with TMC.” A range of Lenor Romano designer throws manufactured by Waverley is now on display at Saks Fifth Avenue in New York as a result PHOTO: MELISSA MARINO of the TMC alliance, drawing on TMC contacts and Waverley’s production expertise. Ian says throws add “theatre” to the home, but are also functional. “These days, when heating the home is one of the contributors to global warming, it makes sense to turn your heaters down and put a nice- looking throw over your knees.” An awareness of broad market and community issues, he continues, is integral to the company’s ongoing success, and he lists the mulesing issues in Europe and Scandinavian countries as an example. In response, Waverley is looking closely at opportunities to use as much non-mulesed wool as possible, and Ian is confident the company will have a reasonable quantity to service markets where this is a concern. More broadly, Ian feels consumers are increasingly interested in a clean and green production process with a low carbon footprint, and the company is conscious of developing and promoting its credentials in these areas. This includes shipping, rather than flying, products overseas, and the use of only non-toxic chemicals in the dyeing process. According to Ian, Waverley’s promotion of its products as the embodiments of Tasmania’s clean, green standards is not merely a marketing line, but a real consequence of the knowledge and experience of Tasmanian woolgrowers. This gives them an edge in producing superior genetic stock, and in understanding their unique environment to create exceptional Merino fibre. Furthermore, despite recent drought, historically good rainfall has meant much Tasmanian fleece is relatively free of vegetable matter, which can be an expensive issue for mills elsewhere. Meanwhile, the mill’s long-standing locality has also resulted in strong ties with local woolgrowers and to the community, providing jobs and opportunities over decades. Yet, although Ian is confident about the mill’s future in a changing world, business can sometimes be tough. Just last year, the mill lost a contract for manufacturing Qantas blankets to an offshore supplier and had to shed about half of its 100 staff. “We had to downsize and downsize very quickly. It caused a lot
February March 2009
Oct - Nov 08