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Beyond the Bale : September 2011
September 2011 BEYOND THE BALE 9 OFF-FARM When Ian and Phyllis Gill established their business producing ultrafine wool from their Saxon Merinos at Benalla, Victoria, their aim was to produce extremely high quality wool. Results didn't take long to arrive. In 1997 they produced their first 1PP bale, which was purchased by Filatura Fontinella, Italy, to be made into worsted yarns for weaving. However, a meeting with Silvio Botto Poala of Italian textile manufacturer Botto Giuseppe, fundamentally changed the focus of the Gills' business. "Silvio questioned the wisdom of twisting our ultrafine fibre into a form suitable for weaving," Ian says. "He suggested enhancing the fibre's softness by twisting it less tightly and knitting super soft garments. After all, the fibres were finer and potentially softer than cashmere, and considerably longer! "No one in the world was using 14 micron natural Australian Merino fibre for knitwear, so our Jemala luxury knitwear business was launched to take advantage of this niche market." Jemala ultrafine Saxon Merino fibres normally only vary by a maximum of 0.5 micron along their length. The fibre is harvested only when the fibre reaches 72 millimetres in length, and at 14.0 micron it is the finest wool commercially available for knitwear. The fibre is sent to Italy for processing where Pettinatura de Verona transforms Jemala's raw product into top with a mean fibre length in the top of 62 millimetres, nearly twice as long as cashmere. It is then shrink-proofed and spun to Jemala's exacting yarn specifications that have been determined after years of development with the most reputable spinners in Italy. "However, the pièce de résistance in the production of Jemala apparel is in the knitting," Ian says. "We have access to the only 45 gauge knitting machine in the world in Italy, which ensures our products are knitted and finished at an unsurpassed level of quality." Jemala has developed an important presence in Italy, to capture access to both design and artisan skills, and ready access to the highly sophisticated European market. This also leads to ready access to the lucrative USA and Japanese markets where Ian says "Made in Italy" is taken as a byword for quality. "We decided to focus on Italy and Japan through personal contacts we developed after being recognised through the Loro Piana organisation, when we achieved a world record bale in 2002. We developed a contact list, worked at those on the list, and persisted with the highest quality yarn and knitters we could find." Ian and Phyllis are, by their own admission, persistent in seeking out opportunities. They can often be seen networking at the world's major textile trade shows -- such as Première Vision in Paris and SpinExpo in Shanghai -- to help build up the market for their product. From the outset, their promotion has been impressive. One of their fleeces was selected for the official Woolmark display at the 27th Olympiad in Sydney; their knitwear (representing the Australian wool industry) was presented to the Heads of Government at the APEC conference in Sydney; and Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II also wears several items of their knitwear. The Gills have taken the opportunity to utilise the services AWI's network of offices around the world. "I've found a keen hardworking band of enthusiasts at every point of contact I've dealt with at AWI," Ian says. "Whether in Hong Kong, Paris, Shanghai, Tokyo, New York or London, I've found a passionate, knowledgeable staff supporting our efforts in marketing. "The current trend in marketing used by AWI needs support and expansion. We have to convince each new generation of the unique properties of Merino fibre, to wean them away from their cotton and synthetic world." The Gills' sons, Jeff and Matt, also take an active role in the Jemala business. Like their parents, they believe that woolgrowers, who concentrate on quality rather than quantity, will be the long-term success stories of the wool industry. More information: www.jemala.com.au FAST FACTS l Jemala's 14.0 micron Merino is the finest wool commercially available for knitwear. l The company has developed an important presence in Italy, which also provides a springboard to other markets. l AWI has a network of offices around the world that can help support companies selling Australian wool products. Unique ultrafine knitwear Jemala's 14 micron Merino knitwear is knitted using the only 45 gauge machine in the world. "HOWEVER, THE PIÈCE DE RÉSISTANCE IN THE PRODUCTION OF JEMALA APPAREL IS IN THE KNITTING" IAN GILL