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Beyond the Bale : Dec 06 - Jan 07
Australian Wool Innovation Limited AWI, GPO Box 4177, Sydney NSW 2001 Standing among her 8000-head Merino flock,Tasmanian grower Sarah Ackland constantly wonders why clothing manufacturers do not use more wool: "It still staggers me that wool -- a natural and breathable product -- is not more popular." Frustrated with this seemingly low level of interest or awareness, and subsequent low prices, Sarah decided to learn more about the 'fleece-to-garment' pipeline through a 2005 Nuffield Scholarship. The burning question was whether or not she and partner Steve Barrington should continue producing Merino wool at 'Apsley Park', their 1400-hectare property at Melton Mowbray, about an hour's drive north of Hobart. 'Apsley Park' is one of three 'monitor farms' that play a central part in Tasmania's 8x5 Wool Profit Program, which is aimed at increasing the productivity and profitability of Tasmanian woolgrowers. The search for an answer took Sarah to New Zealand, Denmark, Egypt, the UK, the US, Canada, Alaska, China and India. Speaking to consumers, retailers and manufacturers, she found that good quality wool is in demand for suiting, knitwear, bedding and sports and outdoor wear, an area where she sees exciting potential. "I went into every outdoor shop in North America I came across and they all stocked New Zealand Merino products," she says. "To me, that was positive. It showed that demand for Merino products is there.Through targeted alignment with brand partners, the benefits of Australian wool will also become more widely known in this market. "The secret to success will be marketing, product development and engaging end-users.We need to focus on the consumer and work our way back, remembering that sheep wear fleece and people wear garments. "Clothing retailers and manufacturers are interested in our products, but for so long we've failed to engage properly with them, probably because traditional selling systems don't suit this type of interaction. However, doing so will ensure we produce what they want, and that they'll pay a fair price for it." Sarah says her attitude to the wool industry's future was backed up by the SpinExpo trade fair, held in Shanghai in October. "The mood was really positive. Showcasing the product and what it can do, makes buyers very keen." Sarah is one of several growers who have embraced Wool Link, an initiative of Tasmanian wool broker Roberts, which aims to provide customer-focused supply chain solutions for Tasmanian wool. She says the initiative is important because it is treating Tasmanian wool as a rare, natural, quality product and not a commodity textile. "We need to move to be price makers and not price takers.While we all work to control on-farm costs, we still need to get a good price for our product." Meeting key retailers and manufacturers through her Nuffield scholarship has made Sarah positive about wool's future. "I am excited by what could be.We have a real depth of commitment -- from growers to marketers and brand partners -- who will work to make this happen." And the answer to her Nuffield question? Sarah says yes, she and Steve will continue growing Merino wool, but she now realises their Merino business is a long way short of its potential. "It's strangely satisfying to be working in an industry that's not in favour because it means the door for tradition is shutting while the door for opportunities in innovation is opening.That makes it an exciting time." -- REBECCA THYER PROFILE Sarah Ackland Tasmanian Merino grower and 2005 Nuffield scholar Growing for garments PHOTO: REBECCA THYER
Feb 07 - Mar 07