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Beyond the Bale : Feb - Mar 08 Supplement
By Melissa Branagh Photo by Ross Bird In an industry renowned for its fickle disposition, a movement has finally emerged that promises to be as enduring as wool itself. Eco-fashion, it seems, is not an oxymoron or a whim. In fact, the swing towards sustainably produced clothing may be permanently in vogue, with experts declaring it a 'megatrend'. New York-based sales agent Vince Mancini, who represents wool mills from Italy and China in the North American market, says it is not surprising that fashion -- by definition a mode of personal expression -- has become a vehicle for transmitting values synonymous with natural, ecological and sustainable living. "With increasing awareness of the environmental impact of climate change, and growing concern for personal wellbeing, everyone is looking for anything green," he says. A 2007 Millward Brown study commissioned by AWI describes a "tectonic shift" in consumer behaviour that reflects a progressive move towards environmental consciousness. "There is strong evidence of rapidly growing consumer demand for products consistent with a 'lifestyle of health and sustainability' (LOHAS)," the report states. "Consumers are no longer simply eating 'healthy' grown food -- they are wearing clothes, using personal care products and outfitting their kitchens ... with healthy/sustainable products." The report cites estimates that the US LOHAS market has already reached US$230 billion in value. 'Green' fashion is growing in popularity throughout the western world, with iconic brands and new companies alike opting for textiles that leave a minimal ecological footprint. UK retail giant Marks & Spencer recently announced a five-year, £200 million eco-plan that forecasts that organic wool and cotton apparel sales will triple. Other major international merchandisers are also making the move, and apparel companies including Nike and Timberland have declared a commitment to sustainable fibres. Addressing the recent AWI Wool Unlimited forum in Geelong, Mr Mancini said demand for 'green' wool in the US apparel market -- the world's largest -- is filtering down from specialty and higher-priced department stores to moderately priced stores. AWI research confirms that wool is increasingly perceived as a 'luxury', discretionary purchase, outside the reach of consumers who do not have the disposable income to be moralistic about purchases. However, Mr Mancini believes it is in Australia's interest to increase the availability of certified organic wool, while creating environmentally friendlier products that capitalise on wool's natural qualities at mainstream price points. "Green is the new black. People feel they are taking responsibility for themselves and the environment when they make 'green' purchases, but this movement is undefined; there is confusion over what makes a fibre or textile 'green'." Mr Mancini says the vagueness of the terminology is advantageous to Australian producers, given that certified organic supplies are limited. "Wool is natural, biodegradable and produced in a sustainable manner, therefore non-organic producers can take advantage of the 'green' trend," he says. "The industry should be promoting these natural attributes -- and in particular educating the trade -- while increasing organic wool volumes for niche markets." Australia currently produces 400 tonnes of certified organic wool each year in the 19 to 23 micron range, most grown in the pastoral zone. Production is expected to grow to between 14 and 27 million kilograms a year, but restrictions on the use of preventive synthetic chemical treatments and herbicides makes certified organic production a challenge in high-rainfall areas and will limit superfine wool volumes. AWI's apparel product development and marketing general manager, Pascal Senkoff, says certified organic production will continue to supply niche markets -- attracting a 10 to 20 per cent premium. But he believes the mainstream fashion market will provide greater opportunities for most Australian woolgrowers. "As the world's largest supplier of Merino wool, we are in a strong position to push the 'natural, biodegradable and sustainable' message and to establish a reputation as the premier natural apparel fibre." Mr Senkoff says results of the AWI-funded pesticide residue survey, conducted by CSIRO, indicate that about 40 per cent of the Australian clip would meet the European Union (EU) Ecolabel standards. ú Sales agent,Vince Mancini: "Everyone is looking for anything green." ECO-TRENDS SUPPLEMENT BEYOND THE BALE 3 CONSUMER TRENDS GREEN IS THE NEW BLACK Certified organic wool will continue to supply niche markets, but all Australian wool is in a strong position to meet demand for natural, sustainable fibres
Dec - Jan 08
Feb - Mar 08