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A fibre of success / The Woolmark Company celebrates 50 years

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A fibre of success: The Woolmark Company celebrates five decades of Australia-China wool trade
Article & Images courtesy of Woolmark & NAC Media Group

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The colloquial Australian expression of “riding on the sheep’s back” summed up the golden era of the wool industry (during the 1950s wartime) where demand for Australian wool surged since soldiers needed woollen coats to survive the freezing winters. In 2018, the Australian wool industry is celebrating more than 50 years of successful wool trade to China – a relationship that has established China as Australia’s largest customer, buying about 80% of Australia’s wool.

Today, Australia exports 271 million kilograms of the natural, renewable and biodegradable fibre to China, a sharp rise from pre-1980 when this figure stood at less than 10 million kilograms. Once predominately a manufacturing hub, China in recent years has also fast become a large consumer of luxury apparel. The Chinese textile and apparel market is worth a staggering $2.76 billion as part of China’s transformation into a global powerhouse following its decision to open up to the international economy.

With 1.4 billion people driving a new consumer culture and an economy growing at more than 7% per year, today it seems the only constant in China is changing, but what endures is the country’s vast appetite and passion for Australian Merino wool and its deeply committed relationship with Australian woolgrowers. In a series of special initiatives throughout the year, The Woolmark Company is marking more than half a century of a cross-cultural partnership between Australia and China – spanning the wool trade through to design creativity. A delegation of Chinese media will visit Australia, to not only experience the origin of this fine fibre but also to celebrate the special bond between the two counties. In addition, a commemorative book sharing personal stories from industry stalwarts and those shaping its future has been produced. “China continues to remain the single most important buyer of Australian wool, with close to 80% of our fibre exported there,” explains The Woolmark Company Managing Director Stuart McCullough.

“I first started travelling to China as a wool trader in the late-1980s and was convinced from an early stage that the Australian wool industry was going to significantly benefit from the processing capacity of China. What evolved across the next 30 years exceeded any expectation I had in those early days and China has become not only a processing powerhouse but a consumption giant – the likes of which we will never see again.”
“The domestic consumption of our fibre is now being driven by the emergence of great affluence in China, which will continue to grow. Not only have we the perfect processing partner on our doorstep but we also have the perfect consumption partner.”

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, Australian 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 homegrown Chinese designer brands, many of which The Woolmark Company has been working with such as Particle Fever and COMME MOI.

This series of special events truly celebrates the fibre of success and the bond between the Australia and China but also gives rise to the new generation of designers who are paving the way forward for the future of the fibre.

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