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Craig Welsh

The new chief executive of (AWI) speaks to Laura Lovett about his plans to raise the international profile of wool.

What are the aims of Australian Wool Innovation?
The AWI is a not-for-profit organisation that promotes the work of 29,000 Australian farmers. All money generated goes back into funding our organisation to extend the farmers’ reach, education, technology and media projects. We work with Woolmark brand licensees to promote wool globally.

We would like to encourage retailers to label products containing Australian merino.

What projects do you have planned?
We’ve just completed a project called Protégé, which paired designers such as Donatella Versace, Paul Smith and Calvin Klein with promising designers to create a collection using Australian merino wool. The results were amazing. It culminated in a fashion show from each designer at Pitti Uomo in Florence, which showed the versatility of our wools.

How much impact does Australian wool have in the UK market?
We export close to US$3 billion (£1.53bn) of fabric, which generates up to US$90bn (£46bn) of sales worldwide, so it has a huge impact. Europe accounts for 42% of retail consumption of fine merino wool and in the UK it has sales of US$4.1bn (£2.1bn). Daks, John Smedley, Aquascutum and Burberry all use Australian wool.

Do you miss working with end-product garments, as you have done throughout your career?
My career was grounded in a mix of product and manufacturing. I worked at Puma, Clarks and as general marketing manager at Myer, a high-end department store in Australia.

I think I now have an ideal balance. Plus the variety of subjects that the AWI is involved in is enormous. We do everything from genome therapy in DNA to produce the best-quality wool, to high-end fashion shows where we work with world class designers. It is a great spectrum to work within.

How will the trend for eco-awareness affect the wool market?
Sheep are fed grass, and the only other elements in producing wool are sunshine and rain. Merino can only be made in certain climates so it does have to travel to reach its intended market, but this is offset when you consider how long the garments last.

Market research showed us there was a preference for garments made with eco-friendly fibres. We’re now focusing on traceability – being able to trace a garment back to the farm where that wool came from.

What about the trend for buying quality garments over fast fashion?
The market is coming to us. When you think how long wool lasts, the products are not being created to get dumped the next season. As people lean towards more ethical, natural, traceable and sustainable products, wool will become a key fabric. The Protégé project showed how varied wool can be – it can be just as cutting edge as man-made fabrics.

What’s next for AWI?
The trend for casualwear is growing, so we are focusing on using more distressed looks, softer fabrics and new surface texture in the wools and promoting the easy wear and care aspects. The AWI seeks to be proactive, not reactive, to trends. We have a great natural fibre, but that’s not enough – we have to push new technologies and product development to shape the trends that drive the market.

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