Leading fashion industry figures have backed an initiative launched by the Prince of Wales to turn British shoppers back on to wool.
The Wool Project is designed to educate consumers about the benefits of wool over synthetic fibre alternatives to drive up prices of British, New Zealand and Australian wool on behalf of Commonwealth sheep farmers. It will kick off in September with the launch of Wool Week, and will include in-store events and marketing material.
Speaking at this week’s launch of The Wool Project, at Wimpole Farm in Arrington, Cambridgeshire, the Prince issued a rallying call to “make wool fashionable again” and warned that the future looked “bleak” for the wool industry unless something was done to promote it.
He said that some farmers were looking to breed “wool-less” sheep because the cost of wool production outstripped the income generated by it by up to 16 times.
Industry leaders at the event said that they would back Prince Charles’ ambitions.
Harold Tillman, chairman of the British Fashion Council and owner of Jaeger and Aquascutum, said: “We must not give up on any produce that is still British made or what are we going to export? I feel a strong sentiment for wool. Jaeger was a business founded on natural fibres. The question is, can British wool compete?
“Do I think he [Prince Charles] can do it? He’s top gun and he’s got a voice. It’s better to start from there.”
Prince Charles has already successfully raised the profile of organic and sustainably produced food and made mutton fashionable again. Graham Hales, managing director of branding specialist Interbrand said: “For the Daily Telegraph-reading, M&S-shopping middle-class the Prince is a powerful brand.”
Jeremy Hackett, founder of lifestyle brand Hackett, added: “We already source a tonne of wool and we would like to get involved in our own way.”
Simon Berwin, managing director of men’s tailoring supplier Berwin & Berwin, said he supported the initiative but that it was imperative the project remained in touch with issues facing the high street and consumer. He added: “Polyviscose suits have a limited lifespan and do not give all the features of a wool suit. The Australian Wool Innovation (AWI) had one of the world’s top 10 most recognisable brands with the Woolmark but it has let that slide.”
Separately, Peter Lucas, chairman of the UK Fashion and Textile Association and menswear supplier Baird Group, said his use of wool had fallen off dramatically in the past 18 months because of the “recent advent of very good new polyviscose materials out of China and India”.
He said: “At the mass end, consumers have already voted with their feet - they want design, a nice handle and a good price point. But any interest a royal takes in our industry will have a positive effect. It is likely to work better at the top of the market.”
Prince Charles has drafted in Nicholas Coleridge, managing director of publishing house Condé Nast and a former chairman of the British Fashion Council, to sign up retailers, designers and manufacturers to the campaign.
Coleridge said he planned to take the campaign “all the way to the edge-of-town retail parks… to independent retailers and all the way to London Fashion Week designers and the great high street chains”.
He added: “If we can increase wool sales by just 1% to 2% it will make an enormous impact.”
Marks & Spencer and John Lewis have already signed up.
The project is financed by the British Wool Marketing Board, AWI and a group of New Zealand wool growers.