Woolmark supporting Australian wool sector during COVID-19

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The Woolmark Company, a subsidiary of Australian Wool Innovation and a global authority on wool, is providing support to its supply chain partners since the COVID-19 pandemic began. While the apparel and textiles supply chain, including the wool industry, adapted to escalating containment efforts, some brands and companies stepped up positively.

There is no denying that the wool industry will face its own set of unique challenges in the face of COVID-19. The Woolmark Company managing director Stuart McCullough answers a few questions on how the Australian wool industry is being affected and how The Woolmark Company is providing support to the industry during this unprecedented time.

How big of a challenge is COVID-19 to the wool industry?

It’s an ever-changing situation. This is mainly due to price degradation; however we also witnessed demand deterioration as stores closed and people stayed (and are still staying) home. Every event presents its own unique challenges. COVID-19 is unlike anything we have experienced in our lifetime. It presents different challenges to drought and fire.

Our highest concern was the issue of harvesting wool from sheep for those woolgrowers who would normally be performing shearing this time of year. Shearing is essential from both an animal welfare and livelihood point of view. The wool industry is heavily dependent on wool being removed; without wool there are no sales and with no sales there is no fibre available to the supply chain. At this stage we have been informed shearing remains an essential service and will ensure we communicate best practice regarding hygiene and social distancing in the shearing shed for travelling shearing teams, contractors and woolgrowers.

With many textile factories shut down, will there be an increased demand for wool now that synthetics will be less available?

We assume synthetics will be similarly affected so we shouldn’t see a significant increase or decrease in demand for one fibre over the other. What concerned us mostly is the complete shutdown of the Italian mills which are class leaders and top of the fashion triangle and the major brand influencers of wool fashion.

What's the biggest effect that Italy is having on the wool industry right now?

Currently we have less visibility over Italian production due to the uncertainty of the virus. Italian operators generally run a pretty lengthy supply inventory so stock on hand was immediately available to them once the lockdown in that country ceased. They also tend to manufacture well in advance as design and fashion is often set six months prior to sale.

Is this a survivable year, financially, for Australian wool farmers? How are they making it?

Yes. Australian woolgrowers will survive. They are a resilient bunch of business people and good at managing the tough issues that are thrown at them regularly. The drought and the effects of that drought on stock numbers and bank accounts continues to be the main hurdle for recovery of the sheep and wool production. COVID-19 will affect some farmers’ incomes for those having to sell into a market that is guideless at present, but prices are relatively okay for the moment. If we get a good rainfall prior to end of Autumn, then wool and sheep meat income should be strong for the second half of this year.

In addition to physical wool auction markets, we also have the WoolQ platform—a secure online platform where woolgrowers, classers, brokers, buyers, manufacturers, and ultimately brands, can access digital tools to support all stages of the wool-growing and selling cycle.

Finally, how is The Woolmark Company supporting the supply chain and designers during the current unprecedented situation?

At this time of global uncertainty, uniting with others in pursuit of a common cause becomes increasingly important. Our commitment to supporting designers, brands and retailer partners has not waivered.  

We appreciate these are going to be extremely challenging times for our supply chain partners and Woolmark Prize alumni and The Woolmark Company is available to offer support in the following ways:

Supply chain support and troubleshooting any wool production and innovation issues

Providing free online training and education for staff networks via the Woolmark Learning Centre

Access to our expert mentoring series through webinar

Free access to our asset bank of content including imagery and video to help market products in a cost-effective way

Pausing Woolmark Licence subscription fees for all current licensees for the next six months to ensure manufacturers continue to deliver world class quality garments when consumers need reassurance

Continuing to support the incredible creative from our designer network, and promoting collections to our global audience of 1 million followers.