Merino wool’s strong performance at ISPO

5 February 2016

As the athleisure/sports luxe trend continues to enter mainstream fashion, a greater emphasis is being placed on Merino wool to take hold of this market, thanks to the fibre’s ability to combine comfort and flexibility with casual elegance. In addition, Merino wool’s performance benefits such as moisture management and odour resistance continue to place wool as the ultimate fibre for base-layer, mid-layer and outer-layer apparel.

Woolmark at ISPO 2016

Visitors at ISPO viewing The Wool Lab Sport and exploring the best available wool fabrics and yarns

At the ISPO trade fair in Munich, Germany, held January 24-27, more than 80,000 visitors from 120 countries attended the sports and outdoor show, with Wool Street once again the centre for all things wool.

The Woolmark Company’s stand was a hive of activity, with visitors viewing the newly launched edition of The Wool Lab Sport and discovering the best commercially available wool fabrics and yarns suitable for activewear. Showcasing the performance benefits of wool, along with its stylish properties, The Wool Lab Sport directly connects brands with manufacturers, ensuring innovative and on-trend products are produced.

With the rise of the athleisure category, or what The Merino Company CEO Andy Wynne refers to as recreational apparel, Merino wool is well placed to cater to this growing market.

“People want to wear performance-looking Merino wool product to a barbecue or out for a coffee, but not necessarily run or exercise in it,” Wynne says. “There’s a really exciting shift in consumer behaviour. We are also seeing a big difference in the summer markets. Historically we’d been mainly a winter producer, but we are seeing a shift in people in the cycling and running sectors - in high-end performance wear areas - where people are moving into Merino wool because of its natural characteristics and our ability to produce lighter weight Nuyarn fabrics.”

Wool’s inherent benefits - such as odour resistance and natural elasticity – have long been heralded for base-layers, yet fabric developments and innovation is seeing Merino wool make its mark in the mid and outer-layer market.

“There has been a very significant amount of interest in fine wool,” says Jo Dawson of H. Dawson Wool. “I think Merino wool continues to grow as a category in the sporting and active outdoor area. Many brands that had been considering other avenues are ensuring that they put Merino into their collections.  

“There is growth in wool usage in all areas, including the garment insulation area that we are working on, because of the fibre’s performance attributes. It is pleasing to note that the market is starting to understand the benefits of wool to outdoor consumers.”

Global Merino has recently introduced a group of lightweight laminates with and without membranes, starting at 175gsm, in response to catering for high aerobic athletic categories, such as running. And as the use of wool in activewear continues to evolve, brands that have traditionally worked with synthetics are starting to turn to wool, blending it with other performance fibres to produce lightweight apparel.

“In the past few years we’ve been able to do things with construction and blend – to achieve fabrics optimally suited for runners whereas 10 years ago we were trying to sell 100% Merino to the runner but we couldn’t get things light enough,” says Global Merino President Jose Fernandez.

“I think the category will continue to evolve. If we find new and different ways to use wool as a technology, we’ll be able to expand markets and find new applications.”

Südwolle Group Managing Director Klaus Steger agrees and says a working supply chain is critical in find new ways to work with wool.

“An increasing part of the business comes from the outdoor and sports industry, but there has been an increased interest from running, cycling and yoga industries recently. The interest in Merino is increasing and new companies are joining, but those who have been running Merino wool for some time are looking for new development to stay ahead of the increased competition. That includes a lot of blends and that’s why Suedwolle Group is getting closer to the brands and is exhibiting at trade shows.”