Sportswear continues to embrace Merino wool

27 February 2015

There is no question about which fibre is the talk of the sports and outdoor apparel industry: wool.

Polartec new fabric advertisement
An indication of the degree to which wool is now appreciated by the outdoor and sports trade is the fact that Polartec® – a company synonymous with synthetics – has this year released a new fabric that includes Merino wool.

In January, two of the world's largest annual sports and outdoors trade events – Outdoor Retailer in Salt Lake City, USA and ISPO in Munich, Germany - were held, with The Woolmark Company in attendance to continue its business development initiatives and help strengthen wool’s increasing presence in this market.

The momentum of brands choosing wool in performance apparel shows no sign of reducing, as demonstrated by the line-up of important synthetic manufacturing companies launching their own wool-rich products, with the composition of wool in many cases being well over 50 per cent.

One of the most significant companies launching wool in their range is Polartec®, a company that has previously had a significant negative effect on the demand for wool over the years due to their huge synthetic Polar Fleece program. Today they run press conferences in the US and Europe presenting their new Power WoolTM fabric that combines Merino wool and synthetic fibres in a hybrid construction.

With almost every outdoor brand at the trade shows featuring wool in some way, the competition is fierce with brands and manufacturers seeking ways to differentiate themselves from their competitors. This request for innovations has put a renewed focus on wool spinners who are taking several steps forward by approaching brands and retailers directly. Südwolle, Safil , Chia Her, Schoeller and Shin Han were all exhibiting at the trade shows.

The Woolmark Company’s Sports and Outdoors category manager, Lars Ulvesund, said where previously The Woolmark Company had been helping brands find suitable suppliers and products, it is now working across multiple areas encompassing advanced developments and innovations as well as building marketing communication activities together with partners.

“Given our large network of contacts, we are well placed to suggest solutions as well as partners,” he said. “Another now more frequent request is about traceability and supply chain arrangements, with partners asking for help telling the story of wool. And the story about the Australian wool is one of our biggest assets.”

Lightweight knitted Merino wool fabrics for spring/summer and indoor sports continue to be promoted by The Woolmark Company, working to spread the message that wool is also a fibre for warmer climates and indoor activity.

“Wool is a trans-seasonal, high-performance fibre and the natural choice for sports and outdoor wear,” Mr Ulvesund said. “Next-to-skin Merino wool apparel provides a high level of comfort, suitable for those seeking a sense of wellbeing in a broad range of leisure and sporting activities and wool’s natural properties such as moisture management and odour resistance make it a fibre of choice for athletes.”

As well as promoting the continued uptake of Merino wool for next-to-skin apparel, The Woolmark Company has also recently placed a greater focus on wool outerwear, with an innovative woven fabric the standout of the recent trade shows.
Made from 100 per cent Australian Merino wool, MerinoPerform™ WP delivers a unique, high-performance machine-washable fabric which is resistant to wind and rain. The Woolmark Company supported the development of the fabric and is successfully helping promote it to the trade, with the innovation being taken up by some of the leading outdoor and sports companies.

“MerinoPerform™ WP represents a significant development in the sports and outdoor sector, creating a fabric ideal for outer-wear apparel,” Mr Ulvesund said. “Using the latest fibre stretching technology, the wool is pre-stretched and spun into yarn before being woven into MerinoPerform™ WP, creating a highly compact fabric with enhanced water and wind resistance.”

Lightweight wool wadding for jackets were also on show, with wool-filled apparel products becoming increasingly important in the sports and outdoor markets – an area traditionally dominated by synthetics, feather and down products. The Woolmark Company has introduced a new Woolmark Specification for wool-filled products in response to these changing market trends.

The Specification will now allow for these manufacturers and garment makers to carry the Woolmark or Woolmark Blend logo on suitable qualifying products, with a range of stock tickets and labels that are available for garments.

The new Hydro-duct technology for Merino wool fabrics that transfers liquid sweat away from the body – developed by Woolmark licensee Diyang Merino Textile Ltd in partnership with The Woolmark Company – was a ‘Gold Award’ at this year’s ISPO trade show.

Other significant developments and innovations from The Woolmark Company’s MerinoPerform™ brand partners exhibited at Outdoor Retailer and ISPO include:

  • Warp knits
  • Merino wool blend wovens
  • Laminated mid and outer-layer fabrics
  • Merino wool denim
  • An ultrafine, 14 micron, Merino wool fabric
  • Lightweight jersey for fitness.