Merino wool’s natural benefits teamed with technical innovations are driving the demand for the fibre in the activewear market, as seen at recent sports and outdoor trade shows attended by The Woolmark Company.
At key global sports and outdoor trade events in the northern hemisphere, Australian wool has shown its versatility to thousands of textile manufacturers, brands, designers and retailers.
At the world’s largest activewear trade show, ISPO, in Munich, attended by more than 85,000 visitors, and Outdoor Retailer in Salt Lake City, wool enjoyed increased attention from those looking for the latest fabrics that use a performance fibre produced in a natural environment from a renewable source.
Merino wool has positioned itself as a versatile, multifunctional and technical fibre in this sector thanks to its unique natural features and benefits, such as breathability, temperature control, moisture management, elasticity and resistance to odour.
The Woolmark Company’s Sports/Outdoor advisor Lars Ulvesund said at both ISPO and Outdoor Retailer there was not only increased interest in Merino wool as a technical fibre but also in the latest innovations on offer.
“This encompasses fabric and garment constructions that really stand out from the crowd, be it visually or through technical properties,” says Mr Ulvesund. “Examples of this include circular knit fabrics with pronounced structures and seamless garments in new yarns. It’s also interesting to see that lightweight flat knits are entering the market and competing in the next-to-skin market even though it is still early days.
“Most significant however was the presence of spinners at the trade shows and how they are getting more and more attention. Yarns are more important than ever before in the process of new knit innovations.”
The Wool Lab Sport showcases the latest innovative, commercially available Merino wool fabrics and yarns for a mix of both performance and athleisure apparel.
The Woolmark Company exhibited its new edition of The Wool Lab Sport at the trade shows. The Wool Lab Sport, part of the Spring/Summer 2018 edition of The Wool Lab, showcases the latest innovative, commercially available Merino wool fabrics and yarns for a mix of both performance and athleisure apparel.
The Woolmark Company has been attending ISPO and Outdoor Retailer since 2006 and 2007 respectively, demonstrating and showcasing the features and versatility of Australian wool as part its strategy to influence demand for the fibre. In the past decade, wool’s penetration in the outdoor and sports apparel market has remarkable and continues to grow.
What the brands say about the market for wool
At the trade shows, key brands reported an increase in demand for wool, diversification into new sectors of the market, the development of new wool innovations, and consumers understanding the natural benefits of wool and willing to pay a premium over other fibres for those benefits.
Norweigan brand Devold is at the forefront of innovative Merino wool product.
One of the world’s oldest companies producing wool product for the outdoor market – since 1853 – and in the very top tier of wool apparel production, is Norwegian company Devold. Working closely with their customers, Devold CEO Catherine Stange says exciting innovations arise from very specific requirements from consumers.
“Right now there’s a clear trend towards finer micron Merino wool. Our 17.5-micron collection is getting more and more traction from consumers who are adapting that to a year-round alternative. In addition, we are able to expand and evolve the use of Merino into new categories. For instance, we’ve developed a collection for the sports/high-intensity training segment of the market based on 16.5-micron wool mixed with Tencel.”
Rock ‘N’ Wool: Ortovox customers are understanding the natural benefits of Merino wool.
For Thomas Moe, Head of Mountainwear at German brand Ortovox, he sees an increase in demand for all wool products.
“There’s a big trend in wool, a lot of people are jumping on the wool trend so we as a brand have to go deeper. Deeper means we have to go to the origin and have close contact with the farms, showing what happens from sheep to shop.
“When people understand the benefits of wool they don't talk about the price because they understand the need for wool. Wearing wool, you have all the fibre’s benefits such as odour resistance, and you need less garments. One wool garment is going to be more expensive than a comparable polyester garment, but since you need less garments you actually come out better.”
Demand for wool is on the rise at Helly Hansen.
Outdoor, ski and sailing brand Helly Hansen is also seeing an increase in demand for wool, particularly its base-layer range.
“We’re growing what we are doing with pure Merino wool because it’s what our customers want as it is superb at keeping you warm and comfortable,” says Helly Hansen Category Managing Director Kristoffer Ulriksen. “Merino wool is a more expensive fibre, but the interesting thing is that we’re seeing more and more markets and consumers understanding the benefits of Merino wool; they are willing to pay more to get that added benefit of warmth and comfort.
“One of the exciting new products we have this season is the new seamless Merino wool product. We’ve had some people testing it and the feedback from our athletes trialling it is that it has fantastic comfort. People absolutely love it. It has such great warmth-to-weight ratio that even though it’s lightweight - it’s fairly thin - it has great comfort and warmth for the consumers.”