“Wool on the inside, tech on the outside” – this banner, advertising a new product from Polartec®, says it all.
A company synonymous with synthetics, Polartec® has this year released a new fabric that includes Merino wool. And it is far from the only company to have done so. The addition of wool to sports and outdoor apparel is a trend that is gaining momentum, and nowhere was it more evident than the recent ISPO – the leading international sports business trade show, held 5-8 February 2015 in Munich, Germany.
To put this trend into perspective, 10-15 years ago, synthetic fibres dominated the sports and outdoor apparel market. Even as recently as five years ago, a mere handful of brands at ISPO promoted wool.
This year, there were more than 50.
“We were particularly impressed by the number of Merino-based products on show this year,” said Jo Dawson, CEO of IWTO Sponsor H. Dawson Wool, which exhibited at ISPO. “The growth in Merino being used in the production of outdoor merchandise is on the increase and this is very reassuring for those of us who are passionate about replacing synthetics with wool. We spent three days helping to share our knowledge of how wool perfectly complements an outdoor lifestyle and can be integrated into so many pieces of apparel and equipment, to provide warmth and multi-seasonal performance that’s second to none.”
IWTO Member Südwolle Group, another ISPO exhibitor, agreed: “Merino is still gaining importance with most sport brands establishing a Merino line and increasingly demanding a wide range of different blending components.”
With almost every outdoor brand at the trade shows featuring wool in some way – with many blends well over 50 per cent wool – 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 were among those taking several steps forward by approaching brands and retailers directly, including IWTO Members Südwolle and Safil (check out their Celebration: 60 Yarns Old magazine).
The Woolmark Company (TWC), another IWTO Member with an active interest in strengthening wool’s presence in this market, said that the increased interest in wool in performance apparel has changed the way TWC works with outdoor and sports apparel brands and suppliers. According to TWC’s Chief Strategy and Marketing Officer Rob Langtry, where previously TWC helped 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 retail partners.
“Given The Woolmark Company’s large network of contacts, we are well placed to suggest solutions as well as partners,” said Mr Langtry. “Another now more frequent request is about traceability and supply chain arrangements, with partners asking for help telling the story of wool.”
Lightweight wool wadding for jackets were also on show at ISPO, with wool-filled apparel products becoming increasingly important in the sports and outdoor markets – another area traditionally dominated by synthetics, feather and down products. In response to these changing market trends, TWC has introduced a new Woolmark Specification for wool-filled products.
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.
IWTO thanks Lars Ulvesund, Global Category Manager – Sports/Outdoor, The Woolmark Company, for contributing to this report