Woolmark Company, a subsidiary of Australian Wool Innovation has taken up many new India specific initiatives. The Woolmark licensing program, awareness seminars, Merino wool design competition, Merino wool design forecasting are just a few. Australian Wool Innovation is a ‘not for profit’ organisation. It markets and promotes on behalf of wool growers of Australia. “We promote Australian merino wool. This is probably the finest wool in the world and is majorly used in the apparel industry. We educate consumers and trade about wool, about the benefits of wool and how new innovations can be adopted in the industry. There are many things happening in the Woolmark Company from fiber to fashion. The company is working very closely with wool growers to genetically modify this fiber to make it finer, softer and is at the same time working with spinners, manufacturers, weavers, knitters, brand partners, retailers,” Sheikh explains.
Its target audience includes manufacturers, who take the license of Woolmark to comply with the technical specifications of Woolmark. There is a certain fee applicable, which is paid annually. In India, the company has over 150 Woolmark licensees. Woolmark assists these manufacturers in terms of technical inputs, product development and business development activities. And it works with spinners too to reposition wool as a premium fiber.
Elaborating on the Wool Lab concept, Sheikh opines, “We launched the first version for autumn/winter 2012-13 in August 2011. This concept brings creativity into wool at one place. Our team defines the forecast for the next season and we request our partners, who are our licensees also, to send their swatches and garments under that forecast. And then we identify the best one that fits into that forecast and accordingly we create the complete collection. And then we promote it globally to brands and retailers. If the brands and retailers are interested in these fabrics, which are again a forecast, then these fabrics are commercially available. We can link these to the suppliers of the swatches so that there is a business development activity. And we don’t charge anything for this.”
Apart from the above initiatives, The Woolmark Company is also working towards changing the notion that woolens can only be used during winters. Sheikh highlights that since it’s a natural fiber that can be used as a trans-seasonal product. “There are people who use 100 per cent wool trousers for summer because they find it comfortable. Wool has strong breathing power, it circulates air between the fabric and the body and that keeps the temperature under control. I am not saying if you wear a sweater in summer it will keep you cool. The thickness of the fabric will act as an insulator and won’t allow the whole fabric to breathe,” he adds.
Explaining further, Sheikh talks about the Cool Wool Program. “We are coming up with some programs globally and in India like the Cool Wool program. It’s a program that will highlight the benefits of wool and how it can be used for summer. Apart from this, there are a number of other activities in product development. After a long time Woolmark is getting active in the market across the value chain. We were with the India Fashion Week. We are trying to identify new things where we can be present and wool can be well represented in those segments.”
On a positive note, he adds, “Woolmark invests for the future and we feel India is growing in terms of disposable income of the consumer and in terms of global standards. Consumers are graduating to the next level. And this is where wool comes in because of its many properties. As international brands come in, they will introduce more wool-oriented products in the market.”