Campaign for Wool highlights the benefits of the fiberWritten by Saige Albert
“I was shocked to discover that it often costs more to shear a sheep than the farmer gets paid for the wool,” said Prince Charles at the onset of the campaign. “Around the world, farmers were reducing the size of their flocks and giving up sheep herding all together.”
“This powerless economic situation had been brought about because we were too regularly ignoring the natural product in favor of cheaper man-made alternatives,” he continued.
Solving the wool crisis
With increasing concern, Prince Charles invited industry representatives – from woolgrowers to top-end designers and manufacturers – to his home in London to come up with a solution to the problem.
“Everyone realized that wool was brilliant product, but consumers had forgotten its benefits,” explained Prince Charles. “The result is this campaign, which is helping to raise awareness about wool’s unique properties, which are, frankly, amazing.”
Rita Kourlis-Samuelson, wool marketing director at the American Sheep Industry Association (ASI), added, “He met with some of the growers and they told him what was going on in the industry. They decided to begin a campaign to let people know about the attributes of wool and the importance of wool in fashion and interior design.”
With John Thorley, a sheep producer and founder of the National Sheep Association in the United Kingdom, as chairman, the Campaign for Wool was officially launched in February 2010.
Campaign for Wool
The Campaign for Wool is an international effort that focuses on educating consumers about the benefits of the fiber and is currently supported by over 70 companies and organizations in the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, U.S., Japan, Spain, Denmark and France.
As a multi-national, multi-sector and inclusive campaign, the effort strives to embrace every facet of the wool industry.
“It promotes all wool for all wool growers,” adds Kourlis-Samuelson.
Beginning in 2011, the U.K. introduced the Wool Modern exhibit in London, which highlighted the artistry of wool with a showcase of fashion, carpet and insulation design. The event coincided with International Wool Week, held in October.
With a full schedule of events for this year, the Campaign for Wool will continue to expand worldwide.
“This fall, they will come to the U.S., so they will have a program here,” says Kourlis-Samuelson, who also notes that the campaign will launch in France, Italy and China this year as well. “ASI has contributed for a few years now.”
This year, ASI hosted the 81st annual International Wool Textile Organizational (IWTO) Congress on May 7 in New York City to bring together all segments of the wool industry to discuss opportunities for continued advancement.
Nearly 250 industry representatives from 23 countries attended the event, and IWTO President Peter Ackroyd said, “It was pleasing to hear so many upbeat and optimistic presentations about the return of wool in floor coverings, furnishings and fashion.”
Why choose wool?
“What is wonderful about wool is that it has so many natural properties, and it is important for consumers to know about those,” explains Kourlis-Samuelson. “A lot of non-sustainable fibers try to imitate one of these qualities, but it is impossible to imitate all of them.”
As a natural and sustainable fiber, wool offers a number of benefits that make it desirable.
“Wool is naturally fire resistant,” says Kourlis-Samuelson, explaining that it is frequently used in the military for uniforms. “It also absorbs dye and resists odor.”
Additionally, wool is biodegradable, breathable, durable and easy to care for. With advancements in the textile industry, she adds that processed, washable wools are more readily available. She also notes that wool offers advantages for wearing year round because it is capable of reacting to changes in body temperature.
“Wool is active to keep you warm when you’re cold, but releasing heat and moisture when you’re hot,” says Campaign for Wool’s website.
The versatile fiber also is sustainable, which appeals to consumers and retailers today.
“Right now, there is a big push for a lot of retailers to look for garments that are sustainable, renewable and natural,” says Kourlis-Samuelson. “Wool fits into that category.”
Current wool markets
Last year, wool prices hit record highs, and Kourlis-Samuelson says that, although they have come down a little, demand is still strong.
“In the late 1990s to early 2001, we had a lot of inventory that we had to get rid of,” she explains. “Now there is no inventory of wool, so demand is steady.”
With a three-fold increase in wool prices since the campaign began, sheep farmers are now able to prosper and the Campaign for Wool has been successful. Efforts to promote and educate consumers about wool continue, and, the Campaign for Wool comments, “All we are saying is give fleece a chance.”