Let new generations understand the value of wool – Luxe.Co’s exclusive interview with Mr. Stuart McCullough, CEO of The Woolmark Company

June 4,2018

There are seventy-one million sheep in Australia, with the total wool production of 345 million kilograms, of which three-fourths are high quality merino wool. As a non-profit organization jointly owned by 60,000 growers, The Woolmark Company is committed to providing R&D and marketing services for the global supply of Australian wool. In other natural fiber market, such as cotton and silk, there are no similar organizations undertaking the promotion responsibilities.

At the headquarter of The Woolmark Company in Sydney, Australia, Mr. Stuart McCullough, the CEO of the company elaborated on the wool business to Luxe.Co recently. Located in the southern hemisphere, Australia has relatively hot weather and small population, which limit the sales and promotion of wool products. The purpose of The Woolmark Company is to promoting the wool fiber in northern hemisphere and helping Australian farmers exploring more market resources.

Our responsibility is to let new generations be aware of the value of wool.

Mr. Stuart McCullough is also the CEO of Australian Wool Innovation Ltd. He emphasized on “new generations” in his exclusive interview with Luxe.Co.

Mr. McCullough is a veteran with more than 25 years of experience in the wool industry. The Woolmark Company and the entire Australian wool industry have realized that their most important promoting targets are the millennial (Generation Y) and Generation Z in the future. How to educate and guide them to be aware, to try and to love the wool fiber, has profound meanings to Mr. McCullough, far beyond the business itself.

Stuart McCullough Profile:

  • July 2001, Joined Australian Wool Innovation Ltd.
  • July 2010-present, CEO of Australian Wool Innovation Ltd. and the Woolmark Company
  • August 2016-present, Board Director of Australia Fashion Chamber

Mr. McCullough began his career in the wool industry from a sheep ranch. Later he took over multiple managerial positions in wool production and promotion, involving in wool classification, testing, international trade and global sales management functions.

Above: Mr. Stuart McCullough

The Best Time in History for the Wool Industry

In the past 17 years, Mr. McCullough has witnessed the ups and downs in the Australian wool industry. He is glad that the industry is at its best time in history now. Mr. McCullough said, "We are really glad that our farmers are getting a great reward for their product."

According to the recent data from Reuters, the wool price had an accumulated increase of more than 30% as of 2017. At present, the price of wool has soared to $20 per kilogram, reaching a record high.

According to the data of ABARES (an Australian business forecasting organization), China replaced Australia and became the largest wool supplier in 2016. However, Mr. McCullough provided a strong proof of Australia’s market dominance in the wool industry. Ninety percent of the high-end wool fiber (fine wool with diameter <19.5 microns) in the global fashion industry are from Australia.

Above: Sweven Ranch near Sydney

Mr. McCullough explained that in the first nine years (2001 to 2009) since he joined the company, there were no promotion approaches in the Australian wool industry. As a result, the public awareness and demand was low.

Mr. McCullough witnessed the attitude transformation of the  Australian wool industry towards marketing, and the change of farmers' mentality. Since 2010, The Woolmark Company has started promoting the wool fiber and raised consumers’ awareness in a short period of time. Mr. McCullough said, "When people buy a suit, they do not just ask for a suit. Instead, they will ask for a wool suit."

Mr. McCullough added, “We need to convince new generations that they will have a better experience with wool than cotton or polyester materials. I am working with the right brands that deliver the message.”

Above: AWI expert Mr. Jim Murray demonstrated the wool shearing process at Sweven Ranch

Marketing Strategies with Fashion and Technology

The Woolmark Company set a good example for the industry worldwide, in terms of innovative application of local raw materials in new areas.

Mr. McCullough elaborated on the cooperation and marketing strategies of The Woolmark Company.

  • Targeting the very pinnacle of the fashion triangle: Instead of mass or moderate volume retailers, The Woolmark Company prefers to work with high value retailers, because they have the elasticity or the stretch in their profit margin to absorb the price premium.
  • Cooperating with partners: The Woolmark Company does not go directly to consumers. Instead, they work through partners, co-funding marketing programs with brands or retailers.
  • Exploring new platforms: The Woolmark Company works with new markets, for example, sports, outdoor activities and interior textiles, to make sure that there are new platforms opening up for wool.

With 60 years of history, the International Woolmark Prize restarted in 2008, providing a platform for young design talents. With promoting wool as the ultimate goal, The Woolmark company accomplished the tasks of attracting, screening and encouraging designers through the competition. The Chinese emerging designer, Hao Qiu, joined the competition and won the prize in 2008. In the past five years, the competition has attracted 384 global emerging designer brands participating.

Many young Chinese designers have emerged through the competition, including BAN XIAOXUE by Xiaoxue Ban (Champion of womenswear in Asia Division in 2012/13), VMAJOR by Weite Zhu (Champion of womenswear in Asia Division in 2014/15), SIX LEE (Champion of menswear in Asia Division in 2017/18), PRONOUNCE by Yushan Li and Jun Zhou, and XU ZHI by Xuzhi Chen.

Above (from left to right): SIX LEE, Weite Zhu (VMAJOR) and Xiaoxue Ban (BAN XIAOXUE)

Fashion and technology play as two important driving forces pushing the wool industry forward. Mr. McCullough explained that The Woolmark Company had two ways of cooperation:

  • In the fashion field, The Woolmark Company has standard programs that promote wool as a tailored textile, for example the International Woolmark Prize to incubate design talents.
  • In the technology field, The Woolmark Company works with Adidas, Nike and Puma, providing cutting-edge and functional wool fabric resources.

Mr. McCullough said, “We want wool to be seen as both a tailored and a technical textile.” He explained that there are many technologists working in the R&D of the wool fiber, to make sure that brands, retailers and consumers are aware of the benefits of wool, as a natural fiber over man-made fiber.

Above: Samples of merino wool with different specifications displayed at Sweven Ranch

About the Woolmark Logo

The Woolmark logo is a global renowned textile mark. It is not only a high-quality guarantee, but also a representation of the best quality and innovative design in the whole industry chain from farms to the final garment.

Mr. McCullough explained the evolution of the logo. In 2010, The Woolmark Company wanted to promote Australian wool again and used it as a logo. It has been recognized worldwide now. But there are still some generations that do not know this logo. The Woolmark Company’s mission is to educate more people to understand wool and the wool culture behind the logo.

Wool in the China Market

Mr. McCullough pointed out that wool has limited supply as a natural fiber. It is a luxury fiber and not for the mass market. The key is not about the quantity, but the price. Demand is driven by the consumption of wool. It becomes more luxury as the people in the world get more affluent. Thus, the price of wool will continue growing.

Comparing the popularity of wool in other regions, Mr. McCullough said, “Chinese and European consume a lot of wool. Americans don't consume much wool at all. American consumers are rich. The weather is cold and there are plenty of people. But they don't consume much wool.” To help this issue, The Woolmark Company will organize a big consumer awareness program in the U.S. this year.

Recently, The Woolmark Company has set up a wool education center with Shanghai International College of Fashion and Innovation, under Donghua University in Shanghai (below).

Regarding to the demand in the China Market, Mr. McCullough is optimistic. He said, “China has three hundred million affluent population now and many behind them, who want to be affluent.” These are potential consumers for wool products.

The world need natural fiber. Mr. McCullough explained, “new generations do not want to just have a man-made petroleum-based product. They're very concerned about where the garments come from, how they are made, how they are going to dispose of themselves and whether they are buying a biodegradable.” Wool works very well in that sense, because it grows well and disposes of itself. There will be a huge market potential for natural fiber, such as wool.

The wool price has soared recently. Mr. McCullough pointed out the price difference between cashmere ($120 per kilogram) and wool ($20 per kilogram). He said, “it makes no sense, because there is not much of a difference between these two fibers. Price-wise, I think there is a upside of $30 per kilogram for wool. Consumers are willing to pay some premium for a good product.”

About The Woolmark Company

The Woolmark Company is a wholly owned subsidiary of Australian Wool Innovation. As a non-profit organization jointly owned by 60,000 growers, The Woolmark Company, is committed to providing R&D and marketing services for the global supply of Australian wool. The Woolmark Company supports the innovative R&D of the merino wool, in order to enhance its great potential.

| Chinese Reporter: Juan Liu

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