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The global fashion business journal

22 May 201901:25

Beyond Australian wool, where are the sheep of the fashion industry?

Australia, which produces 88% of the wool consumed by the fashion industry, is suffering the consequences of an unprecedent drought that is severely affecting pastures.

13 Dec 2018 — 09:54
Silvia Riera
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Beyond Australian wool, where are the sheep of the fashion industry?

 

 

Jumpers, coats, suits, lingerie and, since a couple of years ago, sneakers. Despite the fact that its use in the fashion industry is light-years away from other textile fibres such as polyester or cotton, wool is one of the most natural fibres used in this sector as well as one of the most valued. Now, in full demand boom, the weather crisis that creeps up upon Australia -wool’s main producing country- forces it to seek for alternatives. Where in the world are the other producers of wool?

 

Wool represents only 1% of the world’s production of textile fibres, according to the European Man-made Fibres Association (Cirfs). However, it is one the most prized raw materials in the luxury business. Moreover, since 2017, it has entered the athleisure universe and sports giants such as Adidas or Nike have taken over it; probably due to its natural properties which appropriately connect with a healthy lifestyle and to its commitment to find new raw materials for the substitution of leather.

 

Until 2018, the global production of wool had a constant evolution, with no huge twists and turns. In 2016, for instance, there was a notable fall registered in Australia and New Zealand, but that recovered its share a year after due to a bounce back majorly achieved by Australian farmers. 

 

 

 

 

This was the dynamic that characterised the sector during the last decade. However, in 2018, the market was seriously affected by the drought threatening the East of Australia, one of the main farming areas of the country. The last predictions of Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics (ABARES) point out a step back of 5% of the country’s production, reaching the levels of former years like 1997, when the registry began.

 

Notwithstanding, during that period, the distance between thick wool -used in sheets or carpets-, and the thinner one, used mainly for clothes, has hugely increased. As the latter has a bigger market value, the industry that surrounds it has also increased in detriment to the other, according to the report of International World Textile Organisation (IWTO).

 

The main producers of wool (in all its thicknesses and categories) are Australia and China. Each of these countries controls 20.1% of the world’s production. They are followed by former Soviet republics; New Zealand, with 7.3%, and lastly, by South Africa and Argentina with 2% each. China, for its part, is the main global importer of wool. The Asian giant purchased during the 2016-2017 campaign 53% of the total.

 

 

 

 

However, the map changes completely when talking about merino wool, one of the thinnest in the market and the most used one in the fashion industry. In this market, Australia produces 88% of the total. They are followed, quite from afar, by Argentina, South Africa, New Zealand and Uruguay, according to the data gathered by ABARES.

 

The drought that devastates Australia started to affect the price of wool and, more specifically, of the thin one. However, the Australian market of this raw material already marked an upward trend of prices since the end of 2017, embraced by the boom of wool for sneakers which saw its origin in Adidas’ Ultra Boost.

 

Nevertheless, the fashion industry has introduced other fibres with animal origins similar to wool, like those coming from camels, alpacas, angora goats, cashmere, mohair, llamas, vicunas, yaks or guanacos. However, during recent years, there have been a huge number of campaigns denouncing the use of mohair or angora due to the animal mistreatment and abuse that takes place in many farms.

 

 

 

 

In the case of alpacas, Perú is the main producer worldwide, focusing 80% of the global production, which is estimated to stand at around 4,000 tons per year. In the case of cashmere, the majority of the production is located in China and Iran, and the world production reaches the 5,000 tons.

 

The production of llamas is way smaller, and they are highly concentrated in Bolivia; vicunas are focalised in Perú, as well as guanacos. In Asia, the fur of yak is quite common too, a bovine animal similar to buffalos that is raised in the Indian region of the Himalaya, in the Tibet, located in the north of Mongolia and Russia.

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