Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Report on 84th Congress of the International Wool Textile Organisation.

May 18-20, 2015, David Trumbull, principal, Agathon Associates, was in Zhangjiagang, China, attending the 84th Congress of the International Wool Textile Organisation ("IWTO"). Agathon's client, the American Sheep Industry Association, sent him as a member of the eight-person U.S. delegation. Also in the American delegation were representatives of Agathon's clients, Burlington Industries and The Brickle Group. The U.S. delegation included representatives of every stage of wool processing in the U.S. It was one of the largest Congresses ever, with over 400 attendees.

In addition to attending the sessions, Trumbull co-lead a "coffee table discussion" on Super S labeling in the U.S. He explained how the U.S. Wool Production Label Act of 1939 provision relating to Super S labeling differs from the IWTO Code of Practice regarding Super S. Co-leader, Kenneth Shimizu of the Cashmere and Camel Hair Manufacturers Institute discussed the prospects for amending the law to make it closer to the IWTO Code.


The theme of the Congress was "Wool Forward" and stressed such topics as --

Quality assurance through provenance.

Presenters discussed the growing consumer preference away from "fast fashion" (cheap clothing worn for a season and discarded) and toward higher quality, durable garments, and garments with a documented history -- a looking beyond simply brand names but to what that brand means in terms of where and how the garment was sourced. The American wool textile industry's positive story, in terms of our practice of animal husbandry, working conditions, and environmental standards may present an opportunity for promoting American wool to this new type of consumer who is savvy about the supply chain.

Sustainability of wool.

Many presenters touted the "sustainability" of wool. Yet none offer a clear and concise definition. Much was made of The Campaign for Wool and how H.R.H. the Prince of Wales buried a wool sweater and a man-made fiber sweater in his garment for four months and dug them up to show that the wool was largely decomposed while the MMF was intact. One "take away" was that the American sheep and wool textile industries need to work closely with the brands and retailers to assure that whatever "sustainable" program they choose to pursue is one that reflects the realities of the American farm and factory experience and does not unfairly disadvantage wool relative to other fibers.

Wool's performance in outdoor and sportswear.

Wool for outdoor and sportswear was much discussed. Of course, we already know it's marvelous properties -- moisture wicking, less odor than for example cotton, cool in the summer, warm and in the winter, and natural give and spring back performance. Nearly all the discussion seemed directed toward knits.

Luxury items.

The final theme that was addressed by several speakers was the need to move up-market from commodity items to luxury. This sentiment was primarily directed by and toward the local Chinese industry. The discussion touched on moving to ever finer wools (Supers) and cashmere, as well as capturing more of the entire supply chain, rather than basic processing. We have witnessed these same attempt to move "up market" in the U.S.A. with American Woolen Company and Burlington Industries both recently launching collections of superfine worsted for men's suiting fabrics.

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