Local companies rediscovering wool

Wool Impact, led by chief executive officer Andy Caughey, has embarked on its mission to drum up...
Wool Impact, led by chief executive officer Andy Caughey, has embarked on its mission to drum up new demand and value for New Zealand strong wool. PHOTO: WOOL IMPACT
Strong wool farmers down in the mouth about low prices are being reassured that manufacturers are turning a corner on domestic processing.

The $11.4 million Government and industry funded group charged with growing wool revenues, Wool Impact, says the local industry is making good progress with developing a domestic solution.

At this stage, 14,500 tonnes of wool are being processed domestically, with about 85% shipped offshore as greasy or scoured wool.

Wool Impact has canvassed local manufacturers to plot a doubling over the next two years. This is projected to rise again to about 40,000 tonnes of clean wool by 2028.

For sheep farmers to be convinced, they will want to see stagnating returns turned around. Beef + Lamb NZ, in its forecast for lower profitability for all farmers, predicts no wool change in 2022-23 at a greasy price of $2.16 a kilogram as China comes to grips with Covid-19 again.

Chief executive Andy Caughey said they were seeing the "tide turn" as local brands took matters into their own hands by manufacturing wool products domestically.

He said farmers could take heart that brands were viewing strong wool as a natural, sustainable material with innovation potential.

They were acutely aware that without sustainable farm gate prices, the supply of quality wool would continue to decline. The way ahead was to deviate from 100,000 tonnes of clean wool going into a "homogenous brew"of commodities and break it down into its components for high-end final products for consumers, he said.

“We’re seeing brands like Big Save, Honest Wolf, Wise Wool and FLOC using wool in innovative ways. If the predictions of brands actively advocating for wool in their product ranges are realised, then we will see a significant impact on wool demand and price with the added benefit of reducing our reliance on some of our volatile export markets.”

The industry body is working closely with domestic brands in the three main categories.

That includes traditional carpeting, where major companies Godfrey Hirst, Bremworth and Wools of NZ were seeing growth, while rugs and carpet tiles were in a phase of development and expansion, he said.

Further success is coming from new and developing market categories, including insulation, acoustic tiles, furniture, flooring innovations and in the future from fibre deconstructed into particles, powders and pigments.

Geo-textiles are emerging for reclaiming land to stabilise excavated soil, while companies such as Terra Lana are insulating buildings with new and recycled wool. Manufacturers, including Big Save, are using non-woven layering for bedding and furniture to add to its comfort, breathability and fire resistance.

Mr Caughey said New Zealand was leading the way in the field of wool acoustic tiles.

"Pure wool tiles can be enhanced with a food-grade additive to allow it to the pass flame-resistant standards needed to put them in schools, offices and hospitals or into the home."

T & R Interiors was the first to bring its FLOC panels to market last year and other local companies are close to joining it.

Mr Caughey said the compostable panels were safe to go in the ground or be recycled at the end of their life.

Health care innovations included medical grade band-aids and Woolchemy developing wool components for nappies and sanitary products for women.

The third "transformational" category of deconstructed pigments, powders or particles is being used for skin-care products, lipstick, printing inks and paints.

Mr Caughey said fine wool had shown that wool could compete strongly with synthetics.

New strong wool brands such as Honest Wolf, with its wool felted luggage and accessories, and Wise Wool were appealing to a younger generation and finding relevance with targeted consumers, he said.

"There’s absolutely no reason why we can’t do more with strong wool. The price is very low and not reflective of wool’s true value and that’s not just the value in the product, but also in its environmental value. The fact is in New Zealand we bury 148,000 tonnes of carpets every year and based on historical sales, 80% of them will be synthetic and that will be sitting in the ground for hundreds of years."

He said PFAS chemicals used to treat synthetic carpets to repel grease stains, water and flames were now banned in California and many parts of Europe and yet in New Zealand they were still entering the landfill and leaching into water.



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