Offcuts: A Wolf In Sheep’s Clothing

With this year delivering the highest prices ever recorded and a surging demand from overseas, even a newcomer like myself can see it’s a good time to be in the wool game.

In my previous life as an outsider to the agricultural world, I must admit to being ignorant and naive to the importance of the wool industry to Australia’s economy and its place on the world stage.

This has been rectified since I started working with Quality, and I’ve become intrigued with the relationship between where the wool starts and finishes, and the stark contrast between those two bookends.

For example, it’s pretty cool to think that many of the garments worn on the glitzy catwalks of Paris, Milan and New York (the good stuff, not the crazy, ridiculous gear that nobody would be caught dead wearing) originated from the sweaty, dusty shearing sheds of rural Australia, hand-shorn by generations of families helping keep the country in business.

Having travelled briefly through the region where the demand for Aussie wool is strongest, China, I can attest to the fact that these guys are generally ahead of the curve when it comes to the latest fashions, if not a little quirky and weird in their dress sense.

But even I was surprised to hear what China’s newest and hottest fashion item which is helping to drive the price of Aussie wool is (drum roll please)…fur coats.

Yep, fake fur coats. Wool as fur.

Recipe: Take some 19 micron wool, whack some fabric over the skin side (to make it reversible), pump some dye through it to make it a different colour and then pass it off as fur.

That recipe might sound basic, even a little crude, but these things are flying off the rack in China.

In fact, these fur overcoats were such a hot ticket item in the last Chinese winter season that a whopping 10 million kilograms of wool, most of which had come from Australian sheep, went into manufacturing the material (source: ABC Rural 9/12/2016).

Breaking that down even further, up to a kilo and a half of wool per metre goes into EACH product.

So with such a high concentration of wool, that’s good news for Aussie growers in terms of the volume of demand it requires.

So with the excellent reputation of Australian wool overseas, why try and pass it off as fur? Why (pardon the terrible pun) pull the wool over the eyes of the consumer?

According to independent wool consultant Andrew Dennis, it’s simply a matter of marketing.

Speaking to ABC’s SA Country Hour, Mr. Dennis said while the Chinese associated Aussie wool with brands such as UGG, it didn’t have a reputation as a material that was used in overcoats – so they simply call it fur instead.

Makes sense!

In summary, I doubt our shearers are thinking about fashion-conscious Chinese hipsters wearing fur overcoats as they step up to the stand for another gruelling day of shearing.

And I doubt the Chinese are thinking about a sweaty, rough-around-the-edges Aussie shearer in a singlet stained with hard work as they snap up the hottest new fashion item for the winter season.

But they are definitely both spokes on the same wheel and for someone new to the industry like me, the relationship between the two is a fascinating one.

Kane McKay