By  on December 13, 2005

MILAN — Wool is losing its cachet with consumers, according to most of the 210 delegates at the International Wool Textile Organization's Wool Forum in Biella, Italy, last week.

The conference showcased a test-marketing plan aimed at communicating, reeducating and heightening interest among consumers about wool garments.

More than two-thirds of members present supported the campaign, including representatives from Woolmark, the Biellese Industrial Union and Australian Wool Innovation Ltd. Peng Yan Li, a delegate from the China Wool Textile Association, also backed the campaign.

"That the Chinese delegate supported the marketing campaign is a superb message the conference was successful," said Henrik Kuffner, IWTO general director. "We had tried hard to convince them."

Other executives were equally pleased.

"Everyone has been reluctant about this campaign, but the facts are, if we don't do promotion we won't make money," said Piergiacomo Borsetti, an Italian delegate for the forum and board member of the Biellese Industrial Union.

Woolmark is leading the $7 million marketing effort aimed exclusively at the U.S. market, and anticipates launching a series of advertisements promoting wool next fall.

"It will be a pretty standard approach, similar to what cotton also has done to promote its seal," said Brenda McGahan, executive director of Woolmark. "The Woolmark logo is 41 years old, so we need to push it out there again."

McGahan said wool hasn't been marketed for more than five years because funds that paid for past campaigns were redirected into research and development of sheep farming. Some executives said doing so was a mistake that cost the industry.

"To sell wool, essentially part of its cost is marketing and it is just as valid as shearing, transportation and breeding costs," Borsetti said.

In a report submitted to the forum, Woolmark said the price of top-quality wool was its lowest level in 50 years. Recent research by the association on 36,000 Australian wool growers found that 92 percent favored a marketing campaign.

Australian sheep farmers aren't expected to pay all of the $7 million to complete the project. A portion of funding is anticipated from other wool-producing countries, including South Africa, New Zealand and Argentina, as well as end-product manufacturers from Spain, Germany and China.

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