Bolstered by the integration of wool into premium workout gear and casual suiting, the fiber’s popularity is on the rise. Aside from activewear and ath-leisure, the wool market is also getting a boost from shoppers looking to up their eco-friendly shopping habits. Unstable economic conditions are also steering consumers toward apparel made of wool as it’s seen as a better investment.
Overall, business is good. According to the United States Department of Agriculture’s Commodity Credit Corporation, the cost of wool has increased dramatically. In the most recent annual period, the price per pound for less than 18.6 microns of graded wool increased from $3.95 to $4.68 — costs raised from $1.21 to $1.32 per pound of 29 or more microns of graded wool, the USDA said.
It’s a simple case of supply and demand. An influx of knitwear, casual men’s and women’s suiting, and upgraded workout gear has positioned the fiber at the forefront of product development across categories. Suiting was prevalent on the international runways for fall 2017 — fashion houses such as Calvin Klein to Ann Demeulemeester to Alexander McQueen unleashed suited ladies for the season.
Knitwear has also created a surge in the market. Unruly climates and seasonless collections have instilled the necessity for multifunctional layering pieces. Meanwhile companies such as Nike, Adidas and Oiselle offer apparel and footwear constructed out of the material for dry-fit, sweat-wicking performance apparel.
They also get to play the sustainability card. “All Wazzle Wool style are responsibly sourced from the highest quality Merino farms in New Zealand,” noted a product description of one of Oiselle’s base layering tops made out of the fiber. Biodegradable and natural the fiber is both breathable and has thermal management qualities. Given these properties, the fiber seamlessly lends itself to ath-leisure and active sportswear, according to industry sources.
And while this is the trend at its most elevated, mass is catching on — at lower price points than premium but higher than non-wool products. Japanese retailer Uniqlo, for example, offers merino wool knitwear and wool-lined blazers on its web site currently (sweaters starting at $29.90, an blazers currently for $59.90). Ann Taylor has updated polyester and wool blend suiting for spring available on its web site (blazers for $198, and trousers for $129).
Tollegno 1900’s collection features blazers realized in luxe wool, cashmere and silk blends. Its “Rainmaker” collection includes technical outerwear fabrics in which wool natural fibers are bonded with polyurethane membranes and water-repellent treatments.
Millennial and Generation Z demographics especially seek quality product that’s eco-friendly — and are willing to pay top dollar for it. Interactions Marketing report, “Retail Perceptions: The Next Generation of Retail,” counted social responsibility of a brand or retailers and environmentally friendly product among the top five factors in making a purchase. According to the Nielsen 2015 Global Sustainability Report, “sixty-five percent of total sales measured globally were generated by brands whose marketing conveyed commitment to social or environmental value.”
The report also said 57 percent of 30,000 global consumers surveyed named organic or natural ingredients as a main influence in purchasing a specific item. Shoppers will even spend more for ethically sourced products. A whopping 66 percent of global participants of the survey said they would pay more for sustainable goods — up 11 percent from 2014.
Business might be swinging and consumers might be willing to buy, but that doesn’t mean that synthetic fabrics and fibers are completely flailing. Prices of polyester have temporarily leveled. “The polyester market looks very unpredictable these days in China. Prices are only up 10 percent from their level a year ago,” said Emerging Textiles’ Weekly Polyester and Filament Yarn Prices in China report. “Too large inventories at processing plants have depressed demand for both staple fibers and filament yarns. With the raw material costs further sliding, downward polyester plants could afford lowering their prices and maintaining their production levels.”
Lower costs for polyester could tempt and draw possible wool customers looking to limit spending. Brands and wholesalers should consider the big picture — the bottom line and beyond — while finalizing sourcing decisions.