Mr Roberts said in commissioning its three-year strategic plan in 2015, AWI looked at global demand trends, and changing values and priorities for consumers globally.
“The results suggest that we are going to see more growth from warmer and more humid climates, rather than cooler climates, for discretionary spent items like meat and clothes,” Mr Roberts said.
“That’s not to say that we’re not going to see growth from our traditional support base of Europe and the United States, we think that’s going to grow as well, we just think we’re going to see more rapid growth in the more humid markets.”
He said examples of these markets include China, Vietnam, India, Indonesia, Cambodia, and Myanmar.
“This is going to force the wool world to look at new processing and product innovations to be able to work in those humid climates, and actually start talking more about moisture and odour management,” he said.
He said while AWI has one simple marketing objective, there is not one overall global approach.
“Our objectives are pretty straight forward, it’s about educating and inspiring designers and brands and retailers on how to use Merino wool and how it can benefit their businesses, and engaging with a wider consumer audience, mainly through using social media,” he said.
“But we don’t really have a global approach, we attack each market in its own way.”
He said India has a lot of very wealthy consumers, so AWI’s resources and staff are balanced between innovation and marketing.
“The big challenge there is that it’s a humid market, and they don’t necessarily know wool as a functional, moisture management fibre, so we’re really trying to give it a push in sports like yoga and cricket,” he said.
He said Japan is tricky.
“They are one of the biggest wearers of wool per head in the world, they know wool really well, but our challenge there is dispelling its conservative image,” he said.
“A lot of grey woollen suits have been worn in Japan over the years, and that’s how they perceive it, they think of it as a bit boring, a bit conservative, so we’re trying to work with a few other, more edgy designers, to prove that it can be used for casual wear.”
He said they have probably let down the female market in France.
“Females are the dominant consumer in the French market, so that’s an area that we’re really trying to ramp up, we’re doing some big collaborations in that space,” he said.
Mr Roberts said there are other factors affecting consumer interest on a global scale.
He said as the population ages and becomes more affluent, consumers are looking for higher quality clothing.
He also said casual clothing has become more popular, so there are less suits in wardrobes around the world than there used to be.
And he said that consumers are beginning to prioritise health and sustainability, being outdoors, and wanting to hand over a healthier, greener planet to their children.
“There’s a movement in minimisation, with a move away from fast fashion, and the lure of big brands, to the philosophy of buying once but buying better, and wool plays really well into this idea,” he said.
“It’s really a movement against landfill, which is dominated by the synthetics market and non bio-degradable products that don’t break down, and wool lends itself really well to these sorts of people, so this is going to be a big priority moving forward.
“And this is far from just an Australian push, it’s got a much bigger push around the world in Europe and the United State, and also in China.”
He said these consumer priorities are well-suited to the wool industry.
“Consumers are moving away from the blind faith they have in a big brand, and more and more they’re looking inside a garment and understanding its supply chain, its origins, what kind of factory it came from, and whether or not it was natural,” he said.
“Wool has a good story to tell, so this is really going to work in our benefit.”
He said they are also attempting to make wool more appealing to people with active lifestyles.
“That really encompasses sport and functionality, so AWI has been really active in that space for the last 20 years and it’s probably only coming into its own now,” he said.
“With this move, wool has made a big jump from working with niche brands to now working with big brands like Adidas, Nike, and New Balance, who now all have wool ranges in their southern hemisphere stores.”
He said one of the best part about this partnership is the access to big-named ambassadors.
“These brands have a lot more cash than AWI, so they often have the money to spend on ambassadors, which we try to jump on board with when we can,” he said.
“Tommy Hilfiger paid a lot of money to secure tennis star Rafael Nadal as its ambassador, and we were lucky enough to have a good relationship with the company, so we were able to jump on board and do some co-branding with them.
“It was really great because Nadal spoke about the benefits of wool, the flexibility of it, and people listen to him because of who he is, so it’s a really good opportunity to change those perceptions of wool.”