Fabrizio Servente says the introduction of The Wool Lab has been one of the major achievements during his 10 years at The Woolmark Company.

Fabrizio Servente says the introduction of The Wool Lab has been one of the major achievements during his 10 years at The Woolmark Company.


Start talking wool to Fabrizio Servente and his steel grey eyes light up.


Start talking wool to Fabrizio Servente and his steel grey eyes light up.

Given he was born in Biella, the wool centre of Italy and in his words once the centre of wool globally, it's not surprising wool is in his DNA.

Biella and nearby Trivero are home to some of the biggest names in the wool industry, the likes of Ermenegildo Zegna, G.Schneider Group, Reda, Loro Piana, Vitale Barberis Canonico, Reda, Tollegno and Zegna Baruffa, plus many other spinners and weavers working with Australian superfine Merino wool.

And they are all doors the immaculately dressed Mr Servente can open with a phone call.

As Australian Wool Innovation's (AWI's) and The Woolmark Company's (TWC's) Italy-based global strategy advisor he has just clocked up his 10th anniversary with the company and it provided an opportunity to reflect on some of the events and achievements of the past decade.

Mr Servente joined AWI in July, 2007, with a rich palette of experience.

Initially, he studied marketing at Turin University and on graduating took up his first role in the marketing team at none other than the Zegna family-owned Ermenegildo Zegna.

There he worked closely with the sons of founder Ermenegildo Zegna, Aldo and Angelo, father and uncle respectively to current company heads Paolo and his cousins Gildo and Anna Zegna.

Mr Servente would work twice for Zegna, the second time for 10 years as its sales and marketing manager textiles, broken only by several years working as a private consultant, as a director on several fashion house boards and as a lecturer in marketing at local universities.

An opportunity to broaden his experience at another family owned company saw him move to Benetton in 1987.

"It was during the golden era of the company when it was the biggest buyer of wool in the world," Mr Servente said.

The design team alone comprised 250 people and his 20 years there, most notably as global marketing and product development director, provides part of the invaluable experience and contact list he now calls on in his role at AWI.

"I was excited to join AWI because I had not been involved with the beginning of the wool supply chain before, only the end," Mr Servente said.

"And I was even more excited when I visited Australia and saw the passion with which Australian woolgrowers produce their product and similarly the enthusiasm and passion of my work colleagues in Australia.

"Working with the board (of AWI) was difficult in the beginning because all the focus at that time was on-farm and while I agreed the woolgrowers needed attention and support, I felt the marketing end had almost been forgotten," Mr Servente said.

"I told them we have to be palatable to the market and we have to start at the top of the chain, not the bottom.

"I proposed a plan to partner with the best in the industry at the time, Giorgio Armani - start with the king and everything will filter down from there was my thinking.

"We launched a huge in-store campaign in 2007/2008 where all the emphasis was on wool and the Woolmark logo," Mr Servente said.

"It didn't significantly change the volume of wool used by Armani but it focussed the eyes of the world on the fibre and it opened many other doors for wool."

Also in 2007, with help from then designer of the moment Sandra Buckland, Mr Servente launched a competition at Palazzo Corsini for young designers working in wool called Protege.

The name stemmed from the fact leading designers such as Karl Lagerfeld and Donatella Versace could align themselves to young designers of their choice, their proteges.

"It was a big event, very memorable and its success led us to relaunch the International Woolmark Prize (IWP) in Paris in 2008, after a 50-year break," Mr Servente said.

The inaugural Woolmark Prize, established by AWI forerunner the International Wool Secretariat in 1954, was won by then 18-year old Yves St Laurent for dress design and 21-year old Karl Lagerfeld for coat design so it was fitting Mr Lagerfeld was involved with Protege.

"Competitions like Protege and IWP help to transfer our passion for this business to the consumer," Mr Servente said.

"There is no beauty without quality and there is no quality without passion.

"It's like in a restaurant if two chefs make the same dish following the same recipe, the one made with passion will taste better.

"We communicate with our partners, the major brands, that we have a product that they can take and make great and we also communicate directly with consumers," Mr Servente said.

"As a fibre wool is great already, it's natural, it breathes, it's isothermic and anti odour, things important to modern day consumers.

"We just have to find the best way to communicate that message and educate people, which is why we seek to work with credible partners.

"It's very easy to convince partners they are joining something good and something that can increase their value in the market."

Mr Servente applauded the current AWI board and CEO Stuart McCullough for the work they were doing in promoting and innovating with wool.

"Having worked as a jackaroo, Stuart knows the grass roots of the industry but he is very global in his thinking and Wally (AWI chairman Wal Merriman) is a woolgrower with market smarts who knows the needs of the grower as well as the consumer," Mr Servente said.

"Wool is in a good place right now, not only because of our work, but definitely in part because of it, but we have to keep striving for more.

"Five years ago, I told the board sport will be our new frontier and now wool in sport is huge, helped by AWI's work in marketing, product research and through partnerships with major companies," he said.

"Ten years ago, ISPO in Munich, Germany, the most important fair for sport in the world, barely had a woollen product in sight, now there are thousands of them."

Other highlights from the last 10 years apart from increases in wool in sport and leisure wear included greater use of wool from lesser brands, particularly in Europe and China, as they followed the lead of the world's biggest brands.

Mr Servente also cited the introduction of The Wool Lab in 2012, which seeks to encourage designers and manufacturers to choose wool over other fibres and to educate about the culture of fashion, as another significant achievement during his 10 years at AWI.

"Initially fashion houses or designers all had trend books, but I thought it would be much better to have a book of inspiration, where the content was not just about colour or style of the moment, but about real fabrics using wool that were commercially available."

Mr Servente said AWI enlisted the services of renowned Italian textile designer Riccardo Rami to help design the look and function of the books and they were now being used by AWI to be the conduit between buyer and manufacturer.

"Designers or buyers come to us to view what fabrics are available and we then put them directly in touch with the manufacturer so it is very beneficial for both," Mr Servente said.

"The books are in three categories - sport, fashion and textiles and contain all the very latest fabrics that we and others have developed through extensive research and testing.

"We are now getting thousands of inquiries each year from designers worldwide and the feedback from spinners and weavers is they are getting a lot more wool related orders," he said.

"We are seen as being contemporary, advanced and doing business that is helping the market.

"Cotton is now trying to copy our concept, but wool was first."

For the latest autumn winter season 12,842 fabric samples were requested by clients through The Wool Lab, with sports styles most popular at 1813 samples, resulting in 422 orders being placed, 20 per cent of which came from China, followed by UK, Italy, USA and Germany.

Mr Servente said the eco-conscious millenials, born into a world of cotton and synthetic, were a significant sector rediscovering wool.

"They have moved away from a perception of wool being uncomfortable and just for grandma, to seeing knitwear for instance as being trendy and cool."

Mr Servente said everyone in Italy was complaining about the price of wool but every year they were using more of the fibre.

"We need to keep building on the belief that wool is precious and continue to develop new and interesting products or uses for it based on demand," he said.

"When something good becomes rare, then it becomes precious and this will drive price, perception and demand.”


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