LOCAL farmers, a retail outlet and a knitwear manufacturer have combined to make Williams a unique place in the world of wool.
This point was made by Australian Wool Network (AWN) special projects manager Rod Miller at The Williams Woolshed last week, launching a range of knitwear garments and accessories made from Williams region wool.
“Like-minded people just happened to team up on this program, so it is really very exciting to have product on the floor,” said Mr Miller, who is also AWN’s manager in South Australia.
“It is such a unique opportunity for point-of-sale retail – the fact that we are going to have retail staff here (at The Williams Woolshed) who are Williams people engaging with customers here in Williams with garments made from Williams wool,” Mr Miller said.
“That is just so unique.
“It is a true bale-to-retail story in Williams.
“It is about personal and regional provenance stories linking consumers to the people who nurture and grow the fibre their garments are made from.”
Cynthia Jarratt, head of the traceable provenance Direct Network Advantage (DNA) program for AWN and its WA affiliate Dyson Jones, confirmed Williams was the only one of eight DNA programs across Australia to have its own retail shop selling its own products.
“We are very privileged and thankful to have the concept shop here at The Williams Woolshed,” Ms Jarratt said.
“The Woolshed team has mentioned to me that ownership of this project really belongs to the whole Williams community, everyone has got behind it and more and more woolgrowers are taking an interest in what we are doing here, so the program very much has a community feel.”
Seven Williams woolgrowers, including Stuart and Andrew Rintoul, Dongiemon and Tilba Tilba Merino studs, John and Jo Macnamara, Westmere Farming Co, and Noel and Sandra Fowler, Rapanui – feature in one of four short videos to help market Williams wool DNA products and sell wool into the program through AWN or Dyson Jones.
Glen Ford, Fordco, whose daughter and son-in-law, Kim and Simon Maylor, are partners in The Williams Woolshed with Sara and Ryan Duff, also provides wool and the Ford family also features in a video.
The greasy Williams wool was scoured and processed into yarn overseas simply because no one in Australia has capacity to do that anymore.
The yarn was returned to AWN’s manufacturing arm, Hysport in Carrum Downs, Victoria, where it was knitted on state-of-the-art computer controlled knitting machines into seamless garments including jumpers, pullovers, ponchos, scarves and beanies, most under the MerinoSnug label.
The Williams wool DNA range of MerinoSnug products is being sold at a special retail outlet at The Williams Woolshed – officially opened by Kim Maylor cutting a ribbon at last week’s product launch.
It is also sold online by the Woolshed and AWN’s online marketer Merino & Co.
Four short promotional videos about Williams and the surrounding region, the Ford and Fowler families and their farms and a fashion show and community event at The Williams Woolshed in August, tell the back story to the products.
The videos can be viewed by shoppers on their mobile phones via quick response (QR) code-enabled tags attached to the garments.
“QR technology usage is growing in Australia but is already well known and widely used by Chinese consumers and that is the key market for our DNA product,” Ms Jarratt told woolgrowers and their families at the launch.
International tourists visiting Williams while touring WA on holiday are a target market.
“We continue to educate consumers about woolgrowing and woolgrowers so that in time they will grow to love the fibre as much as we do,” she said.
“The big picture is once we do that price becomes inconsequential, they (consumers) are not looking at the price, they love the fibre, they love it because they know you the woolgrower and they feel connected.
“By doing that, we can continue building demand and a strong and sustainable industry.
“You are all ambassadors for the fibre.”
Mr Miller said everyone in the Williams wool and other DNA project supply chains had to derive a benefit.
“It has to make good business sense as well, otherwise it won’t be sustainable – that’s important,” Mr Miller.
Mr Maylor said the Williams wool DNA program had been an “18-month journey” since The Williams Woolshed partners invited local woolgrowers to meet AWN managing director John Colley.
“It’s been a long journey, but it’s been a rewarding one,” Mr Maylor said.
“(The product launch) is perfectly timed for Christmas, we were actually looking to push the launch back to April but Merino & Co thought it might be better for everyone to go before Christmas, so we were happy to oblige.
“I think local people will be quite interested to come and have a look and see and feel their wool as a high quality garment or accessory.
“There’s a really good range across different price points, different types of garments – there’s something for everyone, I think.”
Mr Maylor said there was “space for more” woolgrowers in the program and he was talking to several about joining.
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“I think the idea will continue to grow in the region,” he said.
“We can’t just take our foot off the pedal now we’ve launched the store.
AWN, which described itself as “Australia’s largest independent wool marketer bringing wool growers, wool processors and consumers together”, has transitioned from a greasy wool broker and trader to a manufacturer and retailer under a “grow/make/wear strategy” adopted in 2014.
It purchased the Hysport knitwear manufacturing business in 2014 and in 2016 purchased a second manufacturer, Woolmark licensee and pioneer in soft next-to-skin knitwear Hedrena, combining both production facilities at the new Carrum Downs factory.
A final piece of the strategy was put in place last year with the creation of Merino & Co marketing division to sell MerinoSnug, Only Merino and Hedrena brand products online.
Williams wool is the first of AWN’s DNA programs in WA.
The others are run with groups of woolgrowers or individual Merino studs in Tasmania, Victoria, South Australia and New South Wales.