With the majority of wool grown in Australia processed overseas, a group of small-scale processors in the country is working to gain recognition for products that are locally sourced and made.
Launched last year, the Australian Fibre Collective's aim is to increase awareness of the country's fibre and textile industry by providing a trademark for products that are 100 per cent made in Australia, from the farm to the finished product.
Trish and Charles Esson run Cashmere Connections, a small mill in Bacchus Marsh, Victoria, where they process all types of wool as well as fibre from Cashmere goats and alpacas.
They have been running Cashmere goats on their Ballarat, Vic, property for a number of years but in 2003 decided to move into the processing side of the industry as a way to respond to the lack of facilities in the country and to add value to the cashmere clip.
Almost two decades later and the business is ever-expanding, with a factory that houses an extensive range of top making equipment as well as dehairing machinery.
They are able to prepare a range of natural fibres for worsted, semi-worsted and woollen spinning, as well as create designer tops to customer specifications using either the fibre they hold in stock or a fibre supplied by the customer.
The couple were involved in the launch of the Australian Fibre Collective as they believed it was important to promote the benefits of Australian-made products.
And Mrs Esson said it was a way to draw attention to the amount of processing that occurred overseas - a reality some consumers may not be aware of.
"Since the abolishment of textile tariffs in the 1980s, the Australian industry has been unable to compete on price with countries with lower wage, energy and overhead costs," she said.
"The Australian textile industry contracted dramatically after the tariff abolishment in the '80s and '90s as more production went offshore.
"The Australian textile processors who have remained have made a niche for themselves processing specialty products that people are unable to get from the overseas bulk processors."
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She said Australian consumers had become more interested in the traceability story of their products, so it had never been so important to tell the Australian-made story.
"Recently consumers have started to become more aware of where their products come from and the processes they go through, whether it be the addition of environmentally toxic chemicals in processing or the use of workers paid so little that they have no hope of ever rising above extreme poverty," she said.
"This has created a behavioural shift in some consumers, away from cheap disposable products to quality, sustainable and ethical products.
"Consumers have started looking to the farm gate for their products, wanting to know exactly where they've come from."
She said consumers were asking whether products were sustainable and ethically made.
"Therefore traceability is becoming more and more important to consumers and designers alike," she said.
She said the Australian Industry was uniquely situated to ensure traceability of the product it was processing.
"The mini mills can often trace a single fleece through their lines and the bigger processors are able to track a bale," she said.
"This is not possible in the bigger mills overseas, not because they have poorer work practices but because of the sheer scale of their processing lines.
"Their factories are a sight to behold with rows and rows of machinery that make our 'big' card look tiny."
Mrs Esson encouraged consumers to buy products that were Australian-made and that had the Australian Fibre Collective's tick of approval.
"By making the effort to buy Australian-made, you are supporting continued innovation, development of new supply chains, better livelihoods for farmers, small businesses, and your money stays in Australia," she said.
"While it always makes us feel good to get a bargain, maybe next time we should spend that little bit extra and buy something special, something of quality, something sustainable with a history you can trace.
"If you do this, you will ensure that the Australian fibre producers and textile manufacturers will continue to exist to create new, exciting and sustainable products for you and others."
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