HAVING bought greasy wool professionally for 29 years, Steve Noa, Endeavour Wool Exports' wool buyer at the Western Wool Centre (WWC), has turned his attention to the other end of the wool supply chain.
Mr Noa, who started buying wool for Lempriere in Melbourne then moved to Western Australia 10 years ago, has used his experience and connections to launch a foray into marketing and selling Australian Merino wool in the form of smart, classic, high-quality men's and women's polo shirts he has named TheMerinoPolo.
When he is not bidding in the WWC sale room for Endeavour - one of the three biggest wool buyers nationally in Australia - or visiting wool stores appraising wool samples for coming sales, Mr Noa is busy trying to convince corporate WA to adopt local wool as its smart casual uniform.
He has called his campaign "woolvolution of the workplace".
He is talking to some of the State's biggest business entrepreneurs about supporting the local wool industry through their workforces, wearing TheMerinoPolo shirts adorned with corporate logos.
His first batch of short-sleeved polo shirts in five men's sizes, three women's sizes and in five colours, arrived from his manufacturer in China this month and he has a WA company lined up to produce and sew on corporate logos.
"Making wool garments is something I've always wanted to do in my 30 years in the wool industry - most of my working life has been spent appraising greasy wool near the beginning of the wool supply chain and I just wanted to have a crack at the other end - the manufacturing and retail end - of that supply chain," said Mr Noa of his TheMerinoPolo shirts venture.
With a previous wool industry employer partner, Mr Noa had quality woollen jumpers manufactured to their specification in China, which they sold with success until the COVID-19 pandemic ended the enterprise.
"I had a taste of it over the past couple of years," Mr Noa said.
"But while we were selling jumpers, there were requests for something lightweight to wear during the eight months of summer we get in WA every year.
"I spoke to the connections I've built over the years and was directed to a particular (manufacturing) company in China."
Mr Noa first went to China 1995 and he estimates he has visited at least 75 times on business, plus he has helped lead tours there for WA woolgrowers.
"That company has done a lot of work with AWI (Australian Wool Innovation) and I was delighted with the samples of a lightweight versatile polo shirt they sent me, so I decided to put my toe in the water and ordered 2500 shirts."
Mr Noa worked with wool industry stalwart Jimmy Jackson, a former general manager of both AWI and its The Woolmark Company subsidiary for 10 years, manager of the International Wool Secretariat for 35 years and now international wool consultant, on the right wool-blend yarn to use.
TheMerinoPolo shirt is made from a blend of 85 per cent 18.5 micron Australian Merino wool, core spun with 13pc nylon and is ultralight at just 145 grams, odour-resistant and fully machine-washable.
Mr Noa claims his TheMerinoPolo "wears like silk against the skin".
For the first batch, half of the wool came from WA.
"We know that because we bought the wool through Endeavour Wool Exports," he said.
"Through Endeavour, I have the opportunity to provide wool provenance stories if corporates want to go down that path."
A single-jersey, flat-knit, TheMerinoPolo is identical in production to, but half the price of, next-to-skin garments carrying a New Zealand-based brand name revered in wool apparel.
That company was started nearly 30 years ago by a man who was impressed by the natural wearability and breathability qualities of wool after a chance meeting with a New Zealand woolgrower.
He started it by producing a wool T-shirt, then over the years developed a complete range of wool garments now sold in 40 countries around the world, from underwear, to fashion-conscious activewear and through to rugged, extreme-environment outer layers.
Mr Noa does not quite see himself replicating that business model, but he does have an eye to the future and broadening the range of wool garments he can produce.
"It is exciting with some of the new wool yarns and wool-blend yarns coming out, I can see all sorts of opportunities to make different styles of garments going forward," he said.
As it is, he is willing to discuss styles, colours and volume discounts with potential bulk-buy clients.
Mr Noa has opened an online store via themerinopolo.com.au for personal customers.
"But my real focus is the corporate sector and I am making some inroads there," he said.
"Some of the (wool) brokers are jumping onboard - Dyson Jones Wool Marketing Services and Westcoast Wool & Livestock.
"My aim is to get Australian business into wool and, in doing that, building a tangible supply chain for WA woolgrowers."
- More information: Go to themerinopolo.com.au
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