Vikki Berntsen and Farrah Peck of The Falkland Islands Wool Company attended the 88th Congress of the International Wool Textiles Organisation (IWTO) last month, along with Adam Dawes of the Department of Agriculture, and Robert Hall of Falkland Wool Growers.
This year held in Venice, Italy, the annual conference provides the opportunity to bring together its members to strengthen the wool textile supply chain, and to reinforce the value of wool in the fashion industry and far beyond.
Italy has a strong textile tradition, especially in the production of wool fabrics and is a leading innovator in the industry. The Congress programme combined Italy’s rich wool heritage with the latest research and developments in wool applications.
More than 320 delegates from across the globe representing all stages of the wool textile chain were in attendance, discussing such topics as wool sustainability, traceability, wool décor, and health and wellness. Attendees were also invited to visit the headquarters of both The Benetton Group and Marzotto, providing an insight into some of the biggest users of fine greasy wool.
For the Falklands, the conference provides an excellent opportunity to promote on the international stage how we can contribute to the wool industry, the background and qualities of our product, and to bring back contacts, new interest and what we have learned about global demand.
Falkland Islands wool, despite being only 0.1% of the global clip, was very well received throughout the Congress. The wool has valuable attributes (bright white, low vegetable matter and high yielding compared to other countries) and the unique ‘story’ of Falklands wool makes it highly sought after.
Adam and Vikki gave an introduction to Falklands wool to the Heads of Delegation. This provided an excellent opportunity to promote the ‘Falklands story’ to some key and influential individuals in the wool industry. The presentation included a video portraying farming, renewal energy, scenery and wildlife of the Falklands, which was hugely impacting and very positively received.
Vikki also secured a place on the Young Professionals programme, allowing her to introduce herself on stage to the entire delegation as a representative of the Falkland Islands.
The Falklands Islands were listed for the first time alongside major wool producing countries such as Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Argentina and Uruguay in a statistical overview (provided by the Department of Agriculture).
This was made possible by IWTO accepting the Falkland Islands as members, initiated by Adam in Hong Kong the previous year.
Falklands wool generated a substantial amount of interest, and our unique selling points were reflected in the industry’s increasing interest in sustainability and traceability. Attendees were impressed by the Falklands’ ability to adapt to industry asks, given the extremely quick and positive take-up on phasing to nylon wool packs.
We learned there is now much more customer demand for reassurance on where their woollen garment is from, and that it was grown sustainably. The potential damage that animal activist organisations may inflict on the wool industry also cannot be ignored. This is why it is extremely important to promote our good working practices and standards throughout wool, and indeed meat production.
One tool to achieve this is to use the Responsible Wool Standard (RWS). Released in 2016, this voluntary certification is applied across the entire supply chain, right from farm through to final garment manufacturing, and provides a guarantee that animals are treated well, land health is preserved, the supply chain is traceable, and that regular audits prove the certification is credible.
Take-home messages were; the importance of networking and promoting the Falklands brand by providing a high quality product, encouraging transparency and collaboration across the industry, and promoting our side of the story to counteract animal activist claims.
Each country has its challenges, such as drought, disease, variable prices, trade embargos and pressure from animal activists.
Beyond the familiar uses of wool in garments and soft furnishings, innovative designs in pharmaceutical packaging, studies into emergency services clothing and for eczema sufferers were introduced. It was also extremely exciting to see a presentation from a NASA representative outlining why they have chosen woollen clothing for their astronauts.
The next generation of consumers are more mindful of the environmental impacts of ‘fast fashion’ and petroleum products that contribute to micro-plastic pollution. The customer urge to be more eco-friendly and the diversification of wool products is setting wool in good stead for the future.