Merino wool: The noble heritage and innovation of a natural fibre

The Woolmark Company is the global authority on wool. The company highlights Australian wool’s position as the ultimate natural fibre and premier ingredient in luxury apparel.

By Commonwealth Fashion Council

Connorville farm by WoolmarkCommonwealth Fashion Council

The Woolmark Company: The Global Authority on Wool

The Woolmark Company is the global authority on wool. Through its extensive network of relationships spanning the international textile and fashion industries, the company highlights Australian wool’s position as the ultimate natural fibre and premier ingredient in luxury apparel. The Woolmark Company is a subsidiary of Australian Wool Innovation, a not-for-profit enterprise that conducts research, development and marketing along the worldwide supply chain for Australian wool on behalf of about 60,000 woolgrowers that help fund the company. 

Bangor farm by WoolmarkCommonwealth Fashion Council

Benefits of Wool

Merino wool provides fashion designers with a blank canvas; it is a fibre of infinite potential with a vast array of benefits. Wool is natural, biodegradable, renewable, soft, elastic, breathable, regulates temperature, static resistant, machine washable, stain resistant, anti-wrinkle, odour resistant, fire resistant, UV resistant, sleek and elegant, colourful, fashionable, easy to tailor, permanent press and innovative. 

NKWO look for the Commonwealth Fashion Exchange on display at Buckingham Palace (2018-02-19) by NKWOCommonwealth Fashion Council

Wool in The Commonwealth Fashion Exchange

Wool was recommended to designers participating in the project on the basis of it being a renewable and a versatile fibre. 14 out of 31 looks created for The Commonwealth Fashion Exchange featured wool. These designers included Burberry, behno, Karen Walker, KITX and many others. 

behno's look for The Commonwealth Fashion Exchange behno's look for The Commonwealth Fashion Exchange, behno, From the collection of: Commonwealth Fashion Council
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Close up of Behno's Commonwealth Fashion Exchange look, From the collection of: Commonwealth Fashion Council
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The Exchange: India x Tuvalu

Designer behno x Artisans Fafine Niutao I Aotearoa

behno created a repurposed wool coat, certified by The Woolmark Company. The coat was embellished with Indian mirror-work and border and grid beadwork.

Bernard Chandran's look, Bernard Chandran, From the collection of: Commonwealth Fashion Council
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Close up of Bernard Chandran's coat, Bernard Chandran, From the collection of: Commonwealth Fashion Council
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The Exchange: Malaysia

Designer Bernard Chandran

Bernard chose to create his design in fine ‘songket’ – a royal Malay brocade, handwoven and patterned with gold and silver threads. He drew inspiration from Malay ‘kerawang’ – a style of traditional embroidery that involves cutting away the base-cloth to create a lace effect, contemporising the look with a geometric feel. The strapless dress is carefully structured and the floor-length coat is embroidered with wool yarn.

Na Forrer's look for The Commonwealth Fashion Exchange Na Forrer's look for The Commonwealth Fashion Exchange, Na Forrer, From the collection of: Commonwealth Fashion Council
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Close up of Na Forrer's wool corset, Farhanna Pura, From the collection of: Commonwealth Fashion Council
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The Exchange: Brunei x Singapore

Designer Na Forrer x Artisans Lully Selb

In celebrating this collaboration between Singapore and Brunei, the focus was on the evolution of the modern Malay woman, as it is a symbol of a shared history and identity. For this project, Na Forrér created an evening dress known as a “Baju Kebaya” - a common traditional womenswear worn by Malay women from Brunei and Singapore during formal events and festivities. The corset of the dress was made from 100% wool crepe.

Clive Rundle's look for The Commonwealth Fashion Exchange Clive Rundle's look for The Commonwealth Fashion Exchange, Clive Rundle, From the collection of: Commonwealth Fashion Council
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Close up of the material used to create Clive Rundle's look, Clive Rundle, From the collection of: Commonwealth Fashion Council
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The Exchange: South Africa x Lesotho

Clive Rundle x House of Thethana

The look consists of a wool and organza coat, accompanied by wool and organza shorts and a woollen collar accessory. The design was created with a custom textile print by House of Thethana under Clive Rundle's direction.

Deepa Dosaja's look for The Commonwealth Fashion Exchange Deepa Dosaja's look for The Commonwealth Fashion Exchange, Deepa Dosaja, From the collection of: Commonwealth Fashion Council
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Crystal embroidery on a Deepa Dosaja dress, Deepa Dosaja, From the collection of: Commonwealth Fashion Council
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The Exchange: Kenya x Zambia | Kenya

Designer Deepa Dosaja x Artisans Mumwa Crafts Association | Artisan Fashion

Deepa Dosaja's collections integrate Haute Couture techniques on luxurious natural materials. The look was complete with a woollen shawl.

Haute Baso's look for The Commonwealth Fashion Exchange Haute Baso's look for The Commonwealth Fashion Exchange, Haute Baso, From the collection of: Commonwealth Fashion Council
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Close up of Haute Baso's look, Haute Baso, From the collection of: Commonwealth Fashion Council
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The Exchange: Rwanda x Uganda

Designer Haute Baso x Artisans Ihato

Haute Baso created a look using wool and upcycled mosquito nets, embellished with upcycled beads from traditional accessories such as necklaces and bracelets, and handmade beads from Ugandan jewellery maker Ihato.

Kibonen New Yorks look, Kibonen New York, From the collection of: Commonwealth Fashion Council
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Kibonen New Yorks look at Australian High Commission, London, Kibonen New York, From the collection of: Commonwealth Fashion Council
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The Exchange: Cameroon x United Republic of Tanzania

Designer Kibonen New York x artisan Makory Mgece

The gown designed by Kibonen is made from lightweight Woolmark certified wool, trimmed with Maasai beading from Mgece Makory in Tanzania. Intricate embroidery features on the patterned Toghu cloth, traditionally worn by rulers of the North West region of Cameroon.

Nkwo dress, Nkwo, From the collection of: Commonwealth Fashion Council
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Nkwo dress detail with Swarovski crystal, Nkwo, From the collection of: Commonwealth Fashion Council
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The Exchange: Nigeria x Malawi

Designer NKWO x artisan Joel Suya

NKWO created a look with organic British wool. Her design, named ‘Spirit of the Dance’, is made from Aso Oke, a hand-loomed cloth woven by a group of women based in Kogi state, central Nigeria. The piece was inspired by a secretive religion indigenous to Malawi, called Nyau. During a special ceremony, attendees wear wooden masks and act out spirits of the dead, in order to communicate with them.

Front of Sydney-Davies look, Sydney-Davies, From the collection of: Commonwealth Fashion Council
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Sydney-Davies' look at Buckingham Palace, From the collection of: Commonwealth Fashion Council
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The Exchange: Sierra Leone x Ghana / The Gambia

Designer Sydney-Davies x artisans Big Dread Kente / Ousman Toure, Continent Clothing

Sydney-Davies and Big Dread Kente worked together to create a natural raffia-fringed hand-woven kente cloth midi skirt with recyclable plastic blocking, and a bralet top embellished with Swarovski upcycled crystals in queen bee motifs. The outfit is completed with an oversized bardot wrap jacket made from hand-woven gold kente cloth, hand-woven country cloth, and 100% wool, and a handmade necklace and bracelet crafted by Ousman Toure in The Gambia.

Karen Walker's look for The Commonwealth Fashion Exchange Karen Walker's look for The Commonwealth Fashion Exchange, Karen Walker, From the collection of: Commonwealth Fashion Council
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Close up of Karen Walker's dress, From the collection of: Commonwealth Fashion Council
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The Exchange: New Zealand x Cook Islands

Designer Karen Walker x artisans Kuki Airani Creative Mamas

Karen Walker worked with a community of tivaivai craftswomen from the Cook Islands, now resident in New Zealand. Her dress is made from dusty pink Italian wool flannel and is covered in claret-coloured tivaivai embroidered flowers. The flowers are iconic flora of the Māmās’ island home and include gardenia, jasmine, orchid, fruit salad plant, hibiscus, fringed hibiscus, red ginger, frangipani and the Cook Islands national flower, Tiare Māori. Added to these are the beloved Karen Walker daisies. The 10 plant varieties are brought to life with 12 different traditional stitch styles.

Front of KitX look, KITX, From the collection of: Commonwealth Fashion Council
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Traditional straw skirt used for the bottom of KITX's dress, KITX, From the collection of: Commonwealth Fashion Council
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The Exchange: Australia x Solomon Islands

Designer KITX x artisans Pasifik Creations

The gown created by KITX has a bodice and skirt made from lightweight GOTS certified organic crepe wool sourced from a Woolmark approved mill, overlaid with a traditional straw skirt from the Solomon Islands and embellished with trochus shell beads made by hand by a cooperative of women expert at this ancient craft.

Burberry's look for The Commonwealth Fashion Exchange Burberry's look for The Commonwealth Fashion Exchange, From the collection of: Commonwealth Fashion Council
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Burberry's label, Burberry, From the collection of: Commonwealth Fashion Council
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The Exchange: UK

Designer Burberry

Burberry designed a look using the highest quality Oeko-Tex certified Australian Merino wool to create a reimagined trench coat, accompanied by woollen trousers made with Oeko-Tex certified yarns. The suppliers and manufacturers involved in creating the look are part of Burberry’s 2020 project, involved in capacity building programmes encompassing training relating to ethical performance, audits, chemical management practices, and adhering to Burberry’s code of conduct.

Charles and Ron's look for The Commonwealth Fashion Exchange Charles and Ron's look for The Commonwealth Fashion Exchange, From the collection of: Commonwealth Fashion Council
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Close up of Charles and Ron's skirt embroidery, Charles and Ron, From the collection of: Commonwealth Fashion Council
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The Exchange: Malta x India

Designer Charles and Ron x artisan Khushboo

Charles & Ron created a look of Woolmark certified wool crepe, with a full, floor-length skirt embellished with beaded appliqué Maltese door-knockers. The coordinating blouse features Maltese lace, and a Maltese hand-tooled leather belt completes the look.

Lucian Matis look, Lucian Matis, From the collection of: Commonwealth Fashion Council
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Close up of Lucian Matis' fabric, From the collection of: Commonwealth Fashion Council
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The Exchange: Canada x Namibia

Designer Lucian Matis x artisans Omba Arts Trust

Lucian Matis created a gown made with a wool blend fabric, and embellished with black Swarovski upcycled crystals, inspired by the most recent oil spill in the East China Sea and the destruction caused to our oceans and ecosystems. To accompany the gown, a classic roll necklace was created by three Ju/’hoansi groups living in the eastern region of Namibia. The method for creating the beads is believed to date back 60,000 years, using ostrich eggshells that are broken in to small pieces, clipped into circles and pierced with a hole. The beads have been heated to create different colours, from a pale grass tone through to black.

Bangor farm by WoolmarkCommonwealth Fashion Council

The Story of The Woolmark Company

In 1964, the iconic Woolmark symbol was born. Its purpose: to act as an independent quality assurance of every wool product it adorns - more than 5 billion of them, so far, making the Woolmark brand the best-known textile quality brand and wool content label in the world. 

Bolinda Vale farm by WoolmarkCommonwealth Fashion Council

How it all started

During the 1930s, a handful of the world’s top wool-producing countries decided it was in their best interest to promote their product on an international scale. Australia took charge and in 1936 woolgrowers voted to impose a 6 pence levy for each bale produced, with the funds to be directed to research and promotion. On July 1 1937 the International Wool Publicity and Research Secretariat was formed – which was quickly renamed the International Wool Secretariat (IWS). Based in London the IWS had offices in every major wool-producing country by the mid-1950s.

The International Woolmark Prize trophy 2017/18 by The Woolmark CompanyCommonwealth Fashion Council

The International Woolmark Prize

In 1953 the IWS Prize was established. This coveted award recognised excellence and innovation in fashion and promoted wool in its most pure form – natural and luxurious. This was the original incarnation of the International Woolmark Prize.

The International Woolmark Prize celebrates outstanding fashion talents from around the globe who showcase the beauty and versatility of Merino wool.

The award was won in 1954 by iconic fashion designers Karl Lagerfeld and Yves Saint Laurent.

Ocean View farm by WoolmarkCommonwealth Fashion Council

The threat of new fibres

A new competitor emerged during World War II: synthetics. Nylon, polyester and acrylic were fast becoming household names. This led IWS Australian general manager William Vines to establish the label as a quality guarantor.

Woolmark sheep in the barn by The Woolmark CompanyCommonwealth Fashion Council

The Australian Wool Research and Promotion Organisation (AWRAP) was established in December 1993. A year later saw AWRAP and IWS merge into one organisation under the control of AWRAP.

The Woolmark Company was established in 1997 as a result of the IWS undergoing a change of name.

Merriman Shearing School by WoolmarkCommonwealth Fashion Council

The company's role in the fashion industry

The Woolmark Company works with textile and fashion industries at every level, developing better wool textiles and driving consumer demand. The Woolmark Company’s relations with the fashion world also makes it well-placed to nurture fresh talent in fashion design.

Wool top certified by The Woolmark Company by The Woolmark CompanyCommonwealth Fashion Council

A quality guarantor

The Woolmark logo has universally grown to be the marker of quality wool products.

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Bangor farm, picture supplied by The Woolmark Company by WoolmarkCommonwealth Fashion Council

AWRAP converted into a Corporations Law company to become Australian Wool Services Ltd (AWS) in 2001. This company managed Australian Wool Innovation Ltd (AWI) and The Woolmark Company.

Connorville farm by WoolmarkCommonwealth Fashion Council

When AWI separated from AWS in 2002, the company retained its initial responsibilities; investing in R&D projects, while The Woolmark Company focused on the promotion of Australian wool and the commercial development of the Woolmark brand and other associated brands.

Bolinda Vale farm by WoolmarkCommonwealth Fashion Council

2007 saw AWI purchase The Woolmark Company and the Woolmark brand from AWS. Since, AWI has had responsibility for R&D, marketing and the provision of industry services. The Woolmark Company continues to affirm the iconic Woolmark logo within households and companies on an international scale.

Trefusis farm by WoolmarkCommonwealth Fashion Council

Credits: Story

This content has been specifically curated for the Google Arts & Culture platform on behalf of the Commonwealth Fashion Exchange exhibition that launched on the 19th of February at Buckingham Palace in partnership with Swarovski, The Woolmark Company and MATCHESFASHION.COM.

The project, created and managed by Eco-Age, with the support of The Commonwealth Fashion Council and The British Fashion Council.

More information about the images is available by clicking on them.
Read more about the Commonwealth Fashion Exchange at http://eco-age.com/commonwealth-fashion-exchange/

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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