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Australian Merino wool discovered by new fashion consumers

 

 

July 27, 2018

A merino lamb and woman wearing woollen clothing on the beach

PHOTO: Emma Silverton poses for a fashion shoot in woollen clothing, boasting the "sheep-to-shop" ideal of the Toorallie brand. (Landline: Tim Lee)

Across the nation dozens of bold and innovative farmers tried their hand at value-adding; spinning and knitting their own fleeces into woollen clothing.

Most of them have long since given up. Manufacturing clothing like woollen apparel became a perilous pursuit.

But one brand, Toorallie, is emerging as one of the bright stars of Australia's wool industry and it is the younger consumers who are propelling its growth.

Woman standing in front of various wool products in a shop

PHOTO: Lisa Griplas said Gen Ys and Millennials grew up with mostly synthetics and missed out on the beauty of natural fibres. (Landline)

"So the fact that wool is natural, bio-degradable, renewable, wicks away moisture, is odour resistant, it's tapping into this generation which missed out on all of this," Ms Griplas from Australian Wool Innovation added.

Toorallie, run by identical twins Simon and Steve Smith, are all too aware of this emerging market. They cut their cloth, so to speak, to meet modern trends.

Two identical twins standing side by side in a field out in NSW

PHOTO: Twins of spin, Simon (left) and Steve Smith (right), have resurrected their family's clothing brand. (Landline: Tim Lee)

"It doesn't have to be 100 per cent Merino, it just has to have Merino as its core," Simon Smith said.

Simon Smith oversees a lot of the technical elements, like the blending of wool with cotton or bamboo and development of stylish fabrics. Increasingly, today's consumers want a more casual style.

"Now we've got a rail of diverse knit scarves, socks, jackets, coats, jeans, t-shirts," Steve Smith said.

Clothes on hangers at a clothing shop

PHOTO: Toorallie produce traditional knitwear to include wool-denim jeans, shirting, t-shirts, hosiery and accessories. (Landline)

Toorallie takes its name from the Smith family's former property at Bombala in south-east New South Wales, where Steve and Simon Smith's parents Peter and Claire owned and ran a large wool-growing property.

The brand flourished for a decade — making colourful, bulky knit jumpers and classical knitwear. But by 2004, cheap Chinese clothes were flooding the Australian market. Sales of woollen clothing had stagnated. Fashion, ever fickle, had moved on.

The business collapsed under a mountain of debt. But Steve and Simon Smith had devoted the prime years of their 20s to the brand and never considered walking away.

The brothers brokered a business partnership with Peter Small, a veteran woolgrower who had spent decades processing Australian wool into fine yarn.

Two people assessing merino wool up close

PHOTO: Wool industry veteran Peter Small, instructs wool classer Nathalee Williams on the type of fleece he is seeking to buy. (Landline: Tim Lee)

"Well it was bleak. It was as bleak as it could get really," Steve Smith recalled.

Peter Small, became a co-owner with two other silent partners and the re-born Toorallie has gradually gone from strength to strength.

"With patience and commitment we've got it back up and now we're in a good spot where we can invest properly in the brand and really that's investing in design and creative elements," Simon Smith said.

The company now supply more than 250 retail outlets in Australian and New Zealand, and makes a virtue of the fine Merino wool it uses.

Sheep in the yard with their fleeces shorn off

PHOTO: Newly-shorn sheep at Pooginook station, a famous sheep stud where Toorallie sources its fleeces. (Landline: Tim Lee)

All of the fleeces are sourced from Pooginook, a famed wool growing property near Jerilderie in southern New South Wales.

Wool industry executive Ms Griplas, sees that story of provenance as another growing consumer trend.

"The fact that people are so concerned of where their food comes and how their food is made, people are becoming more conscious of where their clothes are made and I think Australian wool perfectly aligns with this," Ms Griplas said.

The Smith brothers are excited about the growth prospects for Merino clothing, domestically and in emerging markets such as the Asian middle class. They're also proud to have toughed it out during the bleak years when Australian clothing manufacturers were falling over in droves.

"It would have been easy to step away. But now that we're actually getting some returns on it, it's good and no journey is an easy journey," Steve Smith said.

Twin brother Simon, mirrors those sentiments.

"We love to tell our story of triumph I guess over tough times. And we hope the future's bright. So, keep an eye on us!"

 

Tim Lee's story TWIN SPIN screens on Landline this Sunday at 12.30pm.

Despite what you hear the television industry is NOT ALL glamour. Well yes, perhaps sometimes! Even for the down-to-earth Landline show. We’ve been on site for a fashion shoot of fine Merino wear made my Melbourne based clothing label Toorallie. Internationally known model Emma Silverton got to pose at Point Lonsdale by the beach with a very placid pet Merino lamb. And she found the experience delightful. The lamb (like all modern kids) seemed very comfortable in front of the camera too. Emma is the (women’s) face for Toorallie’s 2019 winter catalogue. That’s how far out clothing makers and fashion houses have to cast their net. Emma is delightful and like all models it seems, very tall, (180 cms or 5”11). Our look behind the scenes story of wool fashion will be screened on Landline a few weeks’.

Australian Merino wool discovered by new fashion consumers