Stanley Vale Merino Stud - News & Views

Wool retailers say consumers will pay high prices for a good yarn

Updated August 07, 2015 10:00:33

When a big chain store is selling children's singlets for 50 cents, will people fork out $35 for a pure wool version that looks remarkably similar?

Consumers from across the globe are demanding the story behind their food and, as Australian companies have found, they are willing to pay a premium for products that are safe, produced in an ethical manner and of high quality.

But what about clothing?

ABC Rural asked a selection of Australian wool designers, with stalls at agricultural show Sheepvention this week, about customer attitudes toward their high price tags.

Wendy Voon Knits: Wendy Voon, Melbourne

If you want to buy one of Wendy Voon's $480 funnel neck jumpers, you will have to wait. They are sold out.

So are her $135 scarves.

Meanwhile Target is selling scarves for $10 and Kmart has a selection on special, for $8.99.

Ms Voon has been designing woollen garments for 10 years and although many people who see her price tags still "do the shocked look and keep walking", another group of supportive consumers is growing exponentially.

"Once you explain that my pieces are made here in Melbourne and I'm using good quality yarns, that's kind of the price that you have to pay," she said.

"It is definitely easier [these days], but I think that's a process of me being around for a while and also getting better at selling myself.

Urban people probably grew up with a scratchy wool next to their skin that irritated them, but now it's just so soft and only gets softer with washes too.

Wendy Voon, Melbourne fashion designer

"I think I do need to tell the story, especially with my price point."

Ms Voon is now working with an alpaca and Merino producer, who is committed to a fully Victorian "paddock to shelf" model.

"We've had a first run of yarn that's been fully processed in Victoria, scoured and spun," she said.

"It's ancient history and it's hard work."

It is a story Ms Voon knows will attract buyers but they will need deep pockets.

"That jumper will cost a lot," she laughed.

Little Peeps Fleece: Eliza Tole, Tasmania

Tasmanian farmer and agronomist, Eliza Tole, now runs a prime lamb and cropping enterprise but her roots are in wool production.

The mother-of-three struggled to find woollen clothing for her children in Australia, instead importing them from New Zealand.

"I always had in the back of my mind, 'wouldn't it be lovely if it was Australian wool'," she said.

Years later Ms Tole created children's clothing brand Little Peeps Fleece, which stocks products made from wool that is between 18.5 micron and 19.5 micron.

"This finer wool is perfect for layering and perfect to suit children's play and their day-to-day business," she said.

The uneducated consumer would not recognise wool when perusing Ms Tole's collection and the basic designs look similar to clothing found in many a large retail store.

What they will undoubtedly notice is a difference in price.

"They start at $45 and go up," Ms Tole said.

With the whole focus on sustainability and ethically made garments, I think people now are willing to pay a little bit more, especially if they know wool.

Eliza Tole, Little Peeps Fleece

"But with the whole focus on sustainability and ethically made garments I think people now are willing to pay a little bit more, especially if they know wool.

"If they know wool they will buy it again."

Ms Tole struggled to fit in a conversation between meeting customer needs at Sheepvention but said a large percentage of urban consumers were not yet sold on the pricey fibre.

"In this type of environment, at Sheepvention, you're preaching to the converted," she said.

"Urban people probably grew up with a scratchy wool next to their skin that irritated them, but now it's just so soft and only gets softer with washes too.

"I guess there's still work to be done in education ... the product development has come a long way."

Lady Kate Merino Knitwear: Prue Merriman, Canberra

The very label on Penny Merriman's clothing designs is a proud declaration that her brand is linked to four generations of female Merino producers.

It is a tribute to her great-grandmother Lady Kate, who was wife to a sheep baron.

It is a story sister, Prue Merriman, has been urged to share with potential customers, as she mans the Sheepvention stall in Hamilton.

And it works.

"As soon as you discuss the background and the story behind it, [customers] will look like they're about to walk past and they'll stop ... and have another look at the jumpers," she said.

"We sell at the Sydney show as well and people will often react quite differently and they're interested in a completely different background to rural people.

"The rural people are interested in four generations of sheep farming and the wool, whereas a lot of city people say 'wow you've got sheep, what are they like?'

No one is coming because it's a wool product. They come because it feels nice and it looks nice

Prue Merriman, Lady Kate

"But they do still love hearing the story and it does make them stop and take a second look."

Ms Merriman said Sydney shoppers were supportive of the brand but were yet to build up an understanding of the fibre behind it.

"No one is coming because it's a wool product," she said.

"They come because it feels nice and it looks nice and I think they're slowly starting to associate that with the fact that it is made out of wool."

Topics: wool, sheep-production, fashion, agricultural-marketing, horsham-3400

First posted August 06, 2015 13:56:15

Original author: Danielle Grindlay



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