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Making merino an international success story

Media Statement 4 March 2004

Making merino an international success story

The government is contributing more than $350,000 to a scientific project that will enable manufacturers to develop fabrics from New Zealand merino wool for specific, high performance sporting activities.

It will establish test methods to prove the unique characteristics of fabrics manufactured from merino wool and blends, ensuring label claims for enhanced human or fabric performance are authentic.

University of Otago, The New Zealand Merino Company (NZM) and Designer Textiles International are joint research partners in the project, which is being supported with investment funding from government research and funding agency, Technology New Zealand through its Technology for Business Growth (TBG) programme.

“We want to discover new processes to assist or enhance human performance by the functional design, the way we engineer fabric and construct garments,” says NZM Research, Development and Product Innovation Manager, Dr Scott Champion.

“Instead of producing garments that look or feel nice and selling them for a range of uses, we want to understand consumer and participant requirements within a particular sector and have a range of test methods that allow us to construct a fabric specifically to suit.”

Scott Champion uses the example of mountain biking, where fabric factors such as moisture absorption and moisture transfer, air permeability, and wind resistance would be tested so the most suitable fabric could be created for a biker’s jersey. He says some test methods exist but they are “left overs” from the early days of the fibre and textiles industry.

Raechel Laing, Associate Professor at Otago University’s Clothing and Textile Sciences – and recently appointed New Zealand’s only personal chair in clothing and textile sciences – says the project fits with previous studies she has undertaken into performance claims of various manufacturers and distributors. These followed her concerns about claimed advantages and the implicit connections being made between improved human performance and fabrics.

“I think we’re breaking new ground. Some large fibre manufacturers might have some in-house findings but these have not been subjected to scientific scrutiny,” she says.

The research will give Designer Textiles and NZM scientifically sound information about the properties of merino and merino blend fabrics which can be used as a marketing story around the world. It will also establish a credible point of difference and a competitive edge over synthetic fibres.

Designer Textiles has increased its commitment to merino, moving away from substitute or synthetic fibre. Technical Development Manager, David Carter, says the advanced knowledge will enable the creation of new fabrics for purpose-made garments.

“We need to continue developing new products using the same base merino product to create a point of difference in existing markets.

“We are gaining more customers in the US and Europe and the scientifically defensible claims give us the technical information to take to the market, giving the product credibility and backing up its pedigree,” he says.

The research results will also give Designer Textiles opportunities to improve its position and prospects with overseas customers who are looking for proof and authenticity of branding claims.

Merino wool’s natural characteristics include its fire safe and easy care properties, thermal control and comfort. It remains warm when wet and can absorb up to 30 percent of its own weight in moisture.

“Merino is staking a claim at a time when there is increasing casualisation of clothing away from suits and sports jackets to more active outdoor wear.

“The research is cranking up the level of complexity and sophistication about fabric performance claims and creating points of difference for customers,” says Dr Champion.

“From Technology New Zealand’s point of view it is important because it creates a commercial environment way beyond the life of this funding which allows the companies to continue to go forward.

“It means we can tell the merino story in a robust way in the marketplace, involving good education, and it provides ongoing value to the growers,” says Dr Champion.


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