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Sustainability Sells: Strong Wool’s Half Billion-dollar Export Opportunity

New Zealand’s strong wool sector is sitting on at least a half a billion dollar opportunity thanks to a wave of eco-consumerism, coupled with innovative Kiwi businesses pushing the limits of wool.

Since the 1980s the export price of strong wool has tanked from a high of around $10 a kilogram, to now just over two dollars. But as eco-consumerism rises and plastic products lose their popularity, a group of New Zealand businesses are ready to drive strong wool’s resurgence.

Strong Wool Action Group executive officer Andy Caughey says for the first time in forty years the market conditions are optimistic for strong wool, a courser fibre than the likes of fine merino, which is exceptionally resilient and versatile in its use for homewares.

“In June this year PWC’s Global Consumer Insights Pulse Survey[1], found half of all global consumers surveyed say they’ve become even more eco-friendly. This is up from 35% of respondents in 2019 who said they chose sustainable products[2].

“This illustrates the global opportunity to meet changing consumer needs. It’s no coincidence that the Strong Wool price started to plummet around the time nylon plastic flooded the market. But now that plastic is quickly losing popularity and consumers want to make sustainable choices, strong wool is making a comeback.

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“From premium coats, bags, rugs, acoustic panelling, to components in paints, cosmetics and skin care – Strong Wool is making the shift from a commodity to a component of premium sustainable product shoppers want.”

In the year ending June 2020, New Zealand exported 71,028 tonnes of clean strong wool. It was sold at an average price of $2.27. Lifting this back up to $10 a kilogram would transform the industry from a circa $200 million[3] export industry to a nearly $750 million[4] export.

“Clearly we’ve got a long way to go to get back up to $10 a kilogram. But even $5 a kilogram would pump nearly $200 million extra into the New Zealand economy. We’re already seeing examples of Strong Wool selling for $4.50 kilogram, so we’re heading in the right direction for the first time in decades,” says Caughey.

“Now’s the time for clever people to stand up for the strong wool businesses that capitalise on the sustainability movement. In the last five years, online searches for sustainable goods have grown by 71%[5].

“There is so much potential for the strong wool sector with the growing diversity of applications that support healthier and safer living. The world is turning away from plastics and retailers are already responding. We’re seeing major carpet and furniture companies abandon synthetics and the emergence of new companies innovating with strong wool in applications far beyond how the fibre has traditionally been used.”

[1] PWC’s Global Consumer Insights Pulse Survey

[2] The rise of the eco-friendly consumer article

[3] $200,050,969

[4] $749,097,410

[5] Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), commissioned by WWF, An Eco-wakening: Measuring global awareness, engagement and action for nature

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