At a time when there is huge demand for sustainable, natural materials, it seems counter-intuitive that one of the most traditional and long established of natural fibres, wool, finds its price languishing and farmers composting or burning fleeces after shearing.
Industry calls to make wool an integral part of the Government’s Green Homes Grant initiative, which will seek to make people’s properties better insulated and therefore more environmentally friendly, are on the right track and should be welcomed.
But are they going to be too late to provide a boost to the beleaguered UK wool market? While the Government may well be on an unprecedented cash splurge as it seeks to resuscitate an economy decimated by Covid-19, there are surely going to be qualms about whether they would back calls for wool to be part of the insulation solution, especially if it drives up the cost in the process.
There must also be concerns as to why such a brilliant product such as wool finds itself cut adrift in terms of usage and demand. While a letter writer argues that without British Wool acting as the marketing board this product would go the same way as milk, it could actually be argued that it already has.
One of the oft-lamented notions about the demise of the Milk Marketing Board was that it led to the commoditisation of liquid milk, with the product left to the whims of global and domestic market, with little inherent brand identity.
Surely the same could be said of the wool market at the moment, especially with its huge reliance on the economic success of China and the spending power of its people. Wool also faces a challenge from the rise of synthetic materials such as polyester, nylon and acrylics which so dominate much of modern fashion and have reshaped which fibres are in demand.
If farmers are going to stand a chance of a fair return for their fleeces then wool’s branding, image and final market destinations need an input of creativity and a smidgen of modernity in order to make it relevant for today’s consumer.