The Wool Project

We've called the project "Valuing Norwegian Wool". Starting in March 2010, this project will be launched under SIFO, in cooperation with NICE, among others. The goal is to look at the whole lifecycle of wool, finding new an innovative approaches to bringing wool to the forefront in textiles again. Wool has been the central textile fibre in Norwegian (and Nordic) history and is still economically important to Norwegian farming, textile manufacturing, retailing and the garment/fashion industry. There is reason to believe that most consumers are unaware of the negative environmental impact of cotton production, as well as unfamiliar with the environmental benefits of wool – which imply a great and unexploited potential.

Norwegian wool has a strong cultural impact; the Norwegian traditional dress is made from it, and decorated with wool embroidery. Maintained by a vital handicraft and knitting tradition in the population, Norwegian knitwear is regarded as an important representation of national identity – knitwear being the Norwegian souvenir per se exposing traditional patterns. Well-established Norwegian brands in manufacturing industries, such as Dale, Janus and Rauma Garn all sprung out of a local, regional or national supply chain of wool.

There are however serious challenges to the Norwegian wool production. The world market prices have plunged over the last five years The domestic wool production level has however remained the same, partly a result of subsidises and support programmes at the farm level. Due to lack of data, the total income at the farm level from wool production is difficult to stipulate. Yet, the share of income among farmers stemming from wool production has been shrinking, down from 23 % to 18 % (Animalia 2009), although the proportional reduction can be explained to some extent by a recent increase in meat prices. Norwegian textile and garment industries currently use less than 30 per cent of their wool input from Norwegian producers, and there is a concern that the industry will favour quality standards that Norwegian producers currently are unable to meet. Norwegian wool production is also challenged by a consumer demand for thinner and softer machine-washable wool – wool types not produced in Norway.

Still, there is great potential in exploiting the value of Norwegian wool. The environmental backdrop of the project is the unquestionable fact that wool as a material has considerable environmental benefits compared to other fibres. In addition, there are reasons to believe that Norwegian wool production has environmental benefits compared to imported wool. . Documentation of environmental benefits also seems to be valued among both industrial customers and consumers. So far the advantages of Norwegian wool remain undocumented.

The wool industry at a global level has met the challenge from synthetic fibres by f. ex. adapting clothes that are more adapted to everyday life – such as sports and outdoor life - through technological development. There is, however, a lack of knowledge on new ways of utilising wool among both producers and consumers, and not least on how existing Norwegian qualities can or should meet quality expectations and competition. Research on wool textiles and new concepts for product development is therefore necessary.

The first results from lab-studies are already published. So far there have been some results in the area of centrifugal revolutions of laundry machines. Studies do show that one can increase the spinning speed up to 1400 revolutions without the wool garments shrinking. This results in shorter drying-time and thereby easier care. The next lab studies will look at how washing wool separately as opposed to mixing fibres influences wash-results, since filling up washing machines saves both time and energy.

The newest report: Valuing Norwegian Wool summarized