IWTO Congress 2019 Report

The discussion about sustainability is becoming more diverse

On 9-11 April 2019, the 88th IWTO Congress took place in Venice, Italy. Over 320 delegates attended the event representing the entire wool supply chain from all key wool growing and manufacturing countries.

Besides providing a great networking opportunity, the IWTO Congress offers a unique opportunity for learning about new industry developments and sharing views on key issues during presentations and panel discussions. In this report, we wish to share our summary of the event with you.

The event was opened by Eco-Age founder Livia Firth, a well known sustainable fashion evangelist married to actor Colin Firth. The Italian sustainability expert showcased her movie ‘Forever Tasmania’ where she talks to Wool Growers and researchers about animal welfare and sustainable production. Livia’s message to the wool industry was to continue to collaborate across the whole supply chain and to co-invest into research on sustainability. According to Ms. Firth, this was especially important as wool is a strategic key component in reducing fast fashion and minimising the related pollution of microplastic fibres in our oceans. ‘The time for wool is now’, Livia Firth concluded her message to the industry.

The sustainability message by Livia Firth was a returning theme throughout the 3-day event. However, presentations by various speakers such as Eco-Age Chief Brand Officer Harriet Vocking and industry expert Dr. Paul Swan showed that the sustainability discussion is maturing. While the topic used to circle around Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) and animal welfare, the scope is broadening. Aspects such as traceability and transparency, working conditions, economic prosperity, circular economy, community, and social wellbeing were aspects discussed during the event as well.

Hugo Boss representative Heinz Zeller explained why transparency is a top priority for the fashion industry. Clothing manufacturers and retailers want to be in a position where they know exactly where and how each garment item has been produced.
The solution to a traceable supply chain favoured by the industry is blockchain, a technology already explored by various industry players such as AWEX and BKB. However, Mr. Zeller pointed out that a successful Blockchain solution can only be a global one which is jointly being developed by all supply chain partners involved, similar to the world wide web.

Another forum for interesting debate was the Market Intelligence Session organised by Chris Wilcox. Don MacDonald reported about the dreadful drought in Australia and showed the latest AWI video about the situation (click here to view). CEO Joe Farren of British Wool gave insights into the British coarse wool market and CEO Giovanni Schneider of the Schneider Group provided insights into the Italian wool manufacturing and fashion industry (watch Giovanni Schneider’s presentation here). A podium discussion with Chinese wool manufacturers and delegates in the audience followed the presentations. The debate about current high wool prices for fine wools showcased general support and understanding for wool growers and an expectancy for prices to even increase further.

The last Congress was hosted by the Benetton Group at their headquarters in Treviso. Here the main focus was on the topic of wool’s health and wellness benefits. NASA researcher Ms Orndorff reported about her search for finding the best fibre for astronauts to wear during their extended travel to Mars and beyond. After comparing a wide variety of fibres wool came out as a clear winner when it comes to comfort, odour and static.

The IWTO Congress ended with a visit to the Marzotto Group headquarters in Valdagno. Delegates were able to gain insights into one of the biggest users of fine wool and discover a long history of corporate social responsibility by one of the global leaders in the production of high-quality fabrics for men’s and women’s clothing.

Overall the Congress gave a good overview on current challenges and opportunities as well as the latest research results the industry is advancing on. The next IWTO Congress will be held on 18-20 May 2020 in Tongxiang, China.