Despite uncertainty in global conditions, the Victorian wool industry continues to show optimism, largely thanks to a jump in clothing sales - both formal and athleisure - as people go back into the office and COVID-19 restrictions ease.
For Avington Merino stud managing director Noel Henderson, Sidonia, clothing sales have continued strong despite the increasing uptake of casual wear over the past few years.
Mr Henderson, who is also a board member of Australian Wool Innovation, is buoyed by innovative, new styles of clothing that provide opportunities for studs across Victoria.
"For the last two years people haven't actually been buying suits," Mr Henderson said.
"They've been generally buying casual clothing online and certainly the trend that is developing worldwide is away from more formal clothing, and is developing towards more casual climbing, which has been accelerated by COVID itself and people at home.
"On a former scale, the average businessman had five suits, at least probably six, but nowadays they may only have two because they'd only be going to the office two or three days a week."
However, the excitement for Mr Henderson comes in the development of suit innovation for new workplace situations.
"For instance, Hugo Boss is about to release a more casual suit which is made not with a woven fibre but with a knitted fibre," he said.
"There are now some very clever knitting machines that can do either flatbed knitting or circular knitting and companies like Hugo Boss will be the first in the market to utilise it.
"[These suits] will be a more relaxed fit, easier to wear and people are more likely to adapt."
While Mr Henderson is not sure how much these new innovative suits will cost, he "can't imagine it being any cheaper but it will certainly sell".
He said AWI would look to promote such creativity in clothing, like woolen next-to-skin wear and business shirts and that there would continue to be assistance in development of the technical aspect to enable that to happen.
"There have been studies here in Australia, the US and elsewhere which show that people are more relaxed in these suits with the fibre breathing, leading to better sleep for people as well," he said.
"We are as an industry trying to get over those superstitions about wool, like it being prickly to wear.
"That is no longer the case with the way wool is processed now with even the development of next-to-skinwear coming down to 16 micron in many cases."
While Mr Henderson said there was still a reason for caution, considering the conflict in Ukraine and ongoing COVID shutdowns in China, but there was strong industry resilience.
"I think that the influence of COVID has dampened the market slightly, but it's hard to separate at the moment because the currency issues that have developed as a result of what's happening in Ukraine are starting to cause some consternation because the the Australian dollar has been rising," he said.
"Whilst we get paid in Australian dollars here, the world market for wool operates in US dollars, so ultimately that's affecting what is happening with price."
Rabobank's Agribusiness Outlook 2022 showed while consumer confidence was going down, in the big markets of US and China, there are positive factors that will push prices higher.
Rabobank agricultural analyst Dennis Voznesenski said trends were expected to grow stronger through 2022 and rise above general retail apparel sales.
"First, US retail apparel sales are continuing to grow, with December data showing an 18 per cent rise versus pre-pandemic levels," Mr Voznesenski said.
"Second, the latest woollen suit import data for October 2021 shows a full recovery to pre-pandemic levels in France and only 26pc below pre-pandemic levels in the US."
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