Offcuts Edition #2: “Silicon Paddock” helping revive old-fashioned industry

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Wool Days make knitwear & heirloom craft yarns from Australian Merino wool, sourced & processed locally in Victoria. Photo: collectivehub.com

As part of my role at Quality Wool, one of my tasks is to hunt for industry news from other sources that may be of interest to our clients and friends, and share it on our media platforms.

Not only is it interesting to see where the wool that originates from our clients’ shearing sheds is ending up, but it’s also serving as an on-the-run education for someone who’s industry knowledge before last year was non-existent.

And barely a week goes by without discovering an article detailing a new use or initiative for Aussie wool.

The latest group attempting to capitalise on our country’s reputation as a high-quality and reliable producer of natural fibre is the start-up community.

For those not familiar with the term “start-up”, it refers to new, innovative fast-growing businesses (both big and small) which aims to meet a specific marketplace need or niche.

Think Uber, Airbnb, Amazon – they are all examples of successful startup companies.

While in the past start-ups have been more regularly associated with high-tech silliness such as driverless cars and pizza delivery drones, a bunch of Aussie entrepreneurs are going the opposite way and embracing the land to get their ventures off the ground.

More specifically, they’re embracing Australian wool and helping revive an old-fashioned industry with some new ideas.

Take Wool Days for example, a small husband-and-wife business based out of Mollongghip, Victoria.

Founders Megan Elizabeth and Robbie Andrew make knitwear and heirloom craft yarns from Australian Merino wool, sourced practically “down the road” and processed locally in Victoria.

Only founded in April this year, their farm-to-table philosophy of “creating a purposeful connection between where things come from and the people who love them” has been such a success that their five-year business model has already been achieved in five months of existence.

Not bad for a couple that was told not to bother by naysayers of their concept.

From similarly humble beginnings, online clothing retailer InStitchu is also making waves by promoting their use of Australian Merino wool as a key selling point.

Using only fabric sourced from Australian woolgrowers in their range of suits, the company has just launched its first bricks-and-mortar location outside Australia and New Zealand, with a showroom in the heart of New York’s CBD.

This is to go with their showrooms in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Auckland, each with their own manager, wedding stylist and team of traveling tailors attached.

Starting as a two-man online operation and also encountering an army of doubters in their infancy, InStitchu now employs more than 25 people and is worth $10 million.

In an interview with Smart Company’s Dominic Powell in February this year (read here: http://bit.ly/2en57I3), Co-Founder Robin McGowan said InStitchu was “pushing ourselves as a new Australian brand and really pushing the Australian Merino wool angle,” pointing to the reputation and selling power it has in foreign markets.

Not only are wool-based start-ups embracing the produce of rural Australia as the focal point of their businesses, country areas are also where many of them are originating from.

A March 2017 report by Universities Australia indicated that nearly a quarter of Australian start-up businesses originate from regional areas, earning it the moniker ‘Silicon Paddock’,  a play on words with the famous Silicon Valley area in the San Francisco Bay area where many technology companies are located.

And with Australian wool a hot commodity again thanks to surging demand from overseas, expect plenty more wannabee entrepreneurs to pin their hopes and dreams on it in order to get their businesses off the ground.

Long may it continue.

Kane McKay

KMcKay@qualitywool.com