Blue-sky research aimed at guaranteeing the comfort of wool to the consumer is now a commercial reality, with the Australian Wool Testing Authority (AWTA) taking over the marketing and manufacturing of the Wool ComfortMeter and Wool HandleMeter.

Developed by Australia’s Cooperative Research Centre for Sheep Industry Innovation (Sheep CRC), the technology is set to revolutionise the production and marketing of wool garments, with strong interest already received from leading fashion and sports brands, as well as wool processors and mills.

Used together the Wool ComfortMeter and Wool HandleMeter objectively and accurately measure the comfort and handle of light-weight wool garments, and provide an effective method of assuring next-to-skin comfort and predictable feel for the consumer.

“There are plenty of examples in the wool industry where good research has been left on the shelf, but this ground-breaking technology is now a commercial reality that will deliver benefits to wool growers and industry for years to come,” AWTA Managing Director Michael Jackson said.

“The Wool ComfortMeter and Wool HandleMeter go straight to the key issue of consumers’ expectations of Australian wool and how this can be improved.

“The technology provides retailers and brands with a means of differentiating their next-to-skin Merino wool products, enhancing consumer trust in their products and increasing their willingness to pay a premium for Australian wool.” 

The Wool ComfortMeter counts the number of fibres protruding from a fabric that could cause wearer discomfort, and then accurately predicts a consumer’s response – crucial information for next-to-skin fabric manufacturers.

Wool ‘handle’ had traditionally been measured subjectively by judges, who often had differing views on a fabric’s smoothness, softness, warm feel, dry feel, hairiness, tightness and perceived weight. The Wool HandleMeter overcomes this with objective data.

The accuracy of the ComfortMeter and HandleMeter in predicting the feel of garments was validated by the Sheep CRC through a series of wearer trials where volunteers have rated the comfort and next-to-skin feel of various garments while exercising in a controlled environment.

As the largest wool-testing organisation in the world, AWTA will provide garment testing services to wool processors, knitwear companies, fashion houses and garment retailers through its facilities in Melbourne, New Zealand and in China.

“For decades AWTA has worked with other research agencies, especially CSIRO, and taken new technologies from research into the commercial sphere,” Mr Jackson said. “As a consequence of this experience, we are well-placed to deliver the Wool ComfortMeter and Wool HandleMeter”

The Sheep CRC developed the technology in conjunction with the CSIRO, Australian Wool Innovation (AWI), the Australian Wool Testing Authority (AWTA), Deakin University and the Department of Agriculture and Food WA (DAFWA).

“In setting out seven years ago to develop this technology, the end-goal was always to deliver equipment that was commercially relevant and would create increased demand for Australian Merino wool by developing confidence in the quality of next-to-skin wool knitwear,” Prof. Rowe said.

“These instruments demonstrate that if you wish to produce and market a superior next-to-skin product you must invest in a supply chain that utilises superfine and ultrafine Merino wool.

“The Wool ComfortMeter quantifies how comfort levels improve with finer the micron wools all the way down to 13.5 micron, creating a clear product differentiation and the opportunity for price premiums for superfine and ultrafine wools for next-to-skin applications.”

The market relevance of the Wool ComfortMeter and Wool HandleMeter was tested in a pre-commercialisation pilot trial run in which the AWTA provided a test service to major Chinese knitwear companies.

The Sheep CRC also conducted workshops to showcase the equipment in Seattle, New York and London, and were attended by brands including Nike, Nordstrom, Macy’s and Brooks Brothers in the United States, and Jaeger, Next, Arcadia and Bodin in the United Kingdom.

The companies involved immediately recognised the potential value of the Wool ComfortMeter and HandleMeter for achieving a high level of quality and consistency in their branded wool garments; improving customer satisfaction; reducing customer returns; expanding sales and enhancing their competitive edge in the apparel retail.