ASI Convention Talk
The American Sheep Industry Association (ASI) is holding its 2024 Annual Convention in Denver from 10 through 13 January. They have honored us with an invitation to speak for 15 minutes to the 150-member Board of Directors, and this is what I plan to say.
THANK YOU for this invitation! And THANK YOU to everyone who has created and maintained our American Sheep and Wool Industries. Our company, WeatherWool, builds upon decades and centuries of work of many teams of people in many disciplines.
My name is Ralph DiMeo, from New Jersey. In 2009, we started WeatherWool, a company that makes 100% American Woolens. I'm wearing some of our clothing, and there are a couple of pieces available if anyone would like to examine.
Compared to so many of you, we are the new kids on the block. We try to be transparent about everything we do -- it's almost all on the website -- but absolutely if you have any questions or concerns, pick up the phone and talk to me.
I've been asked to speak about
- how WeatherWool came to be
- challenges faced
- opportunities for WeatherWool and the wool industry in general
- anything else
The first topic, origin of WeatherWool, is very simple. I'm a lifelong hunter and a lifelong office worker. I wanted wool hunting clothes as comfortable as the wool I wore to the office. But I couldn't find them, so Debby and I decided to try to make them. And do so 100% USA.
The second topic, challenges, is also simple. So much of our garment industry has been "offshored", and so many people wear primarily synthetics, that there is very little domestic capacity left for making woolens. That's not meant to disparage anyone, just a statement of fact that there is a lot less domestic production than there used to be. We have found great people to work with, no issue there. But we need a whole lot more demand to ensure US domestic production thrives and grows.
And that leads to the third topic ... opportunities ... which is really what I'd like to talk about. We need to create much much more demand. Everybody here probably knows that full well. But we're very amped up about it!
I will offer here what I have learned from speaking with thousands of people about clothing. THANKS to all of them and in particular a few who contributed ideas for my yakking today.
- I see enormous opportunities for growth of woolens because people, worldwide, don't wear very much of it ... far less than in generations past. The decline of wool has been driven by the advent of inexpensive synthetic clothing that has been very effectively marketed
- But the annual apparel and shoe market in the USA and Canada (no duties on US wool) is approaching $500 billion. And American clothing is only wearing 2-3% wool.
- Worldwide market is maybe two trillion dollars annually. Consumers in Europe and Asia are very keen on US quality. There are huge opportunities abroad.
- Wool makes much better clothing than the synthetics, but very few people know what wool can do!
- Most people, without any real reflection, think they know wool, but they don't. Everyone has had some experience with wool, very frequently not good experience. Everyone knows that there is great variety in cars, but people don't realize that woolens are like cars ... a lot of variety is possible. People will remember an itchy jacket from high school, and that puts them off wool until they are shown something different
- We need to educate the public about how/why wool makes great clothing ... healthier clothing! ... and bedding, and rugs, and ... This is akin to a public service. Seriously ... this type of education is much more than an industry promoting itself. People wear a lot of clothing that is ineffective AND unhealthy. The educational materials must be interesting and entertaining. Maybe hosted by a celebrity. In 1977, Orson Welles narrated a great wool video for the American Sheep Council, which I think became ASI. Welles' video focused on production -- good stuff -- but people need to learn WHAT WOOLENS CAN DO FOR THEM. Most people have no idea! A customer from Australia wrote me that even there, people don't know what wool can do. Telling people that wool is CLOTHING MADE BY NATURE captures their attention. The public generally holds the viewpoint that our manufacturers have surpassed Nature. Jet planes and cell phones are awesome and wonderful, but people don't realize these technologies are cupcakes compared to the functions within every single cell of our bodies. I try to make people aware that "modern synthetics", "technical fabrics", "poly- micro- FLEECE(!!!!)" are as nothing in comparison with the functional sophistication of a fiber that has been created by Nature to do almost exactly what we ask of it. This is the most effective avenue I've found toward re-oriented public perspectives. But I've also found it's sometimes important to be gentle about it. Many people have huge investments in their synthetics
- Environmental concerns. It's been a surprise to me to learn that the fashion industry seems to view clothing as fashion (duh ... i know), and they focus almost completely on what garments look like. They don't seem to care, for example, that wool keeps people comfortable over a much wider range of temperature than synthetic. But lately, the fashion people are focusing on the environmental impacts of clothing. Wool and sheep are great for the land and the environment, whereas synthetics are awful. Environmental concerns may well be the hook that brings the fashion industry over to woolens. Wool is much more environmentally friendly than synthetics. Wool does not shed micro-plastics, is longer-lasting than synthetic, is biodegradable, uses much less water. The sheep enrich the soil. Sheep are even keeping the grass short in solar-panel farms
- Health concerns ... more and more research is showing a lot of the clothes we are wearing, whether due to the composition of the garment or the chemicals used in preparation, are unhealthy. Public concern in this area is growing and wool can be in the forefront of a movement toward healthy, natural, chemical-free clothing
- Bedding (not just blankets) and even sleepwear can be a large market for us. Particularly for babies and children. And this actually ties in with both health and safety. Wool's non-flammability is a really big deal. And while it is true that synthetics are not as dangerous now as in this dramatic old video from New Zealand, the flame-resistant additives bring dangers of their own from which wool is completely free
- Naturally Colored Wool (black, brown, gray and more) is going to be huge. The beauty will have wide appeal and the lack of chemical dyeing will appeal to those with environmental and/or health concerns. And not just clothing. Wool upholstery, rugs and wall-coverings will grow in importance as our buildings become more tightly-sealed and we employ wool to remove noxious chemicals from indoor air. I don't know these other markets, but what I do know is that people simply like NATURAL products more than synthetic. People like leather more than vinyl. Wood more than fiberglass. Stone over concrete. And given a taste of serious wool, they will prefer it to the synthetics
- We need an easy, effective and inexpensive way to protect woolens from moths
- The public likes the idea of sheep, wool, American Family Ranches. There are many people who will "pay up" for American ... and not just Americans, but also Canadians, Europeans, Asians, Australians. "Made in USA" has global appeal
- Public appetite is shifting toward quality over quantity. American manufacture must compete on quality and service, not price
- The public loves transparency
- WE -- THE SHEEP INDUSTRY -- SHOULD WEAR WOOL. AMERICAN WOOL. Flip through the Sheep Industry News and you won't see much, if any wool clothing
UUpdated 12 January 2024 --- Ralph