Just shy of celebrating its golden anniversary, the brand has helped reinvent the global perception of wool as a natural, contemporary and glamorous fibre. The past 50 years has seen the Woolmark logo applied to more than 5 billion items worldwide – from haute couture to sportswear, upholstery and carpets.
The Woolmark Company has built a reputation as being the global authority for quality woollen products, has developed close relations with the fashion world and now has a rich tradition of nurturing fresh talent within this industry.
But how did a product which was once mainly found on sheep in an Australian paddock end up on the catwalks of some of the world’s top fashion houses?
Wool – and all the luxuries which come with it – has a history as rich as the fibre itself since the first bale of Australian wool was sent to England back in 1807.
During the 1930s a handful of the world’s top wool-producing countries decided it was in their best interest to promote their product on an international scale. Australia took charge and in 1936 woolgrowers voted to impose a 6 pence levy for each bale produced, with the funds to be directed to research and promotion. Then, on July 1 1937 the International Wool Publicity and Research Secretariat was formed – which was quickly renamed the International Wool Secretariat (IWS). Based in London the IWS had offices in every major wool-producing country by the mid-1950s.
In 1954 the IWS Prize was established. This coveted award recognises excellence and innovation in fashion and promotes wool in its most pure form – natural and luxurious.
A new enemy emerged during World War II by the name of synthetic fibre and by the 1960s polyester and acrylic were fast becoming household names. To combat this rise of unnatural competition IWS Australian general manager William Vines penned the idea of a unique label which would guarantee the quality and authenticity of wool.
In 1964 the Woolmark logo was born and has since grown to be universally known for quality wool.
By 1970 Australia had a record 180 million sheep and within a few years wool exports had passed the $1 billion mark for the first time since the Korean War boom. While Australia was seemingly enjoying riding on the sheep’s back, the Australian Wool Corporation was established in 1973 as a single marketing-oriented body to facilitate research, promotion and marketing operations.
The 1980s saw the revival of the Chinese economy and emerge as a major market for Australian wool. The Australian wool industry continued to thrive and form the backbone of the Australian economy. But between January 1988 and February 1991 the wool industry collapsed – largely due to the imposed reserved pricing scheme.
The Australian Wool Research and Promotion Organisation (AWRAP) was established in December 1993. In 1994 the activities of AWRAP and the IWS were merged and were governed as one organisation under the control of AWRAP.
The Woolmark Company was established in 1997, as a result of the IWS undergoing a change of name. The company was initially a subsidiary of AWRAP but later became a subsidiary of Australian Wool Services Limited (AWS), which was established in January 2001. The AWS was also the holding company for Australian Wool Innovation (AWI).
In 2002 AWI became a fully independent public company limited by shares. In 2007 AWI acquired TWC and has continued to affirm the iconic logo within households and companies on an international scale.
The Woolmark logo – five black bands criss-crossing to form a skein – represents the softness, elegance and purity of wool. It is thought the design is handiwork of Italian graphic designer Francesco Saroglia, who won an international logo design competition held by the IWS. In April 2011 leading visual communication magazine Creative Review announced it was the number one logo of all time. But perhaps what is more interesting to note is that it appears Saroglia disappeared without a trace since being named the winning designer. Creative Review understands there are no books featuring his other works, no records of any exhibitions, any webpages featuring any other works from Saroglia or information about him.
And while Saroglia’s actual existence may have failed to withstand the test of time, the logo officially credited to him will continues to identify a company authorising the best wool in the world.