Australia is abundant in mineral resources of all kinds and in the late nineteenth century witnessed the richest gold rush in history. It remains one of the biggest gold producers in the world and continues to explore new territory in the hope of repeating history.
It is also the largest wool producer in the world and has the largest sheep population with China running second. Australian Marino wool formed the back bone of Australian economy for many decades until the wool market crashed in 1989 leaving Australia to deal with a stock pile of 60 million bales in each weighing one ton. Over inflated prices was the main cause of its collapse and the sheep population plummeted from 180 million in 1989 to 70 million currently. However, in recent years wool prices began to rise due to demand from Asia and Europe. It is considered the best wool for suiting.
Zegna an Italian suit manufacturer has been importing fine Marino wool from Australia since 1910 and transforming the raw material into super fine cloth at their family weaving mills in Northern Italy. In 2014, in an effort to better control its source material (wool) Zegna formed a partnership with Charles Coventry, a fourth generation farmer who runs the Achill property buying 60% stake as part of a strategy it calls “sheep to shop”.
Since Zegna began as a textile business in 1910, all of its fabrics have been made with Australian wool. That wool is then used in Zegna’s luxury apparel, including the $34,000 Vellus Aureum suit, of which 60 to 80 are made to order per year. In 2016 an Australian wool grower shattered the records for the finest wool in the world, measuring 9.8 microns, beating baby cashmere which is generally measured at 11 microns. Zegna’s goal is to create a vertical supply structure and ensure the quality and supply is not jeopardised. It follows the same principle that Henry Ford adopted. He owned his own rubber plantations and iron ore mines so no one could cut his supply lines and he was able to control commodity prices. He even went to the extent of having the timber pallets used for shipping to be specifically sized so they could be reused to form the floors of his model T ford.
Zegna learnt the harsh truth about farming in the rugged landscape of Australia. It was hit by a severe drought which was nothing new to the sixth generation wool grower Charlie Coventry. The drought broke and lessons learnt. With the purchase of new rams, working on genetics to improve the quality of wool, increasing water reserves and the quality of feed in paddocks is paying off. Together they are reviving the Australian wool industry and others are following suit. An entire nation was built on the back of the Marino and other agricultural products and the hope is a return to this original glory.
Sadly the Australian Government are more focused on short-term gains in ripping out coal and other raw materials, leaving massive holes in the ground and causing havoc to the environment. Funding to the farming industry and its communities has dwindled over the years and in some cases rail transport systems have been severed.
In the 1970’s Australia was the seventh strongest economy in the world, with agricultural products being the largest exports including wool, wheat, meat and butter. Now we are ranked thirteen and lumbered with a massive foreign debt. It’s time to get back to basics.
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by Pat McMurray