The future of Australia’s knitwear manufacturing industry has been enhanced with the opening of a purpose built processing plant in Victoria by the Australian Wool Network.
As the nation’s largest independent wool broker, AWN is the only wool marketing company with its own Australian based manufacturing facility.
The new Hysport factory, at Carrum Downs, was commissioned in January and officially opened on March 9 by Federal Member for Dunkley Bruce Billson.
AWN’s acquisition of the third generation knitwear manufacturer and retailer in 2014 moved the company from brokerage services to vertically integrated wool marketing throughout the pipeline.
Hysport Pty Ltd manufactures garments made from pure wool and wool blends, which are marketed under the brands, Merinosnug and Emaroo.
Floor space at the new Carrum Downs site has increased three fold over the company’s former Seaford plant, with seven new jobs generated.
At the official opening, Kangaroo Island wool growers were able to inspect their first regionally branded pure wool garments to come off the production line, complete with a swing tag linked via a QR code to a video showcasing the island’s wool.
The branded garments will be marketed through retail outlets at Australian international airports.
Hysport manufactures up to 72 different garments, retails at over 250 outlets across Australia and uses Australian wool yarn processed through network partners in New Zealand and Italy.
Hysport chief executive officer Rod Murray said the factory was one of three Australian knitwear manufacturers using “whole garment’’ or seamless technology.
Mr Murray said production capacity, measured by garment output, had increased by 25 per cent in the past four months, with further increases planned.
Factory floor space has increased three fold from 570 to 1750sqm, while staff numbers have grown by seven to 32.
“Manufacturing in Australia is going through tough times but we are bucking the trend – you can count the number of Australian knitwear manufacturers left on two hands,’’ he said.
Hysport is now the biggest whole garment manufacturer in Australia with 15 machines operating around the clock, and room to grow to 40.
Mr Murray said the retail market was largely based on in-bound tourists, driven by the low Australian dollar.
He said Sydney CBD consumers were also a strong market for the Hysport range.
Mr Murray said AWN’s involvement had resulted in closer contact with woolgrowers.
“We often have growers calling into our factory – they like to see what AWN are investing in to improve the flow of their wool,’’ he said.
Hysport uses 17.5 to 19.5 micron wool in pure wool garments while possum-blend product uses 50 per cent wool, 40 per cent possum fur and 10 per cent nylon or silk.
Mr Murray said high domestic orders last year had negated the need to explore options.
But, he said, the additional production capacity now meant the company could look to export markets within the next six months.
Mr Murray said the feedback from woolgrowers involved in AWN’s regional branding had been overwhelming.
“They love to see their wool going right through the pipeline and coming out the other end,’’ he said.
AWN managing director John Colley said Hysport was a critical link in the wool broking and trading business.
“To put it together, we have had to put strategic alliances through all parts of the chain,’’ Mr Colley said.
He said with future growth, those strategic alliances would be extended internationally.
Established in 1999, AWN now ranks as Australia’s third largest wool broker, marketing more than 250,000 bales of wool a year for more than 5000 growers.
AWN chairman and Yass wool grower Brendon Lunny wouldn’t be drawn on the value of the manufacturing investment but described it as “genuinely significant’’.
“This is the process that allows us to take growers wool from the sheep’s back right through the manufacturing process to the end garment in Australia and by Australians, then marketed in retail stores right across Australia,’’ Mr Lunny said.
He said other regional wool growing groups with a minimum clip of 150 bales were due to come on board in the next six to eight months, including the Riverina and Victoria’s western districts.
“Merinosnug is an intergenerational Australian company operating for about 40 years and this is simply about keeping the jobs, work and garments here,’’ Mr Lunny said.
While clip preparation at shearing is critical to meet the manufacturing specifications, growers will benefit from premium prices and the ability to track their wool through the supply chain.
Kangaroo Island produces 2.5 to 3 million kilograms of 15.5 to 21.5 micron wool a year, or one per cent of the nation’s total wool clip.
The producer-driven company Kangaroo Island Wool was formed in 2011 and consists of 20 grower shareholders.
Chairperson Christine Berry said the group seized the opportunity to supply regionally branded wool when approached by AWN.
Mrs Berry said the growers wanted to mimic the success of other branded agricultural commodities.
“We formed a group as growers to sell garments with originality and regionality to value add our wool,’’ she said.
“The garments carry a swing tag linked via a QR code to a 15-second video overview of the sheep, growers and wool of Kangaroo Island.’’
Mrs Berry said growers adhere to the Australian Wool Exchange delivery standards and the company’s own Code of Practice.
“For the AWN contracts, we receive a significant premium for any wool fitting the specifications. As growers we can change our growing systems to make sure we supply wool to those specifications of 18.5-19 micron,’’ she said.
“We are only using 12 per cent of the growers on Kangaroo Island in the shareholder group and if there is more demand for wool, over 70 per cent of island growers adhere to our codes of practice.
“AWN are looking for other regions to do this with but we are lucky enough to be the first – it’s very exciting.’’