Aiming to provide the Australian wool industry with information about what potential buyers of wool clothing want, a team at The University of Western Australia is researching the intentions of ethical consumers around the world.
Led by Assistant Professor Joanne Sneddon of the UWA Business School's Marketing Discipline Group, the team's preliminary study of female buyers of wool clothing in Australia and the United States found that consumers' concerns about animal welfare were as important as issues including the treatment of workers involved in the production of wool clothing and the environmental impact of the industry.
While the issue of mulesing divided Australian consumers - with around half of the participants supporting the practice until a more effective method of preventing fly strike was found and half calling for it to be banned - US consumers had not heard of it and were instead worried about factory farming.
Asst Professor Sneddon said with the industry investing heavily in a range of fibre and fabric innovations such as the development of high-tech wool clothing suitable for active wear, and suiting fabric that can be washed in the shower and drip-dried in a few hours, it was important to address consumers' ethical concerns about wool clothing.
"Wool is one of the warmest fabrics per weight, is odour-free and wicks moisture away from the skin, unlike cotton. Today's wool is also non-prickly," she said. "The industry is developing some great innovations and we want to find out if ethical attributes could be part of the package."
The multi-disciplinary project also involves Winthrop Professors Geoff Soutar and Julie Lee from the UWA Business School as well as Winthrop Professor Graeme Martin and Associate Professor Dominique Blache from UWA Animal Production Systems. PhD student Alexandra Wells is researching farmers' perceptions of mulesing and their intentions to continue or stop this practice by the end of 2010.
The findings will also inform wool production at UWA's Ridgefield Future Farm with its aim of clean, green, ethical animal production.