It is very good of you all to come here today representing, as you do, every part of the wool chain and from all the major wool-growing countries. I do hope you have all had a chance to contribute to the day’s discussions and to pick up ideas from each other. Needless to say, I am enormously grateful to Marks and Spencer for their dedicated support for this conference and further interest in the reassuring of some of the manufacturers.
Now, as I think most of you will know, the Campaign for Wool started eight years ago when a few of us decided to see what could be done to reverse the decline in the wool industry. We wanted to ensure a sustainable supply of wool from across the Commonwealth and beyond. And to do that we knew we would have to raise awareness amongst consumers about the unique benefits offered by wool and draw attention to the ecological advantages it delivers. Apart from anything else raising awareness about wools' remarkable natural fire retardant properties seemed to me essential in an age dominated by Health and Safety concerns and the known dangers within interiors of houses of highly inflammable, synthetic furnishings, carpets and clothing.
Today is about taking stock of what has been achieved over the course of those eight years and reviewing what needs to be done about the remaining challenges. During that time I have been to some thirty of the Campaign’s events around the world, though of course that is only a tiny fraction of what has been going on, and I have to say I am much encouraged by what has been achieved so far. It has been an enormously imaginative and energetic campaign, capturing a great deal of attention which I need hardly say is exactly what we set out to do!
One of the great successes of the campaign has been the way in which four previously rival wool organizations – representing the United Kingdom, Australia, South Africa and New Zealand – came together under the umbrella of the Campaign for Wool. They each provided essential funding and I am pleased to say that they have had a good return on their investment, with the Campaign generating a global Advertising Value Equivalent that has averaged around £34 million in each of the last three years.
The Campaign has also had the enthusiastic support of more than 500 global manufacturers and retailers over the last five years, all seeking to stress their commitment to wool as a high-quality renewable fibre and, dare I say it, an alternative to ‘fast fashion’. That, in turn, has led to a most encouraging level of support from designers and brands.
It is never easy to be entirely clear about cause and effect, but during the life of the Campaign there has certainly been some encouraging progress in the overall situation. In general terms, wool prices are higher; sheep numbers are stable in most markets; designers are using more wool and there is greater appreciation of wool's many excellent qualities. And all that has led to generally higher morale in the wool industry. So despite some remaining storm clouds and challenges, the overall picture is considerably positive.
Now, if that is the situation, perhaps we should ease off a bit, have a quieter time, consolidate our gains, even rest on our laurels? Well, I’m sorry, but if anyone here thinks that would be the right course of action then they are definitely at the wrong conference!
On the contrary, this is precisely the time to be pressing on, with our collective foot firmly on the accelerator. There is simply so much more to be done and an urgent need to press home the many advantages of choosing wool in the world of today and tomorrow. And that is why the Dumfries House Wool Declaration is so important.
Of course, I very much hope that you will all want to sign the Declaration and in doing so commit [and I quote] ‘your efforts, time and talents’ to promoting the wonderful natural attributes of wool. That really would make a huge difference in pushing the campaign to the next level.
Now I’m not going to repeat what is in the Declaration, because you have all been hearing about it throughout today and I’m sure you understand it very well. The key thing to me is that it commits signatories to high environmental and animal welfare standards, without boxing people in by suggesting unachievable and unnecessary constraints. We all know that business doesn’t work like that and the last thing we want to do is stifle innovation and initiative.
What the authors have tried to do is to create a document that sets out the case for wool as succinctly as possible. I hope that by signing it here today we can put down a sufficiently firm marker to get everyone to sit up and take notice, and then – in the coming months and years – attract a tidal wave of support for the Declaration from other potential signatories.
I can only say that I'd love to see many hundreds of growers, brokers, spinners, designers, fashion houses, manufacturers, retailers and others all following your lead by making and embracing the same public commitment. In so doing I believe they will position themselves as good citizens of the wool business, with what I hope will quickly become a public and well-recognized seal of approval.
Ladies and gentlemen, as someone who minds deeply about the prospects for farmers and rural livelihoods and worries about the desperate environmental consequences for our children and grandchildren of relying on products made from fossil fuels, this is a cause that means a lot to me. I can only hope it does to you too. So, I have just agreed to continue as Patron of the Campaign for Wool for a further five years and I am very proud indeed to endorse the Dumfries House Wool Declaration. With your help, I am going to do everything I possibly can to build on the success we have achieved, thus ensuring that wool receives proper recognition for all its wonderful, natural attributes.