adidas executive toes the line on mulesing at 85th IWTO Congress

Terry Sim April 11, 2016
adidas executive Craig Vanderhoer

adidas executive Craig Vanderhoer

MAJOR brands like sportswear giant adidas will continue to use non-mulesed wool until what is best for sheep is resolved in a fact-based manner, senior company director Craig Vanderoef said last week.

However, Mr Vanderoef only made the comment when he was questioned after his 40-minute presentation on ‘Growing the Next Generation of Wool in Sport’ at the 85th International Wool Textile Organisation Congress in Sydney, in which he neglected to detail the company’s policy of using only non-mulesed wool, including in adidas’ new Ultra-Boost running shoes.

He told the 400-plus delegates younger consumers wanted “the truth” and if adidas and the industry were to work together on connecting with Gen Y and Gen Z they should stop talking about animal welfare and instead talk about “happy” sheep.

As part of the congress agenda’s economic sustainability section, he told a Four Seasons Hotel ballroom crowd of textile processors, wool buyers, growers, researchers and industry executives they were “connected”.

“Our world’s are joined – performance sport and innovation and Merino innovation are going to go hand-in-hand.

“We’re craftsman and craftsman work together in a constant relationship between problems and solutions,” he said.

“We’ve all got a great solution in wool, but what we need to do is make sure that that solution works for a new generation.”

How wool’s story is told matters

Highlighting the importance of describing wool’s qualities with the right story, he mentioned washable wool, the fibre’s ability to insulate against heat and cold, and base layer garments made with wool that “changed the game”.

“How we tell stories matters and as we build that next generation we have to break down the old way of talking about it.

“Wool is by far the best performance fibre — full stop,” he said.

“Why add – for winter, for summer? – don’t add either.”

Mr Vanderoef said for wool to be truly global “everywhere is next” and the next set of problems for wool “are not going to be known in this room.”

“More importantly we are not going to get four years to solve them, if wool is to be the fibre of sport then solutions have to come now, because the people we are solving the problems for (the next generations) think they are owed the solutions to the problem because … they were born.

“They were born, that’s why they think wool should work for everything they do.”

Gen Y and Gen Z want to be part of the solution

Mr Vanderoef said solving the problem isn’t waiting for someone to come to you and say “what’s animal welfare?”

“We just listened to a lot of what animal welfare is; we just heard someone (Queensland wool grower Will Roberts) who spends his whole life making sure he has happy sheep.

“Are you talking about happy sheep or are you defending yourself against some other organisation that wants to say something,” he said.

“The Gen Y and Gen Zs aren’t waiting for a problem, they want to know and be part of the solution.”

Mr Vanderoef suggested to overcome perceived problems associated with wool, including environmental concerns, the “big win to solve something in sports, fashion or any of it” lay in solving when and why to wear wool.

“That’s what we have to solve together.

“You as the architects of this industry, you have to guide people, and together we can do that.”

Mr Vanderoef said the industry would have to invite in people “who didn’t earn it” such as the Y and Z generations.

Gen Ys 18-34 year-olds by 2020 will control about US$2.5 trillion of spending and will be 75 percent of the workforce, and Gen Zs 17 years and younger control or influence US$600 billion of their parents’ spending, he said.

“Together these two, US$3.1 trillion, that’s a lot of cash, that’s also a lot of influence.”

On “realism and truth”, Mr Vanderoef told the IWTO delegates if “we as a team work together on this, we are going to stop talking about animal welfare … we are going to talk about happy sheep.

“We are going to get together and we are going talk about why wool is a great product, because the farmers care about the animals,” he said.

“We are going to take these kids to the farm and we are going to show them what that means; we are going to show them what the day looks like.”

Younger generation wants “the truth”

Mr Vanderoef said the Gen Ys and the Gen Zs want “the truth”.

“They want the truth, they don’t want you to say ‘Oh, everything is easy, mulesing is totally…the sheep are fine.

“You know it probably isn’t the most fun, I wouldn’t want to be mulesed myself, but I certainly wouldn’t want to die of fly strike either because it is absolutely horrible, it’s incredibly painful for the animal and it is wrong as a person who keeps sheep to let it happen,” he said.

“You know what that is, that’s truth, that’s realism, and that’s what they are asking for.

“You want to talk to the other guys blow smoke and fairies – ‘we put bows in all the sheep’s hair, they’re super happy’ – it’s crap they don’t want it,” he said.

“We can’t do in sport – this is going to make you run awesome, it doesn’t work anymore; it’s like, your run is not going to suck so much.

“You think that’s silly, no, that’s honest – it won’t suck, you won’t be wet, your lungs will still be burning, your legs will still be sore, but you’ll look great, that’s realism.”

Mr Vanderoef said the younger generation should be invited to shear a sheep and visit the production centres to disseminate what they see on social media.

“They want to do all of it, because that’s real.”

Tips on how to fight Peta

The adidas executive urged the IWTO delegates to work with peer and social influencers “to create the next uniform”.

“Do you want to fight Peta? I know I do, because we can’t use half the things we want to use because a baby sea lion’s feelings can be hurt if you were to use Product A instead of Product B.

“I work for a super-sustainable company; we are so proud to be one of the top five sustainable companies in the world three years in a row – we’re super proud of it,” he said.

“But some of the things that are stopping us, aren’t real things, they are perceptions.”

Mr Vanderoef said the younger generations see sport as a part of their lives, there were opportunities for Merino wool in the wellthness and athleisure wear sectors, and it is fashionable to be fit.

“Which fabric is going to work best for this? If you need a fabric that moves with you through your day, lets you work out and go to the bar, maybe talk to the nice somebody, have a drink and maybe not smell like a dirty sheep, but maybe smell lovely and look great – wool.

“To be able to still look great, to look fit and active, but to also have the performance of use, that’s what we are trying to talk about with athleisure, but it talks about that wellness – I’m showing what I do.”

Connecting with the younger generations helped establish a sport collective with younger generation consumers to build their own brands and co-create products, he said.

“They need us, we need them.”

An example of consumer co-creation or customisation was the Ultra-Boost Triple Black and Uncaged running shoes, innovations suggested online by buyers of the original shoe and then released by the company.

“By inviting people in we open up the possibilities that exist beyond.

“The next generation in sport and in wool requires that you invite people in – instead of being the lone super hero, you’ve got to be the Justice League,” he said.

“You have to invite in Wonder Woman, the Flash, the Green Lantern….

“You have to be the maestro that asks and builds the orchestra – it’s tough, because not only do you have to build that orchestra, you have to realise that you are building an orchestra in a different way,” he said.

“If we want to win together, teach this generation the truth.

“It’s not just about singing and being heard, you are going to have to hand over the stick and let them drive the show – it’s not just about hearing them it’s about singing along and together we can creat the next generation of wool in sport that inspires performance and brings everyone together.”

Remarks “appropriate to the task which they invited me to cover”

Craig Venderhoef

adidas’ Craig Venderhoef in his Ultra Boost Wool shoes

After his IWTO presentation, the adidas senior director defended his decision not to discuss the company’s use of non-mulesed wool while seemingly urging the industry to justify mulesing sheep for flystrike.

“I will remind you that ten of my twenty slides dealt with animal welfare as a part of the conversation and that I directly noted: ‘But the next set of problems will not be ours alone to solve and they will need to solved quickly… and we are going to need help.’

“I thought my remarks to the group were appropriate to the task which they invited me to cover and to the needs and concerns of the consumer in the marketplace,” he said.

“In regards to animal welfare around mulesing, I do not know that the IWTO conference is the place to have the conversation because it is once again a one-sided discussion.”

“I think to resolve the concerns about this, we need to have the two groups that have animal welfare and happy sheep as their main driver in one room with what is best for the sheep as the topic,” Mr Vanderoef said.

“Those two parties are the wool growers and the organizations that say they are animal advocates.

“I would say the majority of the world is uninformed about what mulesing even is or why it is done and a good decision cannot be made without education and awareness,” he said.

“Those groups that do know, such as PETA, have come out against it and until what is truly best for the sheep is resolved in a fact-based manner brands like adidas will continue to use non-mulesed wool.”

Mr Vanderoef said adidas is very concerned about all aspects of the supply chain with animal welfare and environmental concerns as part of its core sustainability principles.

“We will be sure to make sure that our supply chain is up to or surpasses all standards of today and leads into tomorrow.

“I think there is no better time than now to start those talks and to make sure that we are working together towards the common goal of happy healthy sheep in an informed manner.”

Ultra Boost Wool shoe update

Mr Vanderoef said the Ultra Boost Wool running shoe is a Northern Hemisphere fall (autumn) style because the consumer perception of wool is still about warmth.

“In the fall they will go on sale again, always in limited quantities, I’ve worked out with the powers that be that we should probably get everyone here a little bit of a heads-up on where they are going and how to get them.”

Mr Vanderoef also said Adidas, Australian Wool Innovation and Scholl would launch a fully-engineered Merino and synthetic garment, zoned for wind protection at the front, moisture transfer at the back and rain resistance on the shoulders.

“All that came because we had great knowledge in the room and we worked together about what we wanted to solve.

“I think if you want to win in textiles, you have to experiment, you have to be able to knit out things that you don’t think will work,” he said.

“I think from the side of the farm, happy sheep is a great story.

“What is the name of the sheep that my shirt came from —  if you can tell someone that, wow is that truth and if they are already tagged anyway, what an excellent story; to be able to go back and say this is Bill.”

Bill Roberts said wool growers did not tell their story enough.

“There is always a focus on some of these issues and yet they don’t look at the whole picture and that’s what I believe is the most important thing to do.

“It doesn’t matter what you do there is always something you do that may offend some people.

“But when you look at the whole picture of what we do and why we do it, it such a great story, but so often we are painted as environmental vandals and yet nothing could be further from the truth.”


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  1. Paul Favaloro, April 14, 2016

    I do not understand what all the fuss is about. My sheep live in an 850mm rainfall area when not in drought. I stopped mulesing in 2005 and do not have a fly strike problem anywhere on the sheep. All achieved by having plain bodied sheep. The doom sayers told me I would regret my decision. I have happy sheep and more money without the expense or extra work. Get on board, try it, you will wonder why you didn’t do it sooner.

  2. Jim Watts, April 14, 2016

    I am responsible for designing and implementing the breeding program for 40 Merino studs throughout Australia. In 2001, the stud breeders took their joint decision to stop mulesing as their sheep are plain-bodied. Most of these studs had stopped mulesing by 2004 and all by 2008. It is a simple and easy process to implement, and takes no longer that 3-5 years to implement. The other benefits that have flowed to us are more lambs, better lamb survival, good fleece weights of high quality wools, much easier shearing and better processing wools. Given that the genetic solution to ending mulesing is already in place, and has been for 12 years, I am very surprised and disappointed that it did not appear to be mentioned at the IWTO Conference.

  3. Michelle Humphries, April 12, 2016

    Inappropriate and misleading headline.

  4. Peter Small, April 12, 2016

    Edward, I can understand your sentiment, but the world is an ever-changing place. Brands now and increasingly in the future will drive the market. Gen Y and Z are different to us and the next generation will be even more different! One thing they have more than our generation ever imagined is high disposable incomes. The brands listen to these generations. Our industry needs to listen to the brands; that’s if wool is to capture its full potential as a luxury fibre. I know that is hard to fathom, recalling our past, but wool is slowly climbing out of its generic culture. Perhaps no better evidence than this is the fleece — that this year won the Zegna prize — which was on display at IWTO in Sydney. It was 9.9 micron and an example of the most exquisite SRS type I have ever seen. Who would ever have thought 20 years ago that a fleece of 9.9 micron was possible, never mind being an SRS type winning a prize awarded by an Italian? The world is indeed a rapidly changing place and our industry Edward, needs you to get on board.

  5. Edward Wymer., April 11, 2016

    Phew, anyone who could put up with listening to the above crap for 40 minutes deserves a medal. Bring on the next stunt for keeping wool prices down.

  6. Peter Small, April 11, 2016

    adidas executive Craig Vanderhoef did not mention the word mulesing once even though wool from non-mulesed sheep is a key part of his company’s marketing story for the shoes he was wearing. He wasn’t on his own; such was the power of the AWI’s hit team that worked overtime behind closed doors for the entire conference. The word mulesing was eradicated from the conference vocabulary. There was only one small blip when Terry Sim from Sheep Central had the courage to ask a question of Madame Yang, head of the Chinese delegation and chair of the Nanjing Wool Market. I believe Madame Yang has been misquoted by some. While she said it was not a problem for the Chinese market as such, mulesing was a problem for Chinese early stage processors who exported to the major brands in Europe. Growers need to be cognitive of this comment!
    The Chinese strongly supported the aborted Italian resolution and also the original Modiano petition. That as it may be, the thing that worries me most is while we sat through numerous speakers who talked about the importance of things for modern brands like provenance, authenticity, transparency, traceability, environment, sustainability and impeccable ethics, behind closed doors AWI was engaging in the exact opposite — the gagging of overseas delegations who had come half way across the globe to present a resolution that in effect was a compromise that could have started a process to get Australian wool growers out of the pickle in which we find ourselves. All this took place under the eye of the delegation from WoolProducers Australia who were either impervious to what was going on, or complicit. Editor’s note: Peter, Mr Vanderoef did mention mulesing, but not that the company’s uses non-muled wool in its shoes and garments.

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