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Wool wedding suits lead to Geelong mill purchase

Terry Sim, June 15, 2022

Floyd Legge and wife Kimberley with their wedding party. Image – supplied.

NEW South Wales wool and prime lamb producer Floyd Legge has always been wedded to the sheep industry.

The sixth-generation pastoralist comes from a family that has been involved with superfine Merino wool growing for more than 150 years.

Now success in making wedding suits for him and his groomsmen out of his own superfine Merino wool has led to the purchase of Australia’s last remaining commercial wool weaving and dyeing business in Geelong, Victoria.

With the help of several silent investors, the Cudal wool producer and Poll Dorset breeder Floyd Legge has formed Australian Textile Investments to acquire the Geelong Textile Group from the Dimmick family for an undisclosed amount.

And Mr Legge, as the inaugural ATI chairman, believes an increase in domestic wool processing could also have carbon benefits for industry.

The deal has ensured a seamless transition of employment for the 19 staff, who finished last week under the Dimmick ownership and started work on Tuesday working for ATI.

“The business is the last remaining wool weaving and dyeing factory in Australia … my vision first and foremost was to keep those skills here, keep the people employed, because once they’re gone, they’re gone,” Mr Legge said.

“Anybody can buy machines, but if you don’t have the skills to use it, all you have are bits of machine metal.

“And the long-term vision is potentially to be doing other value-adding within wool down the track, even to be investigating small top-making to be able to create a fully Australian-made product.”

Mr Legge organized his private investors after learning of the Geelong Textile Group’s prospective sale last year, when he approached the business to weave another batch of suit fabric similar to that made for his wedding to Kimberley Pascoe in 2019.

“Basically in a record five-month period (in 2019) I turned my greasy wool into a suit to wear on my wedding day.”

He had his 16.2 micron greasy wool scoured at E.P Robinson’s in Geelong, combed at Cashmere Connections in Bacchus Marsh and sent to the Xinao mill in China for spinning before coming back to the textile group for weaving and dyeing.

“That was actually my first encounter of the business that we’ve purchased and since then I’ve been looking for other value-adding opportunities for our wool,” Mr Legge said.

“It was only in looking for other value-adding opportunities for wool from our farm that I found out the business was for sale.”

Geelong Textile Group businesses have supplied the material for the Australian Test Cricket teams’ iconic baggy green caps, woven the fabric for the Sydney Opera House seats, and designed and manufactured wool bunting material for Sydney’s AMP Historical Building.

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It started with AWI trip to China

Mr Legge’s core business is the family’s Ridgehaven Poll Dorset stud and producing prime lambs, but he said his interest in wool processing post-farm increased after travelling to China with Australian Wool Innovation in 2018 on a young grower wool trip.

“So that gave me a good early understanding of the wool processing supply chain and from that, and meeting with a Sydney-based tailor in a Chinese airport, in 2019 I proceeded to get some of my own superfine wool processing the suiting fabric for my wedding.”

Mr Legge said the total experience opened his eyes to the potential for processing Australian wool onshore, apart from just one step (spinning) that had to be done overseas.

Mr Legge said in October last year he started trying to find someone else to buy the Geelong business to retain it in Australian ownership. But in February this year he decided to buy it himself and won the support of investors who also saw the need for retaining Australian manufacturing.

The investors include other wool growers with a balance from other business backgrounds with a wide range of experience, he said.

“They could see my vision and passion for it and also my experience in our own farming business and were willing to be part of it.

“They bring good business skills, and governance, not the technical aspects of textile manufacturing.”

Domestic wool processing warrants support

Mr Legge believes domestic processing of wool should be supported by governments and he is encourage by the new Labor Government’s support for Australian manufacturing.

“The fact of the matter is we’ve got the best wool, we’ve got the best raw material in the world.

“Why do we send it overseas to be processed and then purchase it back?” he asked.

“It doesn’t make sense from an economic point of view.

“Sure, things moved to China when labour was more expensive, but their wages have gone up so the difference is getting small and smaller all the time,” he said.

“And with the options that are there with the mechanization of manufacturing now, the case for manufacturing overseas now is getting smaller all the time.

“I do feel that AWI needs to get its focus away from China and put it back here, because their name is Australian Wool Innovation, although I understand that refers to the on-farm side of it and the Woolmark Company is its subsidiary that has a global perspective,” Mr Legge said.

“However, because fibres are under scrutiny as being part of the circular economy to make sure the environmental factors are enhance, there needs to be a focus off putting everything on a boat and sending it overseas, to actually doing stuff here.”

He said there would have to be carbon economy benefits to processing wool in Australia, because the greasy wool moves to Sydney, Melbourne and Fremantle for sale and then to China for processing.

“Why do we need a boat ride for that wool to go somewhere else?”

He said scouring of Australian wool here would mean 30-40 percent of shipment weight is removed.

“It doesn’t make sense that in a 25 tonne shipping container, you are actually freighting 10 tonnes of dirt and grease.”

Mr Legge said he has had very positive feedback to the textile business purchase.

“I’ve had great positivity about people wanting to retain what we have and seeing opportunities to grow it from the very small base that we have.”

He said by expanding on its core services of commission weaving, dyeing, and finishing, the Geelong Weaving Mill has diversified into a wide range of domestic products.

“Woollen upholstery fabrics and a home textiles range, including a blankets, tea towels, and a fashionable woollen version of the iconic Aussie Flannel check shirt, represent a growth market for the company.

“In addition, Geelong Dyeing has also developed a stock service, producing machine knitting yarn and wool tops, which are available in stock and custom colours,” he said.

“We intend to continue this tradition of innovation and market development under our plans for the company,” Mr Legge said.

Dimmick family were proud owners for 51 years

A spokesperson for the Dimmick family, Janine Shannon, said the family has been proud owners of the Geelong Textile Group for the past 51 years.

“Since 1971, the Dimmick family has built the Geelong Textile Group into a very viable dyeing and manufacturing business known for its beautiful fabrics made from fine Australian Merino wool.

“We are all delighted that Geelong Textiles and Geelong Dyeing is going to remain in Australian hands and that the synergy between producing wool and dyeing and processing wool bodes well for the future of the business,” Ms Shannon said.

“We are confident that the new owners – also a respected family enterprise – will emulate the Dimmick commitment to quality textile manufacturing in Geelong.”

Adamant International managing director, John O’Connor, who managed the search and sale process for the Geelong Textile Group, said the new business owners were a great fit for the organization, as their commitment to the Australian textile industry is based on their involvement in the production of fine merino wool since 1852.

“This is a great wool-to-weaving or farm-to-fabric success story for the Australian textile industry and, in particular, the Geelong Textile Group.

“The company will remain in Australian hands under the guidance and stewardship of Mr Legge and his investor group, who are all committed to identifying opportunities for business growth and diversity; and building on the excellence manufacturing values inherent in Geelong Textile Group,” Mr O’Connor said.

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Comments

  1. Michelle Younger, August 6, 2022

    About bloody time I say. This made my day. We need so much more of this attitude. Australia has the skill, the quality products and ability. We just need to get our shit together.

  2. Donald Cameron, June 16, 2022

    A very gutsy move. I wish the new owners nothing but success.

    Australia has one the of the highest minimum wages in the world, yet still the ACTU wants more. How manufacturers can survive here is astonishing, while across the ditch in New Zealand
    wages are much less than in Australia.

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