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China’s fake-fur coat craze driving up crossbred wool prices for Australian farmers

A woman wearing a fake fur coat during Paris Fashion Week

A woman wearing a fake fur coat during Paris Fashion Week Photo: Getty

Lamb producers in Australia are seeing record prices for crossbred wool, partly driven by a trend for fake fur coats made in China.

Crossbred sheep are used to produce both meat and wool, and their wool is not as premium as that of merino wool.

But over the past few months at wool auctions around Australia, crossbred wool prices have surged – even in weeks when most merino micron categories fell.

Josh Lamb from Endeavour Wool Exports said it had been a huge season for crossbred wool.

james-skeer-crossbred-wool

James Skeer says it’s an “exceptional time” to be selling crossbred wool. Photo: ABC: Leonie Thorne

“We’ve seen record levels, or levels that are certainly at record highs over the last 25 years,” he said.

“That continued last week, with 28 to 30-micron crossbreds increasing again [in the week ending March 29] which was the only part of the market that improved across the board.”

Mr Lamb said a huge factor behind the price rise is a spike in demand in China for a fake fur fabric made out of the wool.

“It’s a heavy winter coat imitating a fur material and that [trend] seems to have continued through the northern hemisphere winter,” he said.

“We’re still seeing the back-end of that now.”

Boost to meat business

Wool consultant Andrew Dennis said crossbred wool had been considered the “poor cousin” to the more expensive merino fibre, but demand for it was increasing.

“The first reason for that is a product called ‘fake faux fur’ which has been around for couple of years,” he said.

“Orders have hit the market, so people are scrambling to buy crossbred wool to satisfy that particular fashion demand.
demand-for-fake-fur-coats

A demand for fake fur coats, similar to this one, is made out of wool. Photo: Supplied: pxhere

“People are using crossbred wool in place of merino wool to keep mills busy because it costs half the amount, and it’s seen as the lower-risk way to fill machinery if the future is uncertain.”

After watching the market for months, lamb and beef producer James Skeer, who farms near Penola in South Australia, sold crossbred wool at auction about two weeks ago and fetched the highest price he has seen in his time on the farm.

“We focus on prime lamb production and wool is a bit of a side, but there’s more focus on it as the prices have gone up,” he said.

“For our 28-micron wool, it’s at record highs — or close to record highs — at the moment.

“It’s a pretty exceptional time to be selling crossbred wool.”

flock-of-cross-ewes

A flock of first-cross ewes is just one part of the Skeer farm. Photo: ABC Rural: Leonie Thorne

Mr Skeer said because “markets come and go” the farm would not be changing strategy.

But the record prices were a nice boost in income from his flock of first-cross ewes.

“For us, wool production is only a small proportion of what we do. But every market that comes up I guess counts as one that goes down because we’re operating in a few different markets at once,” he said.

“They never all seem to go up at once, though.”

Large orders drive market

Mr Dennis, who is based in Adelaide but travels around the world selling Australian wool, said this kind of trend having a ripple effect on prices was becoming increasingly common.

Because the market providing wool was smaller due to drought, he said movements in the fashion and garment manufacturing industry had provided a useful diversifying earner for struggling sheep meat farmers.

wool-market

Wool market movements are difficult to predict, but some agents expect the high prices to stick around a few more months. Photo: ABC Rural: Leonie Thorne

“Before you would have a pool of products — wool top, yarn, etcetera — now those pools are very very limited,” he said.

“So a big order placed in the market — whether it’s fake fur, whether it’s Chinese uniform, whether it’s double fabrics, a serious order placed in China — suddenly that ripple effect will spread very quickly back to the Australian market.”

Like most global markets, wool prices can be volatile and hard to predict.

But agents expect crossbred prices to remain high for a few more months.

“It makes the whole lamb enterprise a very viable one going forward,” Mr Dennis said.

“It’s taken a long time to get there, but the wool industry in general is going exceptionally well.

“If we can get a bit more rain it will be even better. But the outlook for the wool industry is as favourable as it’s ever been.”

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