Woolmark Performance Challenge
How can we harness the power of engineering, technology, and nature to innovate and give athletes advanced apparel solutions? How do we keep pushing product performance, comfort and style, whilst building a better future for the next generation?
These are the questions that the Woolmark Performance Challenges sets out to answer.
Initiated by the global authority on wool, The Woolmark Company, the Woolmark Performance Challenge is an open-source problem-solving platform designed to facilitate innovative, forward-thinking product solutions for the sports and performance market, all harnessing the unique natural properties of Australian Merino wool.
Run as an annual competition for early career creative thinkers, the Woolmark Performance Challenge gives The Woolmark Company and its partners access to a global pool of world class inventive minds. The Woolmark Company’s partner for the competition during the first two years was adidas, with Helly Hansen as the partner for the recently completed 2020 challenge.
The Woolmark Performance Challenge also provides a unique learning experience for participants and awards the finalists and winners with international travel, financial rewards, and potential for career development.
First launched in 2018, the annual initiative continues to grow and has so far involved more than 4,000 students from more than 150 universities in 24 countries across the world.
The Woolmark Performance Challenge is open to all university students at undergraduate, postgraduate and doctorate levels. Any student may enter, no matter their course of study. Entrant specialisms have included product design, industrial design, advanced materials, product engineering, textile futures, innovation, sportswear, and more.
Unlike other competitions which value an end product design, the Woolmark Performance Challenge asks students to delve into the fibre science and garment technology, and explore innovations at this level rather than new silhouettes that are based around aesthetics. All entries must use a minimum of 50% Merino wool within their product composition.
The 2020 Woolmark Performance Challenge
The Woolmark Company and technical outdoor brand Helly Hansen announced in March the prize winners and innovative finalists’ concepts of the Woolmark Performance Challenge 2020.
The 2020 brief had invited participants to consider ocean racing and this often harsh and demanding landscape as the catalyst of their design process.
The brief also centred on how product designers can contribute to the long-term health of the planet, designing performance garments with consideration for the outdoor environments in which they are created to be. In a time when plastic pollution in our oceans is one of the greatest environmental challenges, sailors are looking for alternatives to oil-based clothing to keep them warm and dry.
From 352 entries for the 2020 competition, ten tertiary students were shortlisted. On 10th March, the ten finalists’ entries were judged by a highly esteemed panel including:
- Borre Akkersdijk, Co-Founder / Chief Creative Officer, BYBORRE
- Peter Bona, former professional snowboarder + Head of Design Outerwear, Trousers, Textile Accessories, HUGO BOSS
- Julie Davies - General Manager, Processing Innovation & Education Extension, The Woolmark Company
- Birgit Gahlen, Research & Development Manager Europe, The Woolmark Company
- Dr. Veronika Kapsali, Reader in Material Technology and Design, University of the Arts London
- Roy Kettlewell, Consultant – Wool Innovation and Technology, Australian Wool Innovation
- Eva de Laat and Carola Leegwater, Co-Founders, Studio Eva x Carola
- Dr. Tom Waller, Senior Vice President Advanced Innovation, Chief Science Officer, lululemon
- Øyvind Vedvik, Category Managing Director Sailing, Helly Hansen
The winners of the 2020 Woolmark Performance Challenge
Carly Conduff of the University of Oregon, USA, was awarded a three-month paid internship with Helly Hansen.
Whilst the rules surrounding ocean racing have developed to encourage female participation, Carly argues that social and environmental barriers still exist. She set herself a goal for the project: to create a system of apparel under the athlete’s dry suit specifically tailored to the female body, providing superior support, strategic insulation, and light protection using 100% Merino wool, enabling optimal performance in race conditions.
“One thing that I’ve always been really passionate about is understanding new technology within the apparel field,” Carly said.
“A lot of my inspiration as a designer is understanding how products can play a role in removing physical barriers, such as the severe environmental conditions that ocean racing athletes are partaking in, as well as the mental ones, ones where women on race day can have the confidence that the product was made for her and will not get in the way of what they can achieve.”
Bettina Blomstedt of Aalto University in Finland was awarded a three-month paid internship with The Woolmark Company.
Bettina starts her research with sustainability in mind, asking: how can the inherent properties of Merino wool be utilised in sportswear, without adding any synthetic materials to the mix?
“Using my knowledge in knitting technology and taking a look back at traditional techniques, my concept explores alternative ways of achieving sportswear performance by enhancing the natural existing properties of Merino wool,” Bettina said.
Younghwan Kim of Kookmin University in South Korea was awarded a €10,000 Research Bursary to continue his idea development.
Concerned about the prevalence of plastic in our lives and environmental catastrophes such as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, Younghwan asked himself: how can we make a waterproof material while keeping Merino wool’s softness and light weight, without plastic?
“I achieve this goal with a novel 100% natural and renewable material, bringing together Merino wool and Ottchil – a natural paint derived from a sap of the lacquer tree, which affords additional benefits of salinity tolerance, thermal resistance, water resistance, moth-proofing and durability – to create the perfect knitted wool footwear,” Younghwan said.
The other finalists in the 2020 competition were:
- Shereena Baiti of University Technology Sydney in Australia – who explored the use of 3D textile technology to reduce base- and mid-layers into a singular Merino wool alternative.
- Gaia Borghi of IED Milano in Italy – who designed a chemical application for Merino wool fabric, such that upon contact with the water, the garment emits light radiation making for an easier location of a person who has fallen overboard at night.
- Luca De Prà of IED Milano in Italy – who created a bodysuit design that significantly decreases wind resistance, providing the athlete with increased aerodynamic performance with less physical effort.
- Martin Pickartz of RWTH Aachen University in Germany – who presented a concept for functional clothing, marrying the superhydrophobic structure of penguin feathers with the breathability and comfort of Merino wool.
- Greta Roviello of Raffles Milano Istituto Moda e Design in Italy – who up-cycled old sailcloth to create sustainable garments for the sport, supported by Merino wool as the soft, comfortable, and technical layer in contact with the skin.
- Matilda Shields of Falmouth University in the United Kingdom – who explored where increased flexibility in a garment was needed to design a premium solution.
- Enhui Xu of Tiangong University in China – who used bio-technology to find an environmentally conscious alternative to traditional anti-shrinkage methods.
Visit www.woolmarkchallenge.com/latest-news/2020-winners/ to learn more about the shortlisted innovations.
“We would like to thank all ten finalists in the 2020 Woolmark Performance Challenge and are proud to congratulate Carly Conduff on winning an internship with Helly Hansen,” said Øyvind Vedvik, Category Managing Director Sailing, Helly Hansen.
“Carly’s presentation was impressive, leveraging insights from professional sailing athletes and introducing innovative ideas on how the functions and benefits of wool can meet the needs of sailors. Her concept also reflects our brand mission: Helly Hansen is committed to developing professional grade sailing gear and works closely with professionals to ensure our apparel is innovative and performance-driven.”
The Woolmark Company’s General Manager, Processing Innovation & Education Extension, Julie Davies said the Woolmark Performance Challenge continues to be one of the highlights of the company’s product development and education programs.
“We were thoroughly impressed by the forward-thinking spirit of each and every finalist, pushing boundaries in innovation and understanding wool’s attributes as a sustainable performance fibre,” Julie said.
“The program provides an excellent opportunity for young talent to find a place for their exciting innovation on the international stage, whilst pushing the infinite possibilities of Merino wool into unchartered territories.”
Registrations for the next edition of the competition – in partnership with On and SALEWA – are now open. College students from across the world are invited to apply at www.woolmarkchallenge.com.
Performance benefits of Merino wool
Merino wool is the world’s most technically advanced and original performance fibre. No other fibre can match all of Merino wool’s natural benefits, making it the perfect choice for lower impact activities such as yoga and walking; higher impact activities such as running and cycling; and adventure activities such as climbing and sailing.
In almost every activity at every level, and in every climatic condition, people are benefitting from the extraordinary properties of Merino wool.
Soft next to the skin, the finer the wool the softer it is, and Merino is the finest of all wools. Merino wool garments are breathable and have excellent moisture management. They transfer moisture vapour away from the body helping you keep cool and dry during exercise or hot weather.
Merino wool also offers excellent protection from extremes of temperature. It is an active fibre with a natural crimp which creates a lot of very small insulating air pockets; air is the most important isolator. Wool is the ultimate fibre that keeps us cool in summer and warm in winter.
Effective odour control is another key benefit of Merino wool. The fibre actually ‘locks away’ odour molecules from sweat and only releases them upon washing or refreshing overnight in humid air so your Merino clothes will remain fresh longer.
Merino wool works in total harmony with the wearer’s body due to the fibre’s excellent natural elasticity. When you’re exercising, you do a lot of stretching – and you want a garment that stretches with you and then returns to its natural shape. At microscopic levels, Merino fibres are like coiled springs, returning to their original state when pressure is released.
As a natural fibre, evolved over millions of years to protect sheep against the elements, Merino wool also has high UV resistance providing good protection from the sun.
Wool’s natural eco-credentials
Wool is a natural, biodegradable and renewable fibre, making it the perfect choice for those seeking clothing that has a minimal impact on the environment.
Every year, sheep produce a new fleece, making wool a completely renewable fibre source. Wool is grown in the simple mix of sunshine, water, grass and fresh air. In contrast, synthetic fibres are derived from non-renewable petrochemicals and fossil fuels, which when extracted de-sequester carbon stored millions of years ago.
Wool is made of a 100% natural biodegradable protein, similar to that found in human hair. When a wool product reaches its end-of-life and is disposed of, the wool fibre readily decomposes in soil, slowly releasing valuable nutrients and carbon back into the earth, acting like a fertilizer. Wool is also biodegradable in marine environments. In contrast, synthetic fibres do not biodegrade but instead accumulate in landfill and release microplastics.
Wool’s unique set of ‘circular’ features – such as being a renewable and biodegradable fibre, and suitable for reuse and recycling – ensure it fits very well into a sustainable circular model of textile production that minimizes waste and pollution.