Wool, which has been used in textiles since 1500BC, is not something one would usually associate with innovation. The phrase ‘dyed-in-the-wool’ means the very opposite; to be stubbornly unchanging in a belief or opinion.
The Woolmark Company however has been going through a period of change and new ideas and innovations are being put into production at a rapid rate.
“Innovations have come about naturally, driven by the three key areas our business aims to serve, the wool grower, the manufacturer and the marketing of the end product,” says Madden who has worked for the global authority on Merino wool and Woolmark quality assurance logo, since 2015.
One project involves 3D knitting and new ways of processing wool to make it a suitable material for use in sneakers.
After working with manufacturers to refine the material, Woolmark demonstrated the benefits of the material to potential brand partners through the use of augmented reality-based sales tools.
Wool uppers are now found on a number of new sneaker models from makers all over the world.
Virtual reality, meanwhile, has been used to create the “world’s first interactive photo shoot” which takes viewers inside a garment to explain why a particular fibre or manufacturing method was innovative.
The company is also working on projects related to connected homes as well as approaches to voice-based garment care.
“With the manufacturer and marketing the goal is to both change perceptions about wool and its uses as well as identifying new markets and opportunities,” Madden says.
The company has also been working with those at the source of Australia’s wool, the wool growers.
Innovation in this area include a number of ‘smart farming’ projects, including technologies to help better manage and monitor flocks. “With the wool grower, our main goal is to ensure we help investigate new technologies and innovations to help augment what they are already doing and have been doing for years,” Madden explains.
The innovation drive was borne out of a business need and ensuring the best interests of shareholders in the long term, Madden says.
“Through studying the impact of technology and innovation on the fashion and retail sector we were able to identify key areas for significant innovation led growth and as a result instigated a culture of innovation that would touch every aspect of our business,” he says.
The new approach can be summed up in a single sentence, Madden adds: “Innovation isn’t a process, it is a state of mind.”
Much more than business growth
“Many make the mistake of assuming innovation is about progression, it isn’t. That’s growth, any businesses worth its salt should be doing that. Innovation is change and change is scary, change is different and change can be hard to do. But change, if managed effectively, can do so much more than just help your business grow,” Madden says.
“So, if you approach things with the mindset of getting everyone on the same page, then innovation will not only happen but will permeate through the wider business,” he adds.
To that end Madden says he empowers and encourages his teams with training and praise, restructured to a ‘circular org chart’ that is focused on outcomes not hierarchy, and implemented a “twist on the agile methodology of daily stand-ups” which take place weekly and include fun elements like “bring something cool – a grown-up show and tell”.
“You need to ensure your team is in the right state of mind, your fellow executives are in the right frame of mind and that your business is in the right frame of mind if you truly want to innovate,” Madden says.