If you ever go to Timaru, check out Hector Black’s Bar. It was the quirky venue for an unusual gathering of wool industry enthusiasts and the general public last month, kicked off by landlord Tim Black, also of local wool brokers Black & Associates.
“Every week we have a guest speaker and I’ve been under some pressure to do something on the wool industry because, frankly, it’s at a state of crisis,” he said, introducing the night, then calling up a patron wearing a synthetic beanie and setting fire to it before attempting to do the same to a wool one he replaced it with.
Chair of the National Council of New Zealand Wool Interests and Devold Wool Direct’s general manager, Craig Smith, also took the podium. With 34 years’ experience working his way through every stage of the wool trade, Smith said wool’s problem was “we’ve stopped telling people about it”.
He was disappointed the just-released Wool Industry Project Action Group Report* had taken half a million dollars and two-and-a-half years to do little more than tell the industry what it already knew needed doing.
And while the report recommended taking a leaf out of fine wool’s book, he warned all wasn’t well there either with prices down up to $10/kg recently.
Government needed to walk its talk on sustainability and back the industry with action, such as furnishing and insulating public buildings and state houses with wool instead of synthetics.
“Damian O’Connor had no idea of the price difference,” he said, adding that arguments that wool was too expensive didn’t hold because wool’s benefits of warmth, moisture wicking, fire resistance, and biodegradability far outweighed any premium at installation.
Imported synthetic carpets should be taxed, and everyone should put a wool blanket on their kids’ beds for fire protection, he added. “It’s not the flames (of burning synthetics) that will kill you: it’s the fumes.”
Smith was speaking after local fireman Bevan Finlay ran a graphic BBC Three video (search YouTube) showing the slow smoulder of a fire in a wool-furnished bedroom compared with a rapid inferno with a synthetic bedroom suite.
A foam-filled couch was like having “a 20-litre jerry-can of petrol” in your room, and a polystyrene-filled bean bag was the equivalent of three litres of petrol, Finlay said.
Asked how Fire and Emergency New Zealand (FENZ) could help get that fire risk message out, he said FENZ couldn’t put its brand behind products but it could present the facts about how things burn.
Local farmer Miles Anderson, who recently stepped down after three years as Federated Farmers’ National Meat and Fibre chairman, told the meeting Feds had been “given the go-around” by Government every time they called for Government to deliver on election promises to back wool.
“We’ve also struggled to get Government recognition that wool’s a carbon sink. You can get carbon credits for trees, so why not for wool?”
Carbon sequestered in wool used for furnishings would remain there for decades, possibly centuries, yet much of the wood that came from carbon-credit forestry went into boxing and pallets and would be burnt within a year of felling, he argued.
Anderson also called for cataloguing and centralising of historic wool research to make it more accessible, and training to address growing skill shortages in the industry beyond the farm gate.
While there was “no silver bullet” to the sector’s woes, educating the next generation of consumers was key.
“And as farmers, the first thing we all must do is buy wool products.”

  • Vision and action for New Zealand’s wool sector. Download from