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, by harnessing the unique natural properties of Australian Merino wool.
The initiative was launched by The Woolmark Company in 2018, in partnership with adidas, inviting students at universities in North America and Europe to propose their own project in which wool played a main role on a defined theme. More than 500 students from 58 universities took up the challenge for the first edition; at the second, again in collaboration with the well-known sportswear brand, there were 1000. The 2020 edition was even more popular, receiving more than 1300 registrations.
Run in collaboration with Helly Hansen, the world leader in technical clothing for sailing, the third edition proposed as a focus the design of performance garments that consider the needs of “Ocean Racing” sailors.
“At a time when plastic pollution in our oceans is a major problem,” the 2020 brief explains “sailors are looking for alternatives to petroleum-based clothing to keep warm and dry.” Starting from this premise, the 2020 challenge asked participants to use Merino wool in modern highly technical sailing clothing. Three prizes were up for grabs for the best entries: two three-months paid internships with Helly Hansen and The Woolmark Company with a cash price of 1000 Euros; and a research scholarship for 10.000 Euros also awarded by The Woolmark Company.
A further institutional recognition worth 10.000 Euros has been provided for the university with the highest overall number of entries in the competition. The various prizes were awarded respectively to Carly Conduff (University of Oregon), Bettina Blomstedt (Aalto University, Finland), Younghwan Kim (Kookmin University – Korea) and Politecnico of Milano.
For her internship award, The Woolmark Company has organised for Bettina Blomstedt to undertake placements with several supply-chain companies with which they have longstanding relationships such as Tollegno 1900, Shima Seiki and D-House by Studio Dyloan and, at the end, 6 weeks at the BYBORRE studio in Amsterdam. It is an interesting opportunity for the Finnish designer who well deserved to get on the podium of the challenge thanks to a design in which she was able to blend the most advanced technologies of knitting with traditional ones. The satisfaction in being able to hit the target, can be read in her words.
Bettina, first of all, why did you decide to participate in the Woolmark Performance Challenge?
As a textile designer, I was thrilled to participate in a competition that focused on the scientific and technical knowledge of textile and textile fibres. The brief I received from the organisation immediately stimulated me, arousing ideas and insights. There was nothing else to do but participate.
How did you develop the project that led you to victory? What inspired you?
I started the development of my project by studying wool and its intrinsic properties. I explored the yarn in many of its facets, knitting swatches and experimenting with felting techniques. Starting from the focus of the competition, I interviewed three Finnish sailors to better understand the needs they encountered while at sea. I let Merino wool inspire me with its exceptional performances, coming to decide to work on my creation only with natural fibres.
How did you concretely proceed?
Wool is often mixed with polyamide to make the yarn more resistant, but to avoid the blending of natural and synthetic that leads to challenges in recycling at the end of a garment’s life, I decided to improve its resistance by using another natural fibre: hemp.
An intuition that deserved the podium. The award you won includes a three-month paid internship at The Woolmark Company. What do you expect from this experience?
With a view to a professional growth, I hope to establish good contacts within the sector and to be able to have more precise training on the processes that mark the supply chain. But above all, I expect to meet people with the same vision and passion for fabrics as me.
You have just completed your 2-week placement with Tollegno 1900. What skills did you acquire ?
During my internship in Tollegno 1900, I was lucky enough to work with an extraordinary team who shared my enthusiasm for yarns and colours. I was able to understand how a collection actually is born and how colours are chosen, but I also learned the methods of testing and analysing wool fibers. Visiting the dyehouse, I was also able to see how the yarns are dyed and finished. In addition to the more technical aspects, I also touched on the relational ones, understanding the connections that are established between Italian yarn producers and customers.
Your backpack is being enriched with new knowledge that you will certainly be able to use in your internship project, a natural continuation of what you presented in the competition. What is it about?
With this second project I want to develop knitted fabrics with greater abrasion resistance using only natural fibers. More specifically, I will use only wool and linen.