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Woolmark Performance Challenge 2021/22 winners revealed

Tom Bottomley
21 March 2022

The Woolmark Company has announced the prize winners and innovative finalists’ concepts for the Woolmark Performance Challenge competition for 2021/22.

The competition focuses on innovation and forward-thinking product solutions for the sports and performance market, utilising the natural properties of Australian Merino wool.

The awards ceremony was held in Paris on Friday where the winners, Daniel Winegar, Caroline Schinle, Francesco Matera and Harleen Kaur all picked up their respective awards for outstanding work.

It’s the first time Woolmark has partnered with two brands for the challenge, with Swiss running specialists, On, and Italian skiwear brand, SALEWA, having briefed participating students.

On challenged students to explore apparel innovations that respond to the highest demands of performance for runners, while “maximising fashion-forward wearability”, while SALEWA asked entrants to innovate low environmental impact fabric technologies to create thermo-regulating apparel for mountain activities.

The incubation program for tertiary students encourages innovative thinking, developing “the next generation of game-changers”. From more than 400 entries across the world, the 12 most promising ideas were selected as finalists before judges selected the winners for each category.

Caroline Schinle from Albstadt-Sigmaringen University in Germany was awarded an internship with On, and the Swiss brand also created a new Research Opportunity award for Harleen Kaur from Pearl Academy in India.

Seeking sustainable alternatives, Schinle created a new filling technology for padded jackets to create a 100% biodegradable product, using a novel structure as support for a Merino wool and milkweed fibre filling.

Kaur’s innovative submission identified a gap in the market to address the needs of pregnant and postpartum runners, creating activewear that works with the changing body. The idea supports both the mother and foetus in the correct areas, providing coolness when the body temperature rises, while also monitoring the baby’s health using a foetal heart rate monitor.

Global Head of Talent Acquisition at On, Louis de Vos, said: “While both ideas were very different to each other, each of the two contestants shine through their potential to challenge the status quo and be a true explorer, which is one of the key spirits we encourage here at On.

“We felt that we wanted to develop that talent and nurture the thinking around helping the next generation of innovators by providing a platform and the tools to explore.”

James Thompson, Head of Materials at On, added: “Caroline and Harleen were both able to take the initial brief and turn their work into a perfect hybrid of innovation, sustainability and consumer centricity while keeping the aesthetic in mind. Their ideas built on pre-existing processes but dared to push beyond the known, challenging industry perceptions and capturing the zeitgeist of environmental problem solving and diversity and inclusion gaps in today’s textile industry.”

Dan Winegar from the University of Oregon in the US was selected as the internship winner by skiwear experts SALEWA for his idea that automatically adjusts insulation thickness to maintain comfort during and after exercise. The resultant 3D flexible fabrics can change from insulating to cooling modes, depending on the levels of skier activity.

SALEWA Senior Product Director, Thomas Moe, commented: “Through his project, Dan encapsulated the idea of trapping air in a smart and innovative way. By using one of the oldest fibres, Merino wool, with an intelligent smocking technique with stretch and insulation, supported by data, he opens doors for new solutions that we are eager to support and explore with him.”

Student Francesco Matera from IED Milan was the €10,000 recipient of the Woolmark Research Bursary, envisioning a garment that “acts like a second skin” – adapting to the body in motion. His design uses strategically placed zones of high compression, using elastane in seamless knitted garments to support and manipulate the wearer’s muscles and limbs during exercise.

Julie Davies, The Woolmark Company’s General Manager for Processing Innovation and Education Extension, said: “Francesco displayed a deep understanding of what is lacking in existing performance garments and what an athlete experiences under duress.

“He demonstrated extensive research for an innovative garment design and also demonstrated why the wearer would experience greater technical and physical benefits from the garment with it manufactured in wool. I am excited to observe and support Francesco’s journey.”

Registrations for the next edition of the competition – in partnership with Salomon – are now open and students are invited to apply through the Woolmark Challenge website.

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