New Zealand joins the International Woolmark Prize

A week after Australia's devastating Rugby World Cup loss to New Zealand comes news that Aussie and Kiwi designers will soon be competing head-to-head for a shot at one of the world's wealthiest emerging designer competitions

Australia is about to take over one of New Zealand’s iconic department store names. Now the Kiwis are stepping up the Australasian fashion competition by being welcomed into the field of competition for the AUD 100,000 International Woolmark Prize.

The competition currently crowns one overall winner out of 12 finalists, who hail from a nomination field of 72 names from 21 countries across six regions – (roughly) six each in both womenswear and menswear from Australia, Asia, the British Isles, the United States, Europe and India/Pakistan/Middle East. However, the breadth of the global talent catchment area for the 2016/2017 competition is being dramatically expanded to cover 63 territories.

Among the changes, a new “Rest of Europe” category is being added to the Europe region, wrapping in 36 new, mostly central European countries such as the Ukraine, Iceland, Kazakhstan and Greece. London-based emerging designer e-commerce portal Not Just a Label has been inducted as one of the IWP’s official nomination bodies to identify two new womenswear and menswear finalists from those territories.

Additionally, Indonesia is being wrapped into the Asia region for the first time and the Middle East region will expand to include Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Qatar.

And New Zealand? The Australia region will from next year be referred to as “Australia and New Zealand” and the 2016/2017 regional finals will be held in Sydney in mid 2016.

New Zealand Fashion Week has been seconded as an IWP nominating body, joining Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Australia organiser IMG and the Australian Fashion Chamber, who currently nominate the Australian designers.

Great news, of course, for New Zealand, where there is some tremendous fashion talent. One name we imagine has a good chance of nomination is Wellington designer Steve Hall, who won the top prize at the 2015 iD International Emerging Designer Awards in Dunedin in April.

International Woolmark Prize organiser Australian Wool Innovation tells Frockwriter the 2016/2017 competition will still have 12 finalists from six regions. But just how AWI and/or the various regional nominating bodies divvy up their nominations from the greatly increased competition field, remains to be seen.

Australia’s 2015/16 regional final, held in July at Sydney’s MCA, for example, showcased ten Australian nominees: six womenswear designers and four menswear designers.

So will there be more than ten Australia/New Zealand nominees next year? And, whatever the final number, will New Zealand account for half of the names?

“Regarding the amount of nominees from each country it is not based on numbers but talent so it may result in an equal split” said an AWI spokeswoman.

However Dame Pieter Stewart, the owner and strategic director of New Zealand Fashion Week Ltd, told Frockwriter she was asked by AWI to nominate just two womenswear and two menswear designers from the New Zealand market. Finding the brief challenging – eligible designers must have done at least four, but not more than twelve, consecutive collections – Stewart wound up nominating three womenswear designers and one menswear designer.

“It’s fantastic for New Zealand to be included because we really have some incredibly good designers that we feel can be quite integral to this wonderful competition” said Stewart.


Originally launched in 1953 by the International Wool Secretariat – delivering the names Yves Saint Laurent and Karl Lagerfeld to the world via its 1954 joint winners (above) – the competition was relaunched by Australian Wool Innovation in 2012 as the International Woolmark Prize and is now one of the world’s most high profile emerging designer competitions. The IWP judging panels have attracted some of the biggest names in fashion, such as Donatella Versace, Victoria Beckham and Diane von Furstenberg.

Australian Wool Innovation reports that since its 2012 launch, the initiative has generated AUD 140million worth of publicity according to the DMR and Isentia media monitors, on an annual budget of AUD 3million.

All 12 semi-finalists win AUD 50,000, to go towards the production of a merino wool capsule collection, to be presented at the grand finals in each category.

Australia’s 2015/2016 regional finalists Patrick Johnson and Bianca Spender, will compete at the 2015/2016 finals in Florence (menswear) and New York (womenswear) in January and February 2016 respectively.

According to Melbourne duo Peter Strateas and Mario-Luca Carlucci – who took home AUD 100,000 anyway in 2014, after being named semi-finalists in both the womenswear and menswear categories last year – the exposure and networking opportunities that come with simply being attached to the final event are invaluable.

In addition to the AUD 100,000 prize money, the overall IWP winner also gets their merino capsule collection produced and stocked in the IWP’s global retail network, which is comprised of department stores in New York, London, Milan, China and Australia (David Jones).