Export promotion was instrumental in opening the door for a re-launch of American wool into the Japanese market. Thanks to Agricultural Trade Promotion (ATP) activities carried out by the American Sheep Industry Association (ASI) in 2021-22, a Japanese wool trading company purchased three containers of American wool. The company’s long-term goal is to create demand along the Japan textile supply chain for multiple American wool specialty products marketed under the name of “Rocky Merino.”
Japan has no first-stage wool processing, and only small to no amounts of American wool have gone into this market in the recent past. With limited success, ASI promoted American wool in Japan around 25 years ago. However, the global wool market has changed, and American wool currently has no presence as a brand in Japan, so the strong lack of product awareness and knowledge presents a challenge.
After identifying a wool trading company in Japan with experience creating niche markets for specialty wools, ASI began by utilizing its virtual trade mission, under which ASI sends wool companies a trade promotion box with educational materials like videos about American wool and conducts follow-up to build an understanding of the specific needs of the recipient and identifies programs to build sales with the customer. ASI used ATP funds to support a processing trial with the Japanese target company in late 2021, with the company purchasing its first container load. This led the company to purchase second and third containers in 2022.
The wool top was produced in various forms of qualities, which enables the wool to meet the highest quality levels and use for applications of active wear textiles, a resurging market in wool. ASI then used ATP funds to develop “American wool” hangtags and promotional materials to foster brand awareness among consumers buying the finished products and to promote the special properties of American Wool.
The Japanese trading company has a strong customer base in the textile industry and hopes to interest numerous downstream companies in American wool for the first time. One of its customers has already conducted a trial to develop a new product called “Rocky Merino Socks,” which it is starting to promote to several sock brands. Another customer is testing the development of specialty handknitting yarns. The trader is also marketing its American wool tops to the weaving industry and has expressed interest in buying different types of American wools to process in China and sell to other textile businesses in Japan.
ASI estimates that successful launches of the new products could result in sales of at least three to four containers a year through the trading company, an estimated value of $300,000-$400,000 – providing American wool with a chance for even more success in its market re-entry, as awareness grows in Japan’s textile industry thanks to these FAS-funded promotions and ASI’s continued relationship building with buyers.