Sheep are a sustainable resource. They have survived and thrived in freezing high altitudes and in scorching heart for centures. Prized for their wool, today’s wool base layers provide the same next-to-skin comfort regulating our body temperatures just as wool does for sheep.

Merino Wool is better than any synthetic. When you are hot and sticky, it wicks the moisture into the air away from the skin, and when you are cold, it traps the warm air, keeping it close-to-skin. Able to absorb 30 percent of its weight in moisture and release it back into the air, the natural properties of wool make it a winner for controlling odor all day long, too.

No one understands this more than Woolmark, who partnered this year with performance brand Adidas to create the Woolmark Performance Challenge.

Tillman Studrucker, senior design director, Running Apparel, Adidas AG, pictured left, has been the organizer of the event, leading the discussions, contracts and creating the buzz around the world for the international competition. We had a chance to talk with Tillman from his desk at Adidas in Germany.

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Tillman: Two years ago, the marketing, footwear and apparel divisions at Adidas talked about creating a design competition. We had already had products in the range that were created with Woolmark. The question came up, ‘do we want to give new talent a possibility to share ideas’? Woolmark agreed that the idea would be great to have more performance collections in wool—the reason that they had approached Adidas as a performance brand to work with. The conversations continued within Adidas’ running department because of the innovations we generate, before it landed on my desk. And that’s when I said I would help to organize the event, conduct discussions, etc.  And that’s how it started!

SGB: Are you looking for design pioneers who know how to push the limits of what’s possible and who have the vision to rethink wool for the active lifestyle consumer?
TS:
Yes, the design competition has multiple assets. On one side, the performance-driven element—combining wool, which is connected more to traditional clothing, and high-tech, which performance brands are connected to like Adidas. And, bringing the aspect of urban relevance to wool fiber. Wool is not just a product that no one needs or wants. It’s rooted into our culture. The purpose of the challenge was to combine all of these elements.

SGB: Ten designers were selected to go on to the finals. We had an opportunity to talk with two of the young women from the U.S. who are part of this talented pool. Is the challenge a celebration of the creative spirit using wool as a catalyst as well as looking for young design disrupters?
TS: That’s exactly what it is. The competition should push the limits of innovation with merino wool as an enabler that then speaks to a young, urban consumer.

SGB: Are you impressed by these 10 young designers? Their design backgrounds are extremely varied; they’re intuitive, bright … a whole different level of designer and design thinking. 
TS: It’s a different time as a designer from when we were in design school and embarking on our careers. The world is wide open with the internet. Harnessing that potential and creativity to problem find rather than problem solve is what we focused on for the competition and during the selection process as performance brands Woolmark x Adidas.

We tasked the designers to think about the daily hurdles you experience living in cities and communities and come up with performance solutions and proposals that could work in these environments.

SGB: The 10 finalists have multi-disciplinary backgrounds and are advanced creative thinkers. Are you as overwhelmed as we were by their abilities to connect so many dots?
TS:
We received a little more than 100 proposals from designers from all over the world. We were overwhelmed by all the design proposals and concepts.

The 10 finalists brought all three aspects of the challenge together in a way that was meaningful and that, in the end, is why we selected those 10. They focused on all three elements they were tasked with:  innovation, wool and relevance in an urban environment. Each of the 10 brought it together nicely with their design concepts.

SGB: Is the competition also asking designers to embrace—as well as remove themselves from past perceptions—and to allow for flexibility and reorientation of the way they perceive wool?
TS:  Yes, the competition is here to change the perception of wool by the designer as a material that has so many more benefits than just performance.

The material is very popular in the performance world, but it’s also a niche area. The benefits that wool brings are just much more important, and we are asking that these designers change the perception of that.

SGB: Are today’s activewear companies searching for broad-thinking designers to expand the way we all think of materials and their uses in performance?
TS:
What we have realized is that young designers are thinking of design, sustainability and the environment, and these are much more of a priority than in previous decades—and it’s such a big part in what they are looking for. Wool as a medium has given these designers a lot of answers in terms of that. There are a lot of reasons why wool in the performance industry is an important aspect of sustainability. They are tapping into that concept in this competition in a big way.

SGB: Wool historically has proven itself; why do you think that in performance wear, it has taken a back seat to poly yarns?
TS: Mainly because of perception as a luxury product and price—which is not so reachable for a lot of people. Spending $60 to $70 on a t-shirt is a lot of money. That’s why the popularity of wool, although stable, is difficult to grow in popularity, and also because wool prices are high, it makes it difficult to implement into product. We hope to make a change here as we move forward, and that’s our hope with the challenge as well.

SGB: What is the message that Woolmark and Adidas want to tell the active lifestyle industry with the Woolmark Performance Challenge?
TS:
First, we wanted to give young designers a chance to show their creative potential, and we were able to support their talent with this competition. And with sustainability as a component of the competition, to use natural fibers like wool as an enabler in that area. Lastly, reward designers who integrate all of this into their thinking.


Join Tillman, Adidas x Woolmark and the 10 finalists at OR on November 9 as they announce the inaugural 2018 Woolmark Performance Challenge Winner. Photos courtesy Adidas and Woolmark