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Woolmark and Helly Hansen Reveal Performance Challenge Winners

The Woolmark Company and outdoor brand Helly Hansen have announced the prize winners and innovative finalists’ concepts of the Woolmark Performance Challenge 2020/21.

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, all harnessing the natural properties of Australian merino wool.

The Woolmark Performance Challenge brief invited participants to consider the harsh and demanding landscape of ocean racing as the catalyst for their design process.

The brief also centered on how product designers can contribute to the long-term health of the planet, designing performance garments with consideration for the outdoor environments for which they are created. In a time when plastic pollution in the oceans is one of the greatest environmental challenges, sailors are looking for alternatives to oil-based clothing to keep them warm and dry, Woolmark noted.

From 352 entries, 10 tertiary students were shortlisted. They are Shereena Baiti, University Technology Sydney, Australia; Bettina Blomstedt, Aalto University, Finland; Gaia Borghi, IED Milano, Italy; Carly Conduff, University of Oregon, USA; Luca De Prà IED Milano, Italy; Younghwan Kim, Kookmin University, South Korea; Martin Pickartz, RWTH Aachen University, Germany; Greta Roviello Raffles, Milano Istituto Moda e Design, Italy; Matilda Shields, Falmouth University, U.K., and Enhui Xu, Tiangong University, China.

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Their innovation ideas include concepts ranging from knit technology to reduce the base- and mid-layers into a singular merino wool alternative to enhance sailor mobility and comfort through to chemical applications for merino wool garments that emit light upon contact with water in the event of a person falling overboard to increase the chance of survival to harnessing nano-technology and biomimetic design to create merino wool fabrics that are waterproof, breathable, and–most importantly–not contributing to the microplastics crisis.

The judges awarded Conduff with a three-month paid internship with Helly Hansen, Blomstedt with a three-month paid internship with The Woolmark Company, and Kim with the 10,000 euro ($11,980) research bursary to continue his idea development.

“We would like to thank all ten finalists in the 2020 Woolmark Performance Challenge and are proud to congratulate Carly Conduff on winning an internship with Helly Hansen,” said Øyvind Vedvik, category managing director, sailing for Helly Hansen. “Carly’s presentation was impressive, leveraging insights from professional sailing athletes and introducing innovative ideas on how the functions and benefits of wool can meet the needs of sailors. Her concept also reflects our brand mission–Helly Hansen is committed to developing professional grade sailing gear and works closely with professionals to ensure our apparel is innovative and performance-driven.”

Julie Davies, general manager for processing innovation and education extension at the Woolmark Co., said the Woolmark Performance Challenge continues to be one of the highlights of the company’s product development and education programs.

“We were thoroughly impressed by the forward-thinking spirit of each and every finalist, pushing boundaries in innovation and understanding wools attributes as a sustainable performance fiber,” Davies said. “The program provides an excellent opportunity for young talent to find a place for their exciting innovation on the international stage, whilst pushing the infinite possibilities of merino wool into unchartered territories.”