ONE of the major success stories for Australian Wool Innovation's (AWI) International Woolmark Prize (IWP) is 2013 winner, Rahul Mishra.
Based in Mumbai, the Indian designer was the India and Middle East region finalist before taking out the major prize in Milan, Italy, last year.
His innovative use of wool in lightweight and cool garments were described by the judges as being reminiscent of silk.
Mr Mishra's work is perfectly suited to warm Indian climates but remains feminine and fresh, accentuating the female form with style and grace.
And it seems the fashion world agreed with the IWP judges' choice when his inaugural collection sold out in just three weeks at IWP retail partners, English department store Harvey Nichols and French clothing and accessory retailer Colette, a feat unheard of for a new designer.
Mr Mishra said winning the IWP was a life changing event.
"Anything I can say about it will be small in comparison to what it did for me," he said.
"It helped me to put a supply chain in place, exposed me to world class retailers and gave me a position in the industry that would normally have taken eight to 10 years to achieve."
Mr Mishra said he came from a family of workers and his company comprised about 400 to 500 staff, many of them artisan craftspeople individually bringing his creative visions to life.
"This is definitely the biggest thing to happen to our company," he said.
"Big retailers would not normally risk taking on a relative unknown but the IWP and Woolmark gave credibility to my work," Mr Mishra said.
"I can always go to AWI for advice and for help in sourcing materials, and they make things happen and faster and timing is very important in the world of fashion."
Mr Mishra said he had been working with wool for five to six years and considered it his friend, but fell more deeply in love with the fibre after working with AWI and seeing the research it was doing and how sustainable and luxurious wool was.
"I respect all plants and animals and I love that there is no killing involved in the textile and wool industry," he said.
Mr Mishra said a recent visit to Merino properties in Australia had also enhanced his appreciation for the fibre and many of his recent designs feature images of windmills, sheep, birds and landscape created in his unique woollen embroidery style.
"I admire how Australian farmers take care of their sheep and our world, how they do everything themselves and that wool is sustainable and provides employment," he said.
Mr Mishra said it fitted with his own Ghandi-like beliefs, where the soul of humanity was in the villages and respecting each other and natural resources was important.
It was why he sought to employ so many village craftspeople in his business.
Country of weavers
Mr Mishra said he currently turned out about 10,000 to 15,000 pieces a year, available in the world’s leading department stores including David Jones, but with 23 million talented craftspeople in India he could supply 20m pieces a year.
"I would love to give work to all of them," he said.
"India is a country of weavers and it is the second largest importer of wool."
Mr Mishra said the wool he worked with was mostly about 17 microns.
What he also loved about wool, apart from its sustainability, was it was allergy free, took care of temperatures and had great beauty and natural fall for use in fashion.
"I'd love to marry (match) Australian woolgrowers with the Indian craft community - I think it would be beneficial for both," Mr Mishra said.
"Maybe AWI can pilot this!" he laughed.
Wendy Gould travelled to China courtesy of Australian Wool Innovation.