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The Woolmark Company, On and SALEWA have announced the prize winners and 12 innovative finalists’ concepts for the Woolmark Performance Challenge 2021 – the preeminent ideas platform for the sports and performance market.

This year, the Woolmark Performance Challenge partnered with two brands for the first time: Swiss running specialists, On, and Italian skiwear experts, SALEWA. On challenged participating students to explore apparel innovations that respond to the highest demands of performance for modern outdoor runners, whist maximising fashion-forward wearability. Whilst SALEWA asked entrants to innovate low environmental-impact fabric technologies to create thermo-regulating apparel for mountain activities.

The Woolmark Performance Challenge is a world-leading incubation program for tertiary students. It encourages innovative thinking resulting in ground-breaking ideas whilst fostering the education and development of the next generation of game-changers. From more than 400 entries from across the globe, the 12 most promising ideas were selected as finalists, before judges selected the winners for each category.

On Internship Winners

Caroline Schinle from Albstadt-Sigmaringen University was awarded an internship with Swiss brand On. In addition, On created a new Research Opportunity award for Pearl Academy’s Harleen Kaur.

Global Head of Talent Acquisition at On, Louis de Vos, explained the decision to award two finalists: “While both ideas were very different to each other, each of the two contestants shine through their potential to challenge the status quo and be a true explorer, which is one of the key spirits we encourage here at On. We felt we wanted to develop that talent and nurture the thinking around helping the next generation of innovators by providing a platform and the tools to explore.”

Seeking sustainable alternatives, Caroline’s innovation creates a new filling technology for padded jackets to create a 100% biodegradable product, using a novel structure as support for a Merino wool and milkweed fibre filling.

Harleen’s submission identified a gap in the market to address the needs of pregnant and post-partum runners, creating activewear that works with, rather than against, the changing body. The idea supports both the mother and foetus in the correct areas, providing coolness when the body temperature rises, and monitoring the baby’s health using a foetal heart rate monitor.

“Caroline and Harleen both were able to take the initial brief and turn their work into a perfect hybrid of innovation, sustainability and consumer centricity while keeping the aesthetic in mind,” said James Thompson, Head of Materials at On. “Their ideas built on pre-existing processes but dared to push beyond the known, challenged industry perceptions and captured the zeitgeist of environmental problem solving and diversity and inclusion gaps in today’s textile industry.”

SALEWA Internship Winners

Dan Winegar from the University of Oregon was selected by skiwear experts SALEWA for his idea that automatically adjusts insulation thickness to maintain comfort during and after exercise. The resultant 3D flexible fabrics can change from insulating to cooling modes depending on the levels of skier activity.

“Through his project, Dan encapsuled the idea of trapping air in a smart and innovative way,” explained SALEWA Senior product Director Thomas Moe. “By using one of the oldest fibres, Merino wool, with an intelligent smocking technique with stretch and insulation, supported by data, he open doors for new solutions that we are eager to support and explore with him.”

Research Bursary Winner

IED Milano student Francesco Matera was the €10,000 Woolmark Research Bursary recipient, envisioning a garment that acts like a second skin, adapting to the body in motion. His design uses strategically placed zones of high compression using elastane in seamless knitted garments to support and manipulate the wearer’s muscles and limbs during exercise.

“Francesco embraced this competition with maturity on many levels,” said The Woolmark Company’s General Manager, Processing Innovation & Education Extension, Julie Davies. “Francesco displayed deep understanding of what is lacking in existing performance garments and what an athlete experiences under duress. He demonstrated extensive research for an innovative garment design and also demonstrated why the wearer would experience greater technical and physical benefits from the garment with it manufactured in wool. I am excited to observe and support Francesco’s journey.”

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 unique natural properties of Australian Merino wool. Each of the 12 finalists received mentoring from industry heavyweights as part of the Woolmark Performance Challenge Innovation Accelerator Program, designed to accelerate their concepts and elevate their design thinking. Explore all 12 innovation concepts here.

Registrations for the next edition of the competition – in partnership with Salomon – are now open and we invite college students from across the world to apply at

Editor’s Notes:

Judges’ comments on the importance of the Woolmark Performance Challenge

  • Thomas Moe, Senior Product Director at SALEWA:

“The Woolmark Performance Challenge has provided a great variety of design proposals and have enriched our minds and souls when it comes to creative thinking, understanding better what is possible to make with this wonderful natural fibre merino wool.”

  • Louis de Vos, Global Head of Talent Acquisition at On:

“We were amazed by the amount, diversity, and quality of the entries coming from around the world. Knowing there are bright minds in institutions around the globe gave us confidence that the pursuit of developing more innovative but even more importantly sustainable solutions is what the future generation is looking for and it was refreshing to see the ideas that were coming our way.”

  • Julie Davies, The Woolmark Company’s General Manager, Processing Innovation & Education Extension:

“Educating students and youth about the amazing natural properties and benefits of wool is a priority. Natural fibres are critical for the health of our planet. The Woolmark Performance Challenge is designed to evoke innovation in products and processes by next generations. The 2021 competition entries showed a growing strength of critical thinkers and innovators. The quality of the finalists this year really pushed this competition to a new level. This is extremely encouraging and exciting accompanied by the fact that there was an absolute understanding of wool and a drive to confirm wool as a true performance fibre.”

Woolmark Performance Challenge 2021 - Innovations

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About The Woolmark Company:

The Woolmark Company is the global authority on wool. Through our extensive network of relationships spanning the international textile and fashion industries, we highlight Australian wool’s position as the ultimate natural fibre and premier ingredient in luxury apparel.

The Woolmark logo is one of the world’s most recognised and respected brands, providing assurance of the highest quality, and representing pioneering excellence and innovation from farm through to finished product.

The Woolmark Company is a subsidiary of Australian Wool Innovation, a not-for-profit enterprise that conducts research, development and marketing along the worldwide supply chain for Australian wool on behalf of about 60,000 woolgrowers that help fund the company.



Download Finalist headshots here.

Download images from the Paris event here.

Download the suite of creative content for innovations here.

Download video assets here.