Liz Forster talks with us about the 2013 Wool Awards

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Liz Foster shares her excitement as she sets the agenda for the 2013 Wool Awards …

Tell us the history of The Wool Awards?

The Australian Wool Fashion Awards began in 1981 as the Wearable Wool Awards, under the umbrella of New England Wool Expo. In 1997 the baby had grown up; it was time to leave home and stand on its own feet. With a change of name and a change of direction, the Awards have evolved into one of Australia’s leading wool fashion competitions, with particular emphasis on secondary school and fashion college students. Our mission is to encourage and nurture young designers, while educating everyone in the wonderful qualities of Australian Merino wool.

How long have you been arranging The Wool Awards?

Since the mid-1980s I have been part of a team. The last few years I have had the Managing Director’s position, making the arrangements, sourcing sponsors and organising the function with approval from TAWFA Board.

What do you personally gain from working on this project, and why are you so passionate about this event?

My first thought is grey hairs, stress and lack of sleep!

My reward is seeing young people achieve their dream. This can be winning a three year degree half fee scholarship to study fashion at Raffles College of Design & Commerce at North Sydney, one of two reduced fee scholarships to the Academy of Design based on the Gold Coast, students heading to short course drawing school at the Whitehouse Institute of Design, to being a Wool Awards model.

Attending a graduation parade and witnessing one of our scholarship winners show their final collection is a proud moment.

Seeing the transformation from shy uncoordinated teenagers into elegant, self-confident young ladies showing our finalist garments on the runway on Awards Night is my personal gain … just knowing I have played a small part in helping them gain life skills.

I’m passionate, because Don and I are wool growers. All wool growers want to see their product sold, used and shown in an innovative way to potential consumers.

What’s on the agenda this year?

Our year began well, with a new appointment to our Board. We are delighted to welcome Ian Rathbone, Finance Manager at Australian Wool Innovation.

Ian is young, ambitious and has added a refreshing enthusiasm to our meetings; he is astounded by the passion our Board members have for wool and the competition.

Kristen Porter, who has been with us for many years as a model and then Board member, sadly left us, taking up a law position in Canberra – the distance making it difficult to continue on the Board. Her heart is still with us, continuing to check on our progress.

This year we have a past entrant as a judge: Josephine Nathan has her own knitwear label, woolliwoolli, and is also a designer for Cleckheaton. Jo will join two others on the panel.

The 2013 theme for the secondary school section is Alice in Wonderland. Students have been given fabric to create their masterpieces. As many have told me, the students create exciting, colourful, young and fabulous outfits that the public and potential consumers of wool love to see – wonderful examples of what wool can do when you think outside of the square.

Presentation Night is Saturday 16 March, commencing at 5.30pm with high tea as part of our Alice in Wonderland garden party. The parade and presentation of Awards will be in a marquee in the magnificent Saumarez Homestead gardens. The Bowling Club, which has a great partnership with Saumarez Homestead, will be providing food, drinks and all wait staff.

How has the Wool Awards grown and improved over the years?

The number of garments, the quality of garments, the far flung corners of Australia from where entries come, and the international entries – this year UK, USA and New Zealand.

Website and Facebook have helped get our message to the world. It is quite astonishing to see how many people (and from which countries they’re from) look at our site.

We like to spread the love. Over the years we have moved around Armidale venues, with the need to change the look and production so we aren’t the same every year in the eyes of our guests. Each year we have to top last year’s event. Our patrons love the surprise elements: what music will we use? How will we open and close the parade? How will it be decorated? The choreography? The food?

And as always – not telling! You will have to come see for yourself!

Who are some of your stand out contributors?

Our competition major sponsor is Australian Wool Innovation and The Woolmark Company. In addition to this, many local business houses have supported us for many years.

Jessie Street Drycleaners are right on the top of our gold list, cleaning our garments, some of them several times during the year, some of them very challenging.

The Supreme Award prize for 2013 is being donated by new sponsor Margot Edwina Rees Antiques and Jewellery Tenterfield. Margot has selected a lovely piece of jewellery. The worthy winner will forever look back and remember The Australian Wool Fashion Awards and Margot Edwina Rees Jewellery with pride.

Describe the atmosphere and excitement experienced during the Wool Awards?

It is like Christmas when parcels are opened for cataloging … each one looking like a winner, some humorous takes on our theme, and some just beautiful and elegant.

Our competition is judged anonymously by high profile Australian fashion or media celebrities; on Awards Night, the entrants are excited in anticipation of a win, as all is a secret until the announcement.

The audience are caught up in the glitz and glamour; they love dressing up for the occasion and pride themselves on being able to ‘pick the winner’! The models are nervous and excited to be taking centre stage.

For me, it is the same; I hope all goes to plan with no power breaks, music problems, wardrobe malfunctions or falls and the weather is kind. There’s relief when the parade is over.

How can our locals get involved?

We always hope locals will support us both as sponsors and by attending the night.

A large number of out of town entrants, family and teachers come to our beautiful Armidale in March, when the leaves are changing. It is nice to see our locals making them welcome, offering advice as to the best coffee shop, frock shops or tourist destinations.

This article was published in issue 70 of New England Focus

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