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Wellington Entrepreneurs Identify Massive New Wool Markets



4 December 2012

Innovative Wellington Entrepreneurs Identify Massive New Wool Markets

A small Wellington company The Formary has a plan that will help China reduce its air pollution, while at the same time creating a potentially massive new market for New Zealand wool.

After China’s rice crop is harvested in the paddy fields, millions of tonnes of rice straw are burnt, causing massive air pollution, closing airports, shutting out the sun and creating health issues for millions of people. Working with Massey University in Wellington, The Formary has developed a rice-straw-wool fabric prototype that could lead to a multi-million dollar business.

The Formary is owned by Bernadette Casey of Wellington and Sally Shanks from Gisborne and the idea is an extension of another product they developed, when they identified the potential of using waste fibre from Starbuck’s vast amount of unwanted coffee sacks and blending it with New Zealand crossbred wool to create fabric they called WoJo®.

Two years ago the Formary won the British Wool Week’s Sustainable Innovation Award and the WoJo® product was a feature of the HRH Campaign for Wool in 2010.

WoJo® is a hard wearing upholstery fabric and the idea of recycling jute coffee sacks was a light bulb moment for Bernadette as she trudged through snow in New York after visiting Starbucks head office in Seattle.

“We recognise that New Zealand wool can become a carrier for blending waste fibres,” Ms Casey said. “We met with the Chinese Agricultural Ministry and they were hugely encouraging. We’ve created our first 30 percent rice-straw-70 percent wool samples and we are now in discussions with Chinese partners to commercialise it.

“We can licence and manufacture the wool blend products all over the world, which means that huge volumes of fabric could be manufactured.”

Ms Casey said the ideas were being helped enormously by new technologies which were constantly evolving and enabled her to work on concepts for a rice-straw fabric that was fine enough to be used for apparel.

The Formary’s story has been turned into a three minute video http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=IlfI_IdHF0Q by award winning documentary-film maker Sarah Grohnert, who first came to New Zealand from Germany during a gap year at the end of her secondary schooling.

Ms Grohnert selected the Formary’s story for a documentary competition called the Focus Forward film series, which highlights exceptional people and world-changing ideas that are impacting the course of human development and changing our lives for the better.

The film has been getting the thumbs up from the New Zealand wool industry for both the innovative story and the movie’s presentation.

Gisborne private wool merchant Peter Tate said it was great to see the determination and effort that Ms Casey and Ms Shanks had put into the wool development project.

“If you want to talk big numbers and achieve scale with wool, then China’s the place to look for partners,” Mr Tate said. “I hope they make a fantastic success of this latest venture. It’s a great idea and they have worked extremely hard to get it to this stage.”

Stories like those captured on the video were great for his clients and demonstrated wool innovation is alive and well in New Zealand.

“I will be sending this out to wool interests around the country, asking them to send it to all of their farmer clients,” Mr Tate said.

View Video : http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=IlfI_IdHF0Q

In a postscript to this story, The Formary filed proceedings in the High Court at Wellington last week against UK-based Camira Fabrics Limited and Wools of New Zealand Limited in relation to the WoJo® product. The Formary cannot comment further, as the matter is before the courts.

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