A Kapiti Coast businessman has signed a deal with a global sportswear giant that will greatly expand the market for his locally developed possum skin golfing gloves.
Greg Howard, director of Planet Green, said the licensing agreement for the South Pacific with Fila Luxembourg was "massive" and he hoped it would result in 300,000 gloves being sold in the region under the Fila brand annually within three years.
"Because Fila now own Acushnet golf [through a recent acquisition] they now own the Footjoy, Titleist and Pinnacle brands," said Howard.
"That really covers every top golfer in the world - any of those golfers could be wearing the glove next year."
He said it was even better than doing a deal with Nike, as Fila had become such a powerful force in the golfing world.
Estimates vary of exactly how many possums exist in New Zealand, ranging from 30 million to 70 million.
Howard, who already sells the gloves in the United States under the Fila Golf brand, said one possum skin went into each glove, which retails for $30.
Criticism has been levelled in the past against the Department of Conservation and Animal Health Board for poisoning possums that could otherwise be used in the textile industry.
But Howard said he had a ready supply of skins sourced from trappers across New Zealand.
"Because of the success of the possum fur blend [with] wool [used in clothing], and the growth of that industry, there's plenty of skins."
He said he tried to keep out of the debate about using 1080 poison on the tree-eating marsupials, which are a protected species in Australia but considered a pest on this side of the Tasman.
Possum leather was thin yet very strong and provided a powerful grip, Howard said.
"We spent two years getting the tanning process right to provide an amazing grip. The grip works in the dry or in the rain."
He said there was an opportunity to sell the gloves in Europe under the Fila brand.
"Once this [the South Pacific deal] is going we've got the whole of Europe as well, but we have to get this going first."
The gloves, which are sold in New Zealand under Howard's TrueGrip brand, are manufactured in Indonesia.
Room for industry to double pace
Potential exists for the national possum harvest to grow from about two million animals each year to up to five million, says Fur Industry Council chairman Steve Boot.
"If the industry grew to that point you would see the possum population of this country starting to decline a lot," he said.
In 2010, industry body Textiles New Zealand said the harvest growing from 1.7 million to 3 million animals would double the possum fur sector's annual revenue to $200 million.
Boot said a report by Landcare Research suggested Department of Conservation-funded commercial fur harvesting could reduce possum populations at a third of the cost of the department's current efforts, which include 1080 poisoning.
The department has faced criticism for limiting access to harvesting areas and poisoning animals, leaving them to die in the bush.
Boot said the "vast bulk" of New Zealand's possum population now lived on land managed by the department.
"There's a huge opportunity there and the industry realises that its future growth, security and potential are inextricably linked with how the Department of Conservation views possum management," he said.
A spokesman for the department said possum harvesting was just a part of the solution to the problem posed by the animals - which consume native trees - not the whole answer.