A New Zealand-developed process for dyeing wool hailed as a world first in the textile industry has been snapped up by a US active wear manufacturer.
Developed by AgResearch in Lincoln, the technology enables wool to be dyed two colours at a time, meaning images and graphics can be dyed into the wool rather than being printed on top.
AgResearch signed a commercialisation agreement with Wellington firm BGI Development, which has been busy taking it to the market.
"It's an amazing development by New Zealand researchers and will revolutionise the way merino fabric is dyed and printed," said BGI director Robyn George-Neich.
"These products are a world first in textile and fashion development, and an excellent example of how technology can enhance New Zealand's exports."
American company Global Merino, which supplies brands such as Patagonia, has signed an exclusive worldwide licence to produce active wear using the technique.
George-Neich said the deal was a great opportunity to earn money back for New Zealand and showcase the country's intelligence globally.
"The deal we have with Global Merino means as they grow their own market they pay us a percentage of that," she said. "That amount of money being returned to New Zealand grows and we don't have to do anything - it's a fantastic revenue earner."
The partnership between AgResearch and BGI Development was just the sort of alliance New Zealand needed more of, she said.
Promising innovations too often got stuck in labs as research institutes tried and failed to commercialise their own discoveries.
"That's where AgResearch are great - they understand what they're good at and what they're not good at," she said.
"That's something other Crown Research Institutes can learn from."
The new process was developed by a small team under the leadership of textile scientist Stewart Collie.
Collie said being in partnership with BGI meant his team could get on with what they were good at - research and development.
"In this sort of market it's better if we can work with a partner that has the contacts and experience to commercialise the product." He said the new technique meant fabric ended up looking and feeling better because it did not have plastic graphics all over it which deteriorated over time.
"It looks like it's been printed but it's actually been dyed."
The deal with Global Merino was a significant one that takes the process out into the market, he said.
George-Neich said the next step was to tap into areas such as soft fabrics and high-end fashion.
"We want that high level where people are happy to pay $3000 to $4000 for a piece of clothing and those markets do exist, just not in New Zealand," she said. "Active wear is done, it's ticked off. We haven't even scratched the surface of this yet, it will go massive."