An innovative young Kaikohe mum has developed a winning formula for disposable wool nappies born largely out of guilt.

Lucy Wihongi's idea for naturally decomposing, biodegradable disposable wool nappies and wipes made from New Zealand strong wool was runner-up in this year's Idealog + Studio ZQ Wool-ovation competition.

The 27-year-old was among eight finalists to present their ideas to a panel of judges in Christchurch in September.

Wihongi is stoked to have reached the finals with her concept called "Mother Load" and is now researching how to turn the lowest grade wool called "strong wool" into a saleable product.

Advertisement
Lucy would love to see her idea turned into a reality. Photo / Jenny Ling
Lucy would love to see her idea turned into a reality. Photo / Jenny Ling

"We live in an age of convenience and unfortunately our need for convenience trumps our need to look after the planet," she said.

"I think innovation comes when you're trying to solve a problem that you know you cannot afford to pay someone to fix for you. Growing up in a family of eight with not a lot of money or resources you definitely become somewhat innovative. I saw my parents solve problems and I guess that's where I learned it from."

READ MORE:
Northland's biggest start-up competition is about to kick off
Technology hub set up to keep and create jobs in Northland
Northland research hub could create more jobs and improve truck safety
Far North Enterprise Park attracts significant interest

Wihongi is a teacher at Hiwa-i-te rangi, Northland College Teen Parent Unit, a school for teen mums.

While on maternity leave with her youngest child, Te Wairuamihirangi, now 15 months, she saw a Facebook post for the Wool-ovation competition and was inspired to enter.

Her idea was born out of guilt, she said, and the knowledge that one child will use up to four nappies a day for the first two to three years of its life.

That is more than 4000 nappies consumed by one child alone.

Though she started motherhood using natural products, making sure she had mostly second-hand baby items and using cloth nappies, being a conscious consumer was difficult, especially while travelling.

Advertisement
Lucy Wihongi, pictured with her son Te Auha, has come up with a unique idea for disposable wool nappies. Photo / Jenny Ling
Lucy Wihongi, pictured with her son Te Auha, has come up with a unique idea for disposable wool nappies. Photo / Jenny Ling

As a busy mum convenience took over and soon she was back to using disposable nappies.

"I remember that guilt and I wanted to come up with a product that offered more convenience but was also good for the planet. Then I started to think how wool can be made into something disposable."

Wihongi's idea is to freeze dry the wool to get it down to powder form and create a fabric from the powder.

She is currently learning more about natural fibres and strong wool while trying to connect with other New Zealanders who are being innovative when it comes to replicating nature's designs.

There were 92 entries and 783 people's choice votes in the competition, which was run by the New Zealand Merino Wool Company to encourage innovative ideas for the use of wool.

Aucklander Becs Bartells took out the top spot with her design for wool caskets and coffins, which will now be developed as a product in the merino company's innovation space, Studio ZQ.

Among the most high-profile companies using New Zealand merino wool is Allbirds, which is now valued at $1.4 billion after having created the "world's most comfortable shoe".

Wihongi has also designed a menstrual-proof underwear line for young girls aged 10 to 14.

Called Ikura – which means period in te reo Māori – the underwear has three layers and can be reused.

Wihongi isn't the only talented mum at Hiwa-i-te rangi; 19-year-old Santana Hobson was recently crowned Top Energy YES Northland Company of the Year for her business creation Peepi Packs, handmade baby gift bags for new mothers.

And 20-year-old Alisha Pai won the National Excellence Award for her Eco-Kits Māori themed baby book.

Sixteen-year-old Alissa Stewart is also keen to enter the Young Enterprise Scheme next year with her biodegradable dummies which have reusable teats containing a small amount of healing manuka honey.