An innovative Kaikohe woman has come up with 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 wool was runner-up in this year's Idealog + Studio ZQ Wool-ovation competition. She was among eight finalists to present their ideas to a panel of judges in Christchurch in September.

Ms Wihongi, 27, said she was "stoked" to have reached the finals with Mother Load, and was now researching how to turn the lowest-grade (strong) wool into a saleable product.

"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."

The teacher at Hiwa-i-te rangi, the Northland College Teen Parent Unit was on maternity leave with her youngest child, Te Wairuamihirangi, now 15 months, when she saw a Facebook post for the Wool-ovation competition.

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

Though she largely relied on second-hand baby items and using cloth nappies, being a conscious consumer was difficult, especially while travelling.

"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," she said. Her idea was to freeze-dry the wool to reduce it to a powder, which she used to create a fabric. She is now learning more about natural fibres and strong wool, while connecting with other New Zealanders who have innovative ideas about replicating nature's designs.

There were 92 entries, and 783 people's choice votes in the Idealog + Studio ZQ Wool-ovation competition, run by the New Zealand Merino Wool Company.

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

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


Ms Wihongi has also designed a menstrual-proof underwear liner for girls. Ikura products can be reused.

Santana Hobson, 19, of Hiwa-i-te-rangi, won the 2019 Top Energy YES Northland Company of the Year title with her business, Peepi Packs, making hand-made baby gift bags for new mothers, while 20-year-old Alisha Pai won the National Excellence Award for her Eco-Kits Māori-themed baby book.

Alissa Stewart, 16, is keen to enter the Young Enterprise Scheme next year with her biodegradable dummies, with reusable teats containing healing mānuka honey.