Originally published by Māori Television
Lucas Smith, nō Ngāi Tahu, got injured a few years ago while he was enjoying the outdoors in the Southern Alps.
He put on a plastic plaster - and immediately realised the plaster would never biodegrade in the ecosystem.
That injury led him to five years of trial and error to create a biodegradable wool bandage.
"It was an evolution of 'well, why aren't we using a fibre that literally sleeps in the mountains I'm exploring in,'" he said.
Now the 26-year-old entrepreneur is running his Wool Aid company near Lake Tekapo, making ultra-fine merino wool bandages that are entirely natural, responsibly produced and biodegradable.
Smith credited his parents and Ngāi Tahu for supporting him from the beginning, when he first left the mountains to create his product, through applying for his "freedom to operate" document (which ensured he was not infringing anyone's patent).
"I got a freedom to operate document, which is just basically like the legal runway that tells you if the invention is going to infringe upon anything. So without that document, nothing would have happened."
Plastic sticking plasters
Smith pointed out that a plastic sticking plaster was created from oil from a well in Texas, extruded, and manufactured into a plaster that was used only once and then remained in the ecology for decades.
"Fifty to sixty billion of these (plastic plasters) enter our ecosystems every year, whereas with wool the sheep eats grass, sequesters carbon. Put the wool bandage on, and then it just disintegrates and releases nitrogen, back into our carbon cycle."
Smith said the wool bandage could be placed in the soil where, "depending on the temperature and humidity, bits and pieces can be gone within six to eight months, which is pretty incredible."
Smith worked with suppliers who owned and managed land surrounding Lake Tekapo and farmed Merino sheep, whose wool was exported to Italy and turned into woven fabric, "generally destined for companies like Dior and Saint Laurent."
Smith said the woven fabric was then sent to China, where it was cut and sterilised into bandages before being returned to Aotearoa.
"Unfortunately, New Zealand has lost a lot of its capability for wool weaving, processing and medical manufacturing."
Smith said he didn't understand why New Zealand's wool needed to be processed, exported and then imported again, and that he was now calculating carbon credits to change that.
"It's beyond me why we have to export it all. So our dream is to bring it all back to New Zealand."
Trial and error
Smith said he had to learn everything from the ground up by working on a Merino sheep farm to understand how the fibre was created.
"In January 2020, I got an internship at the company that actually weaves the fabric for us, which owns the farms in New Zealand."
"I was an unpaid mill worker for nine weeks working on the factory floor, learning everything from what happens when the fibre comes in from the sheep's back from New Zealand."