Picking up discarded sticking plasters on the Routeburn Track was a lightbulb moment for Lucas Smith.
He was working as a mountain guide, and blisters were a common problem for the tourists he was escorting through the rugged Fiordland landscape.
Uncomfortable with the number of plastic plasters being used and thrown away, he turned his gaze to the wool he used to pluck off fences to pad his own scrapes and blisters.
Six years of research, patenting and development led Smith to establish Wool Aid, a company manufacturing adhesive bandages made of merino wool.
The bandages are entirely natural, responsibly produced and are completely biodegradable.
When he first started investigating the potential for wool bandages in 2016 he was surprised there were no other patents out there, he told Nine to Noon.
“We got a freedom to operate document, which basically was going to tell us what other patents we were going to infringe upon and it came back as essentially a blank sheet of paper.
“So, we thought they were having us on. So, we got another opinion out of Texas this time. And sure enough, this for whatever reason hadn't been invented.”
From then, it was a case of how robust merino as a material was, he says.
“We went to Alaska and we got involved with a race called the Iditarod Trail Invitational 2000 miles from Anchorage, over the great Alaskan range out to the Arctic Circle.
“These people are out there for months and months and months.”
Smith flew out and gave away prototype samples to the competitors.
“The theory being if it would hold up out there in minus 30 for months, and it would keep people moving, then we could refine it into a product.”
The fabric is milled from New Zealand merino wool in an Italian factory, and the material has significant benefits, he says.
“The main one is breathability, the wound as soon as you get it, it's got to be protected.
“The best protection you can have is as close to nothing as possible. So that's the beautiful thing about merino wool, is it's enables you to do that.
“It's flexible, it's breathable, but also for me, it's biodegradable. And once you're done with it, you can just bury it in the vegetable garden and it biodegrades very quickly.”
The wool comes from New Zealand stations in Central Otago, Marlborough and the McKenzie country, and then it goes to Italy for processing.
He believes the New Zealand wool industry is heading into a growth phase.
“The industry is about to undergo a massive, massive, exciting transformation. And it's a privilege to be a part of it.
“You can feel a sense of energy, there's not despair in the industry anymore. There's a sense of pride and a sense that things are going the way they need to go, which is exciting.”
And the market for bandages is huge, he says.
“The US bandage industry itself is a $US3 billion industry and growing. So, there's a huge, huge growth in that market, especially after Covid as people get outside and hurt themselves and get in the kitchen and get cutting.
“We're here to replace as much of that awful plastic going into ecosystems as possible.”
Lucas Smith is speaking at E Tipu: The Boma Agri Summi, being held 21-22 June in Christchurch and virtually.