Friday, July 8, 2022

Video: Small company with huge plan

Small Wellington company The Formary has a plan that will help China reduce its air pollution, while at the same time creating a potentially massive new market for New Zealand wool.

After China’s rice crop is harvested in the paddy fields, millions of tonnes of rice straw are burnt, causing massive air pollution, closing airports, shutting out the sun and creating health issues for millions of people.

Working with Massey University in Wellington, The Formary has developed a rice-straw-wool fabric prototype that could lead to a multi-million dollar business.

The Formary is owned by Bernadette Casey, of Wellington, and Sally Shanks, of Gisborne, and the idea is an extension of another product they developed, when they identified the potential of using waste fibre from Starbuck’s vast amount of unwanted coffee sacks and blending it with New Zealand crossbred wool to create a fabric they called WoJo.

Two years ago The Formary won the British Wool Week’s Sustainable Innovation Award and the WoJo product, a hard-wearing upholstery fabric, was a feature of the HRH Campaign for Wool in 2010.

The idea of recycling jute coffee sacks was a light bulb moment for Bernadette as she trudged through snow in New York after visiting Starbucks’ head office in Seattle.

She recognised that New Zealand wool could become a carrier for blending waste fibres. Her company met the Chinese Agricultural Ministry and it was hugely encouraging, she says.

The company has since created its first 30% rice straw 70% wool samples and is in discussions with Chinese partners to commercialise it.

It could licence and manufacture the wool blend products all over the world, which meant huge volumes of fabric could be manufactured, Bernadette said.

The ideas were being helped enormously by new technologies, which were evolving constantly, she said. For example, they had enabled her to work on concepts for a rice-straw fabric that was fine enough to be used for apparel.

The Formary’s story has been turned into a three-minute video by award winning documentary-film maker Sarah Grohnert, who came to New Zealand from Germany during a gap year at the end of her secondary schooling.

Sarah selected the Formary’s story for a documentary competition called the Focus Forward film series, which highlights exceptional people and world-changing ideas that are having an impact on the course of human development and are changing our lives for the better.

Bernadette says the film has been getting the thumbs up from the New Zealand wool industry for the innovative story and the presentation.

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