The Idealog + Studio ZQ Wool-ovation competition: meet the finalists

Idealog is one of the few media brands dedicated to celebrating New Zealand’s special brand of creativity. The New Zealand Merino Company (NZM) has helped transform the sheep industry from a faceless commodity into a supplier for premium global brands. So, we teamed up to celebrate the opening of its Studio ZQ innovation space in Christchurch and our design community’s talents by asking our audience to design a product that harnesses the potential of strongwool, in the same way that Allbirds and Icebreaker have done with New Zealand farmers’ merino wool. The winning effort will be developed as a product at Studio ZQ, NZM’s new innovation space, as well as the winner going on two-all expenses paid trips to Christchurch and San Francisco. The power of a deadline saw the entries flooding in at the last minute, with 92 entries and 783 people’s choice votes. Here are the finalists.

While wool used to be more closely associated with your grandmother’s knitting needles, the natural, renewable fibre is soaking up renewed interest from a new generation of conscious consumers who want to move away from synthetic plastics, thanks to a slew of innovative new companies emerging out of New Zealand.

Companies like Icebreaker, Allbirds and Firewire​ Surfboards have paved the way for new, innovative uses for wool. The New Zealand Merino Company is the wool partner to these companies, and now, it is helping fast-track the revival of this material with an innovation space in the heart of Christchurch City called Studio ZQ, which helps develop creative business ideas and encourage more wool and fibre-based businesses to arise in Aotearoa. To celebrate this and our community's talents, we put it out the people to come up with an idea for a product using strongwool – a more durable type of wool than that of Merino.

We also made sure the prize was worth the designers’ time and effort, with the winner receiving the following:

A one-week immersion in Studio ZQ:
– Working through the Studio ZQ design process to assess the potential of the idea with the Studio ZQ team and experts over the course of five days.
– Travel to Christchurch and accommodation in Christchurch for the duration of the Studio ZQ immersion, up to the value of $1,200 NZD.
A five-day all expenses paid trip to San Francisco, USA:
– A meeting with Professor Baba Shiv, Sanwa Bank Ltd., professor of marketing at the Stanford Graduate School of Business.
– A meeting with Alex Castellarnau, user experience and design executive, who has led creative teams in the domain of user experience at IDEO, Dropbox and NIO.
– A site visit to a leading innovation company in San Francisco.
– International economy class return airfares, ground transport, accommodation and meals whilst in the USA up to the value of $6000 NZD. ​

Judges from the New Zealand Merino Company and Idealog looked closely at the desirability, viability and scalability of each product, as well as whether the below questions had been answered:

The problem – What is the underlying problem that is being solved?
The description – How would you explain it to a child? How is wool being used? What stage of development are you at?
The right to win – Why does it have a right to be successful?
The impact – What social or environmental impact will it have? How will this be measured?
The dream team – What is your dream team of partners that would make success easier?

Thanks to all the entrants and congratulations to those who made it through. Check out the list of finalists below.

The winner will be announced at an event held in Christchurch at Studio ZQ – details TBC.

The descriptions each finalist put forward have been edited and condensed for clarity. 

eFelt Packaging By Phoebe Lee and Amber Crossland

eFelt Packaging is a sustainable felt packaging solution for beauty products in the ecommerce industry. Its qualities include structural impact protection, temperature stabilising and insulating, flexible, compact and versatile. It can be used in conjunction with beauty products, fleece packaging can be reused to become a user-felted exfoliating cloth while educating audiences about the circular economy.

Insulated beehive cover by Kate Saunders and Alex Huffadine

Beehives need to be insulated in colder climates to reduce the risk of losing a hive. During the colder months, beehives are stacked singularly or in doubles and are normally insulated with polystyrene. The exterior wool formed slip insulating cover will insulate hives during the winter periods. This would be designed to fit the most common type of beehive, the Langstroth. Key features include a windbreaker and insulator to reduce mice from getting inside the hive. Initial market research has shown there are solutions out there for the issue, however, they are not sustainable. It is an ethical product of benefit to the environment resulting in the reduction of plastic. It is a simple idea embracing a growing trend in sustainability.

Wool paint by Suzanna Adair

Wool paint is a sustainable product that uses the unique qualities found in strong wool to transform regular house paint into a smart product that capitalises on qualities in wool for a dryer, warmer and safer home. Strong wool is broken down to its smallest compound by freeze drying and grinding the wool. Wool paint will provide the following advantages over regular house paint: more insulation for a more temperature stable home, acts as a natural fire retardant, provides moisture wicking qualities for a dryer home, and adds breathable qualities, unlike other paints.

Dag wool weed mat and seedling protector by Harriet Graydon

While planting seedlings, why are we putting more plastic into the environment we are trying to help? Using plastic seedling protectors to solve the problem of seedling establishment rates has led to the problem of plastic pollution in planting environments. We believe that strong dag wool we can solve both these problems. The final concept is a plant mat and windbreak made from a compressed dag wool material. The plant mat will be 30x30cm squared, which will reduce the weed growth around the small tree. The reduction of weed growth ensures that the growing tree receives as much nutrition from the soil as possible without needing to share this with the unnecessary weeds. Due to the materials used both the mat and the break are expected to decompose within six months (International Wool Textile Organisation, 2019) with all of the nutrients from the wool and the manure going into the soil surrounding the growing tree. When designing the product, an understanding of the market and demand had to be considered. The One Billion trees project currently taking place in New Zealand shows there is a clear demand for a product to provide nutrition and protection to the growing trees, making it a desirable product in our country at present.

Woollen premature baby care by Melissa Woods

Premature babies spend a long time with tubes attached to them. This is usually with a plastic-based bandage or tape that is often damage to their fragile skin, and even more damaging when it has to be removed. We propose create a soft tape for small bandages made from wool to use on babies’ faces. The eye masks used when a child has jaundice are also of a plastic material and on for long periods of time. Soft felted eye masks would make the perfect alternative. All are compostable, good for the earth and good for our babies.

Merinolite by Glen Askey

Wool is a luxury product that is limited to people’s perception of it as a material only for fashion and clothing. By utilising the waste strands of the wool production process, a series of bio materials can be used to create a more responsible production line that is better for sustainability. Merinolite is influenced by early plastics such as bakelite that were seen as luxury goods until they were mass produced and commoditised. By creating a new luxury bio plastic, Merinolite can offer designers a new bespoke material that has more character and sustainability than plastics, such as acetate used in luxury sunglasses. This product offers a leading-edge view on materials science that utilises world-class new methods of synthesising plastics out of animal proteins. This is the first wool plastic and these experiments are the first of their kind in the world. The choice of materials with valuable characteristics is crucial for designers and offering fashion and product designers, as bespoke materials is a big market.

The Mother Load nappies by Lucy WG

The Mother Load aims to address the issue of non-decomposing disposable nappies and baby wipes by introducing a decomposing, disposable nappy and baby wipe made entirely of biodegradable materials, such as wool. The Mother Load is a naturally decomposing, biodegradable disposable wool nappy and wipes that replaces the non-biodegradable synthetic material used in the production of disposable nappies and replaces it with wool technology and other biodegradable materials that absorbs, wicks and holds a child’s wastematter in the same way that any regular disposable nappy does. We live in a day and age of consumerism that cares very little for the environment. In a culture of mass consumption, eco-friendly consumer products need to be more widely available. As soon as a child is born, we are taking away their right to live on a healthy planet because we use nappy products that will not decompose for hundreds of years. 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. Every environmentally safe The Mother Load nappy or wipe that’s sold means one less synthetic nappy and wipe that will not be found 500 years from now.

Wool caskets by Becs Bartells

Strongwool caskets are a natural alternative to traditional timber, medium-density fibreboard caskets that don’t contribute to deforestation. They solve two problems:

1. People are trying to minimise their impacts on the planet by recycling and being eco-conscious, but what about when they die? We don’t really think about the environment when we think of funerals. We think about those who have passed away. The funeral industry has a very serious impact on the environment and that is something we should all be aware of and it’s time we start taking this seriously.

2. Caskets and coffins on the market today are ugly. Apart from the environmental impacts of casket manufacture, families are left with little or no choice for choosing a casket for their loved ones. Caskets tend to all look the same with a very traditional shape. Wool Caskets offer an alternative to both materials and aesthetics. While there are boutique woollen​ caskets that are available in the market, they are currently handmade and very bespoke, which is reflected in their price tags. Wool caskets offer a natural alternative to timber/MDF caskets on the market. By using a wool casket, you’ll be helping curb deforestation. Made from New Zealand strong wool felt, The Wool Casket is the environmentally friendly and sustainable alternative to current caskets on the market, today.

Wool Board by Paul Sinclair

Ubiquitous sheets of plasterboard are present in almost every home in the western world, but they typically limit modern house and building design and construction to flat walls, ceilings and edged corners. This results in houses and buildings with sharp edges, poor energy efficiency, average internal air flow and sub-par traffic flow. Plasterboard is heavy to work with, unwieldy to install and adversely affected by moisture. It is also difficult to recycle, creating significant landfill waste when renovating or rejuvenating social housing precincts. We will create a light and durable building product made out of wool and a biodegradable resin that can replace or complement traditional plasterboard sheets while easily enabling the creation of rounded walls. This will encourage better airflow and energy efficiency in homes and buildings, a safer space and better pedestrian traffic flow in buildings with high-foot traffic. Wool is the central and hero ingredient. We envisage it being bonded with a biodegradable resin and baked into preformed fabricated sheets that can then be screwed into place.

Strongwool Luggage by Sue Wilson and Brent Gregory 

Unbelievably, the majority of today’s luggage is made from petroleum-based materials. When you consider that the bulk of contents inside luggage is flammable such as synthetic clothing, there is a worldwide problem that has gone undetected. There are no fire standards on the luggage industry and 99 percent of luggage is flammable. Our luggage offers fire resistance and self-extinguishing properties that wool brings, allowing the on-board fire systems to have more of a chance of detecting a fire. Smouldering wool may be the difference between lives saved or lost. Wool is naturally fire resistant, anti-bacterial and a natural resource that is bio-degradable. It doesn’t emit the poisonous carcinogenic toxins of petroleum-based fabrics or composites when burning. This is a property of wool that is undervalued and undersold. Anything that can increase safety can have a huge impact on people’s lives. The conceptual cabin bag has a softshell​ fabric made from robust strong wool. This product can be a game changer as it will not only use large amounts of strong wool, it will also increase the safety of the traveling public.

The humble wool bale by Jason Wyn-Harris

New Zealand is facing several large barriers that are holding the country back from being the powerhouse of the world – road toll, rising sea levels washing away seaside communities, lack of affordable housing and dismal strong wool prices. I feel that there is one product to help fix all these problems. It is simple, low cost and no further carbon will be emitted to produce my great idea. The bale of wool. More specifically, a bale of low-grade wool: dags, fribs, etcera. Essentially, farmers are producing large sustainable Lego blocks. They could be used for road tole median barriers, housing like straw bale, or rising sea levels to have a breakwater. I believe wool Lego blocks will not be the only solution to fixing the strong wool market but will help move volume, clearing out wool stores. And, if all else fails, my idea is to make woollen space suits, so when climate change ruins the earth, we are ready. Unknowingly, man has been prototyping my great idea since ages ago, why try reinvent the wheel?

A note from the New Zealand Merino Company

We’re thrilled that Idealog’s design community has got behind creating new ideas, and a new future for strongwool. The ideas have drawn on wool’s strengths to address many of today’s environmental and comfort challenges, in the home, at work and at play and you’ve done our growers proud. If you have a great idea for wool, please share it with us and let’s see if we can help you bring it to life. Contact caroline.nicol@nzmerino.co.nz. The winner will be announced at an event at Studio ZQ in Christchurch, so keep your eyes peeled for details.

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