Wool made a unique appearance at Fieldays this year in the form of a running shoe.
Designed in New Zealand by Wellington company, Three Over Seven, and developed by Ruakura business AgResearch, the product is the world's first woollen running shoe.
"We have data that says wearing wool next to your skin creates healthy skin," said AgResearch science impact leader Andy Cooper.
The development process for the shoe was funded early this year through website Kickstarter.
Three Over Seven reached their $30,000 target in five days and, in 30 days, $119,196 was pledged to the project.
Over 1000 pairs have been made to date, retailing at $98 each. Designed to be sockless runners, the shoes are made from mid-micron New Zealand sheep wool, said to control odour, repel water, regulate temperature and resist stains and dirt.
The unique patent pending process comprises knitting together wool fibres, melt-bond fibres, and multifilament yarn to form a unique knitted fabric. The fabric is finished to give it characteristics suitable for use as a shoe-upper.
In a country of over 31,000,000 sheep, there's no shortage of material.
Cooper worked on the shoe with AgResearch senior scientist Dr Stewart Collie, who has worked in wool textile research for most of his career.
A prototype on show at Fieldays had been through a 400-hour running test and retained practically zero odour, Cooper said. "Wool has inherent properties and so there's moisture management for when the foot is in there."
Based on a minimalist design, the shoe features a double faced fabric so the inside feels soft without socks but the outside stands up against the elements.
"The outside is being developed so it's more water and dirt-resistant," Cooper said.
A standard rubber sole provides flexibility and the lace eyelets are reinforced by a plastic strip. Not only are the shoes breathable, and machine-washable, they are biodegradable too.
The shoes are sold out, but Three Over Seven promised, via its Facebook page, the runners will be back soon.
"In Portugal as we speak, watching over each step at the factory," they wrote on June 6. "A few unforeseen delays but we are on track to ship at the end of June. Super excited about where we're at with the product."
Sarah Fraser, national manager for corporate communications for AgResearch said her business worked with Three Over Seven to suggest suitable woollen fabrics for the shoe.
"The Wool Runner display highlights the work AgResearch has done in helping create a value-added product from the less-used mid-micron parts of the wool clip. This offers the opportunity to open up a new high value market, and may one day help boost profits for sheep farmers.
Also on offer at the AgResearch stand were tasty samples of Ready Steaks - a lean product made of 100 per cent dairy bull forequarter beef, a traditionally low-value cut. The process developed by AgResearch scientists has enabled the beef to retain most of its juices, removed the need for additives to replace them, and given a lean but juicy steak.
- Waikato Times