Here in New Zealand there’s an ideal we think is pretty cool. It’s a thing we call ‘Kiwi ingenuity’. It’s based on an attitude of wasting nothing and of making the most of things. It’s about taking the ordinary and turning it into something great. It’s the same attitude that brought us famous Kiwis like Ernest Rutherford, who split the atom, Edmond Hilary, the first to climb Everest, William ‘Rocket Man’ Pickering who helped found the space age and AJ Hackett who perfected the bungee.
And the story of Possumdown is a lively example of that very same Kiwi ingenuity.
It all started in 1991, when a farmer called Bob Powell and his wife Helen had a fantastically wild idea. The inimitable Kiwi ingenuity began to unfold… But before we tell you that part of the story, lets go back a little further – all the way to the 1860’s when the colonisation of NZ was really taking hold.
A few of our Australian colonial neighbours decided that NZ was the place to be so they packed up their things and headed over the Tasman sea to a place we affectionately call Godzone. (Also known as Aotearoa or New Zealand.) But there was a rumour about the locals that their menu was pretty broad and they weren’t all too fussy about what they ate… So to make sure their was kai (Maori for food) to go round for everyone, the colonials gathered up some rabbits and pigs and sheep and took them on the journey.
With an ongoing food source organised the first settlers of NZ started to wonder what they would do to earn a living. Now back in those days, when ideas were a little different to ours today and people were still on the menu for some and the fur trade was strong for all, it was decided to set up a fur industry by having a go at breeding brushtails in captivity. So two by two, the brushtail possum was sent abroad to NZ. And as far as that was concerned the colonials may have been on the right track because brushtail possum fur fibres are hollow which gives them a secret weapon against the cold. Animals like polar bears and reindeer are the only other kind with a hollow fur fibre. (Save the polar bears and the reindeer, we love them!) So that probably makes brushtail possum fur the warmest wearable fur in the world.
But the problem was that brushtails don’t do very well in cages and before long, they were almost all expired. So to give the last of the brushtails a fighting chance they were released into the wilds. But there was one thing nobody thought of and that was, once out there, the NZ bush is so deep, unexplored and impenetrable, how would they control their numbers? The answer is – they didn’t. And the forest in NZ is a bit like a super food to possums. So together with a better climate the brushtail population went ballistic almost overnight. So since then the little blighters have been running amok in our forest, breeding like wild fire and making a meal of things that we’d like to protect - things like our native trees and birds. It seems hard to believe that a brushtail could kill a fully grown tree by sinking its hungry teeth into each and every bit of new green growth, but it does. And worse still, these little ratbags are omnivores, so that means they eat almost anything. Including the eggs of our beloved native birds like Kiwis, Tuis, Kias and so many more.
So back to our story…
Bob and Helen Powell lived on a farm that had been family owned for generations in a little country town called Taumaranui. Bob had seen plenty of brushtails around his farm. They were killing native trees and bird life right under his nose. The brushtails bred like mad and it was not uncommon to find them as road kill around the farm. And despite the big bosses of NZ using nasty poison to reduce their numbers (which also kills other things) every year there were more and more, and more.
They were such a nuisance and yet Bob had noticed what lovely thick soft fur they had… Bob and Helen’s vision began to crystalise.
"I'm going to spin it into yarn and then I'm going to wear it", he declared. With a little bit of help from some friends who spun and knitted and knitted and spun, and after a few experiments – not all of them pretty - Bob Powell had created the first brushtail possum/merino jumper.
“We’d better give this a name,” they said. So eventually they called it - Possumdown.
Everyone agreed it was a bloody good idea. And before you knew it, the other guys were quick to copy. Bob just laughed, “Imitation is the best form of flattery.” But we know, there’s nothing quite like wearing the ORGINAL Possumdown. And the real difference is that no one makes Possumdown quite like we do right here in Auckland NZ.
So why is Possumdown so good? Well a brushtail possum has fur not unlike the polar bear’s and they stay pretty warm. A brushtail’s fur is also very water resistant, unbelievably light-weight and so soft even babies can wear it. Thanks to Bob and Helen, Kiwi kids, Chinese kids, Russian kids, Japanese kids, UK kids, Mums and Dads, Grandmas and Grandpas and babies all around the world wear it.
Do we need to thank the brushtail possum as well as Bob & Helen? Well to be honest he’s a bit of a free loader and if we could send the brushtails all back to Australia where they came from we probably would but we’d need an army to do that. So we think it's a better idea to keep up Bob’s good work and keep his business spinning and knitting so that people like you can come to understand just what a clever bugger Bob was.
In fact he’s so clever, he and Mrs Powell now live on an exotic island somewhere. Mr & Mrs Powell might not need to wear woollies so much anymore but you can! And once you wear our unique wonderful luxurious mix you’ll never go straight merino again.
Wear your woollies on the wild side.
Wear our famous, unique, ORIGINAL, native blend – Possumdown. It’s a bit wild.
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