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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 beautiful 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 there 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. The polar bear is the only other animal with a hollow fur fibre. (Save the polar bears 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 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.
What is Possumdown?
Possumdown is a unique blend of yarn including New Zealand brushtail possum fur and super fine New Zealand merino lamb’s wool.
The fibre and its qualities
Mother nature gave the brushtail possum a secret weapon against the cold. A secret only shared with their cousins the polar bear. And that weapon is something best seen under a microscope. Despite each fur fibre only being 16-18 microns thick, each and every one of those minute fibres is hollow! This means every single fibre has a pocket of air which is like a self insulating armour. So when you wear Possumdown you end up with a unique and amazing force field against the cold.
But not only is Possumdown about the warmest knitwear fibre of it’s kind on the planet, it is also a great deal lighter and less bulky than merino making it the preference for travelers and adventure seekers who need to travel light.
And although merino is known for it’s amazing waterproofing and wicking properties, (wicking draws moisture away from the skin) the possum fur in Possumdown makes our garments even more waterproof than merino. The performance of this super fur in extreme conditions is why so many skiers, hikers and adventurers wear Possumdown.
And as garments for the elderly or the unwell, Possumdown is perfect. Superior warmth, dryness and softness make our socks and gloves ideal for diabetes sufferers and those with poor circulation. Can’t get warm? Aching lower back where the cold seeps in? Try Possumdown!
Possumdown is incredibly soft. Brushtail possum fur is similar in softness to angora and cashmere and is combined with the softness of only pure NZ merino lambs wool. If you can’t wear merino on its own, try wearing Possumdown, it may surprise you. People who can’t wear merino report being able to wear Possumdown even against bare skin.
Hand processed fur versus other processes
Hand gathered fur is completely natural, ecologically sustainable and produces the longest and softest staple. Possumdown uses only hand gathered fur and this is a very important factor in assuring the quality and longevity of your garment as we explain below.
Possumdown is the only possum/merino knitwear company to own it’s own fur gathering company. This means we know where our fur comes from which gives us a greater level of quality assurance.
Our professional fur graders inspect the fur for suitability. Samples are tested for contaminants, moisture content, the presence of foreign matter and other signs of fur distress that are noticeable only to the professional grader’s eye. Fur distress is commonly caused by harsh processing involving machinery and/or chemicals. Mechanically and chemically processed fur has a commercial advantage but these processes cause damage resulting in inferior fur. A bit like chemicals, heat and abrasion damage our own hair.
Just like sheep, brushtail possum fur has different qualities depending on which part of the body it comes from. Inferior fur gathering techniques result in a haphazard mixture of shorter and coarser fur. For example the fur is longer and softer on the back but coarser and shorter around the backside. So fur from the brushtail’s backside is a bit like sheep crutchings! Just like the wool industry crutchings are only used in inferior product.
Whilst damaged or shorter fur fibres may not be visible to the untrained eye, yarn spun with distressed fur breaks down more readily, in turn compromising the strength of the garment. This can lead to the garment falling out of shape, pilling and wearing thin prematurely. This is why you may find other possum/merino garments wearing faster in areas like elbows and heels.
Our grader or ‘Fur Doctor’ has been grading possum fur for 26 years. He is considered by many to be the top brushtail possum fur grader in the world and is one of perhaps only half a dozen people with any type of similar skill. The Fur Doctor works exclusively for Possumdown.
Chemical and mechanical processes are also harsher on the very environment we want to protect!
Eco Luxury Fur helps save NZ plants and wildlife
Whilst the brushtail possum exists in pest proportions in New Zealand, the fur remains a renewable resource. Introduced from Australia by early settlers, the numbers of brushtail possums multiply exponentially in their non-native environment where the climate is ideal, food is abundant and no natural predators exist. The New Zealand bush is in many places so wild, uninhabitable and dense that the New Zealand Government resort to controlling numbers by baiting and doing aerial poison drops which in turn poison waterways and other wild life. Poison does not differentiate between pests and protected wildlife such as kiwis, tuis and native fish.
Hand gathering the fur is environmentally friendly and provides support for New Zealand’s endangered wild life, helping to reduce numbers in this way encourages fewer poison drops.
New Zealand is the only place in the world that the fibre can be harvested so it remains extremely scarce on a global basis, making it the pink diamond of the eco-luxury fur world.