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New textiles from New Zealand pest

by Mark Smith, staff writer


As the holidays draw closer, many HPU students are preparing to make the trip back home to be with friends and family. For many, this means a change to cold weather. If your current wardrobe is best suited for the beach, here is something you might find interesting.

A New Zealand based business, called Gray Fur Trading Co., Ltd., recently began marketing a new material using the fur of the brushtail possum. By combining the fur with pre-existing materials such as cotton, wool, and silk, they have created a light weight, cold weather clothing for the coldest climates.

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“This is the first new textile in 200 years,” said Dr. Helen Varner, dean of Communications at HPU. Varner recently visited New Zealand and was introduced to the new gear. She purchased several articles including sweaters and gloves, for friends and family on the mainland.

The products available aren’t just limited to clothing. They also use the fur to create stuffed animals, rugs, and ladies handbags. Other uses include leather and wool for textile usage. Gray Fur Trading Co. is currently exploring new uses for the fur as well.

The brushtail possum is more than a pest in New Zealand. From Australia, it was first introduced in 1837 to establish a fur industry. In its native land, which is mostly desert, the brushtail possum has many predators, such as owls and Tasmanian devils, which keep its population low. With no natural predators in New Zealand, and a decrease in the demand for fur, the population of the brushtail has increased rapidly to over 70 million. It is estimated that these animals eat about 21,000 tons of vegetation every night. Trees, plants, and even birds now face extinction as the possum is destroying their natural habitats.

Now that the possum has become a menace, the New Zealand Department of Conservation has a $6 million budget dedicated to controlling it. They also encourage public trapping, which has been legal since the late 1940s.

The success of the new textile has encouraged Gray Fur Trading Co. to market their wares globally. They are hoping to create enough world-wide interest that it will be possible to harvest enough possum fur to reduce the population to levels the environment can handle.

The products are environmentally friendly, as the death of each possum means more of New Zealand’s forests, animals, and habitats are saved from extinction.

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