Our Founder & CEO Peri Drysdale on how it all began.
It was 1981, and I was a stay-at-home mum. I’d given up my job as an echocardiographer. While I loved spending time with my little ones, my brain yearned for more than a,b,c’s, so I started to think about what else I could do.
I knew more could be done with New Zealand wool than simply shipping it offshore in its raw state, but I had no clue how to knit, and I didn’t know the first thing about how to run a business.
I remembered back to being a little girl on our farm, sitting at the dining table with my mother. She'd handed me a brown paper parcel with a pair of shiny red leather shoes inside. Proudly stamped on the soles was 'Made in England'. "That means they're good quality" she’d said. I decided I wanted to create that same reputation for New Zealand's woollen products.
I started knitting woollen anoraks, mittens and baby booties, which I showed to a local store, and they ordered right away. The orders kept on coming and before long I couldn't keep up with demand. In a few short years we'd grown from 10 to 500 outworkers, and we’d started exporting adult knits.
By 1985, co-coordinating everything from my home had finally become too much, so we made the move to computerised knitting machines – another story for another day!
In 1993, I was approached by a researcher at Wools of New Zealand. He wanted me to trial knit a new possum yarn they'd blended with mid-micron wool. Possums were wreaking havoc on the New Zealand environment, gradually killing off the native flora and fauna, so the government was looking for ways to eradicate them without the use of poison.
We knitted up this new blend with much anticipation, but to be honest, the result was pretty awful. We suggested to Wools of New Zealand that they blend the possum with merino. They agreed and gave us a second batch to try.
This time, we immediately saw its potential, but Wools of New Zealand were not convinced. They told us that while they'd been able to produce a trial spin, the fibre was too short and slippery to be considered for commercial use. We were advised that if anyone could make it work, it was a technologist at Mistuboshi Woollen Mill in Japan.
Not one to let a small detail like that stand in my way, I flew to Japan to meet him. While there, I talked the project through with fashion guru Shozo Honda, who was president at the time of Prada Japan.
It's fair to say what followed was like doing a PhD in possum. But with the help of our technical genius in Japan, we finally struck upon the magic recipe. The result was a super luxurious yarn that produced warm yet weightless pill-free knitwear and offered a sustainable solution to our burgeoning possum problem.
In 1996, we officially launched our possum and merino knitwear under the Merinomink™ label, and we’re humbled that Wools of New Zealand acknowledge us for pioneering the possum textile industry.
In 2021, it was a proud moment for us to see Peri honoured as the only female of nine Laureates to be inducted into the New Zealand Business Hall of Fame. Peri was celebrated alongside eight other amazing New Zealanders; Tracy Thomas Gough, Brendan Lindsay, Paul Te Poa Karoro Morgan, Sir Robert Anderson, James Henry Whittaker, Sir Ken Stevens, John Ryder and Kevin Hickman for their outstanding contribution to the community and the New Zealand economy.
This comes just three years after Peri's induction into the New Zealand Hall of Fame for Women Entrepreneurs, instigated by Co.Of Women to 'honour those whose success has paved the way, whose brilliance has changed the way things are done and whose generosity has impacted the world for the better'.