Lucas Smith is an ideas man

26 Aug 2021

When he was 15, he was selling hoodies to fellow students from his Richards House dorm in 2011.

Today, it’s Wool+Aid, a fledgling company making biodegradable merino woollen plasters and bandages, which will be available online in the next six months.

The vividly coloured Wool+Aid bandages are 100% natural, ethically farmed and biodegradable.

Launched five years ago, the start-up recently completed its first $1.5 million capital raise, valuing the company at around $7 million. Investing group VMG Ventures has taken just over a 20 per cent stake in Wool+Aid.

It includes Stephen Tindall's investment vehicle K1W1, the Edgar family, 42 Below vodka’s Geoff Ross, ex-Spark managing director Simon Moutter, digital expert Rod Snodgrass, Skin Institute founder Dr Mark Gray and investment firm Pathfinder.

Lou Cunningham, the former marketing and customer officer at My Food Bag, is the new chief executive.

Lucas attributes the early success to his previous business successes and failures.

“Creating, failing and ending previous businesses really set me up for success. I learnt about supply chains, logistics, accounting and business operations, which I could not have learnt any other way,” he says.

Having worked as a hiking guide, Lucas wanted to ensure every hiker had a great trip.

“Getting blisters ruins your trip. It shifts your focus from enjoying the landscape to focusing on your feet,” he says.

“When you’re going into the mountains and out and about, you can buy different levels of clothing – from basic gear that’s made from polymers through to clothing made from recycling products that support ethical trade. But when you cut yourself, the only option you have is plastic – that’s where this whole concept came about – why has no one made a product that is designed to heal?”

Lucas says that each year about 58 billion sticking plasters to in to the ecosystem – it’s a frightening number and they don’t break down.

“While I was working as a guide, I saw the silicon patches people used for their blisters, littered across the tracks. I thought there must be a better way.

“If you bury our product, it will biodegrade in eight months, it’ll release keratin, nitrogen, phosphorus, magnesium – all these wonderful nutrients that help the soil.”

When he first started out, Lucas realised New Zealand had lost a lot of its technical processing from the 80s when synthetics really came into vogue.

After much experimentation and frustration, his supply chain now uses New Zealand wool that goes to Italy to be woven, then to China or Japan for cutting, sterilisation, and manufacturing into the finished product before coming back here.

“My dream for us is to be vertically integrated so the wool doesn’t even have to leave the station in New Zealand.”

As a young Ngāi Tahu entrepreneur, support from the iwi has also been a great help to his business. He is also grateful for guidance from Tim Bird from All Birds, who he visited in San Francisco.

Lucas runs the business with his father and bases himself between Christchurch and Tekapo.