11 months ago I was in New Zealand visiting random couchsurfers and meeting up with some friends on my 2005-06 summer on the ice, when chances of chances, I ran into an interesting an enthusiastic women who just finished a time at a Community Supported Agriculture Farm. April Armstrong, was on a working holiday in NZ from the United States and needed a ride to Picton so she could catch the ferry as Ben Bachler (who I might add is in McMurdo as we speak) were driving back from Nelson. I don’t entirely remember she may have had Koru (a possum) with her at the time, or she may have left him back at the farm, but she was enthralled with possums. We spent several hours driving along the coast of New Zealand talking about the plight of the forests and the possums that are causing it (known in Maori as Paihama).
New Zealand is an island ecology, which means that for millions of years until the Maori settle on it most species had evolved into a niche that was specific to the island. The possum is native to Australia, New Guinea, and Sulawesi, but not to New Zealand so although all island ecology have species that migrate in from other areas, by wind, waves, flight, or piggy-backing, the possum was probably never destined to end up in New Zealand as it doesn’t have wing, can’t swim huge distances, and seems unlikely to survived a floating tree for that distance. It was however introduced by Europeans to establish a fur industry, where they soon got loose (or were let go) and as they have no predator on the island are destroying native trees and wildlife.
With 60 million possums in NZ, some carrying bovine tuberculosis, keeping them under control has become an necessity. There are two major ways that are currently used kill a possum in NZ, 1080 spray pesticides which poisons them, or hunt/trap them. Pesticides are easily applied on a broad scale, but are a painful way to die for possums and the other creatures that might eat it. Trapping on the other hand lends itself to the fur trade the Europeans originally brought them for, even though it takes a vastly more people to deal with millions. It’s one of those strange place and times where to avert an ecological disaster it might be useful to trap a possum. The World Wildlife Federation agrees, and strangely so does the fashion industry. It made April wonder. Can she combined the attempt at saving the unique island ecology of NZ with an entrepreneurial spirit?
This is what we talked about for the 2 hours while we drove from Nelson to Picton. She explained how she’d met a trapper and already had the contacts with people in NZ, she just needed to figure out how to export possum felt to the US where we like furry things and set up a business around it. Ben and I were the sounding boards to her ideas of setting up business in the US, websites, knitting, and a good bit of random thoughts. We witnessed the birth, but she took the idea and hitched with it. 11 months later she and her best friend Sonya have turned it into www.paihama.com where you can get a comfy pair of socks for hiking, trekking, or surviving cold politicians!
While Ben and I only played the role of muses, it’s a special feeling to be at the ground floor of any new creation. It’s an even more gratifying feeling to see such an idea grow up and bear socks! I bought the first sock from their brand new website, and here in DC–where we recently had our first snow of the season–the idea of warm wool possum socks is such a Wonderfullyrich (nearly) birthday present from April & Sonya, and the world. Socks for your feet and hope for your soul.
Want more info on the socks? Send email to info AT paihama.com or go paruse www.paihama.com.