A Beautiful Solution
A pioneering trio of Kiwi entrepreneurs are determined to turn one of New Zealand’s biggest environmental problems from pest into perfume – and a handful of other consumer goods. We catch up with Queenstown’s Michael Sly, one of the brains behind ingenious Wilding & Co.
It was a case of itchy feet and a chance encounter at a bar outside a Connecticut perfume conference that spawned an idea to take on one of the country’s biggest pest problems. Rewind six years and Queenstown local Michael Sly was dabbling in perfumery, consulting on a top-secret fragrance project with local iwi, Ngāi Tahu. The visionary entrepreneur was up in the mountains distilling taramea, a native plant and taonga species of Ngāi Tahu known for its fragrant properties, when he started ruminating on new ideas. “I had an opportunity to go to a big fragrance conference in Connecticut [in New England, USA] but when I arrived, I couldn’t get in,” recalls Sly.
As he settled in at the nearest bar, he sparked up a friendly conversation with the chap perched next to him. Before long, the pair had exchanged contact details, and Sly was back home sending his new acquaintance, Dr Robert Pappas, samples of oils he was distilling.
Unbeknownst to Sly, he had sparked up a dialogue with one of the most influential figures in essential oils. It was another trip, this time to the fragrance capital of the world, Grasse [in France], that spurred Sly’s thinking along. “Grasse is about the same size as Queenstown but it has this billion-dollar fragrance industry,” he says.
Around the same time, wilding pines – a group of invasive conifer species – became a hot topic of conversation. The problematic species was introduced in the late 1800s for forestry purposes. In the 1950s the resilient, fast-growing tree caught the eye of the forestry industry yet again and it was used intensively for plantations and to address erosion. “It works, but then it doesn’t stop,” explains Sly.