Merino Wool Blister Protection start-up Walk On, founded six months ago by 21-year-old entrepreneur Lucas Smith, has secured a national distribution deal with outdoor and adventure sports multi-channel retailer Torpedo 7.
Soft-launched on the impressive Walk On e-commerce website he built himself, Smith’s blister protection product made from ethically farmed, hyperfine merino will now be available in 10 retail stores nationally.
“I’ve been finalising the distribution deal with Torpedo 7 for the last couple of months,” Smith says from his hometown of Lake Tekapo. “I’m thrilled to have partnered with one of New Zealand’s leading outdoor retailers.”
Smith says the product is suited to walkers, cyclists, runners, skiers and dancers. Users simply wrap their feet in the silky soft, carded wool or apply the strips to their existing blisters or rubbing points.
“It’s not a new idea – farmers, soldiers, adventurers and explorers have been using this technique to protect their feet since the early 1900s, but I’m bringing it back,” Smith says.
“However, I am the first to use hyperfine merino wool and breathable packaging.”
Unlike traditional products, the merino wool binds to the inside of your socks, where it wicks moisture away from inflamed skin, allowing blisters to heal naturally.
Smith had his lightbulb moment while working as a guide on the four-day Milford Track. It was his 15th tour of the 2015 season and he was walking at the back with a few rather unprepared (but enthusiastic) members of a tour group.
“Despite advice, there is always at least some walkers in new shoes or, often worse, walking in old shoes without any foot protection,” Smith says.
That particular day, a grimacing tourist couldn’t take it any more and simply stopped in her tracks. Her feet were heavily blistered and Lucas, an experienced mountain walker and guide, knew she couldn’t continue. He radioed for the helicopter, and soon the tussock parted, the blades chopped overhead and the walk was over for the sheepish American tourist who had saved for years to visit New Zealand and complete the world-renowned Milford Track.
“It was always so sad to see people who had waited so long to walk the “holy grail” of tracks just have to give up. When I first started guiding, I was shocked at how many times we had to attend to infected blisters or get walkers rescued by helicopter from the mountains.”
Even prepared people struggled to look after their feet. “They would try to prevent their blisters using plastic plasters, which I’d often see littered along the track once plastic hadn’t cut the mustard,” Smith says.
He took the opportunity to combine his passion for New Zealand’s great walks and his experience working at the Mackenzie Country’s Simons Hill Station while studying at university.
“I’ve been a shepherd and I’ve been a mountain guide. There’s a certain beauty in taking something so useful and simple, and making it accessible to everyone.”
Stuff.co.nz – Blister protection product designed by Tekapo 21-year-old takes off
Otato Daily Times – The wool was made for walking
Latitude Magazine – Full page print feature – Lucas Smith – Entrepreneur
Style Magazine – Double-page print feature – Made for walking
NZ Entrepreneur – Q&A feature plus front cover photo
Radio New Zealand (Country Life) – Walk On and On
Ngai Tahu – The business of wool