Mahe Drysdale has joined forces with a New Zealand knitting factory to launch an eco-friendly venture producing possum fur belts designed to ease back pain.
The Olympic champion rower was diagnosed with osteoarthritis in 2010 and says he's pleased that as well as bringing more job opportunities the belt could help the eight out of 10 Kiwis currently diagnosed with back pain.
Drysdale has been plagued with back pain and during his last Olympic campaign wore a prototype belt custom designed for him to ease his symptoms.
Convinced of its merits, he has gone on to launch a full scale business venture to commercialise the Nature's Support belt.
The slight lump around my stomach is not a fat roll, Drysdale said.
"Now, it's a fundamental part of my day."
Possums compete with native birds for habitat and for food such as insects and berries and also disturb nesting birds, eating their eggs and chicks. Dairy and deer farmers have the added worry of possums spreading bovine tuberculosis.
Drysdale believes the venture will bring more jobs to the rural community and expects the product to be in high demand.
"Ninety percent of our sales will be in overseas markets, including Europe, the United States and Asia."
The venture has the added benefit of revitalising a once thriving knitting factory which had dwindled to the point of closure.
The Bary Knitting Mills factory in Marton, near Palmerston North, had declined due to off-shore competition, and managing director Campbell Bary said China's increasing dominance in the textiles industry had made it very hard for factories like his to compete.
"While we used to produce about 130,000 woollen jerseys annually for the local and international market more than a decade ago, we now are currently down to producing just 3000," he said.
Now the factory will remain open and be used to produce the belt which Bary said is believed to help relax muscles and promote blood supply.
Back pain is the second most common cause of sick days off work and costs ACC around $300 million a year.
Natures Support managing director Jeremy Kerr says the company spent a year testing the product but it was Drysdale's success story which was particularly impressive.
Kerr says to create a product free of chemicals which consumers' skin might react to, a unique process was developed which draws on techniques used by Palaeolithic cavemen for processing animals skins using natural, tree resin tannins.