Dollars for scents

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Queenstowner Michael Sly is getting reaction to his quest for $500,000 seed money to create “a New Zealand fragrance identity”. 

Sly’s already had enquiries from potential backers in Blenheim and Dunedin after National Business Review ran a story on his perfume pitch earlier this month. 

Sly, 32, wants to commercialise the native plant taramea – or speargrass – found in South Island high country. 

Several years ago, he realised taramea had a unique scent – “a mixture of honey and toffee [aromas]”. 

He’s since spent a decade and “several hundred thousand” on developing a commercial extraction process – now patented. 

The next stage is the world stage, Sly says. 

“There are some substantial costs associated with taking it to an international level,” he warns – registration in Europe alone can be $200,000. 

But he’s done the ground work – including a 6000-plant crop test aptly located on Speargrass Flat Road. 

Harvesting requires Kevlar chainsaw pants and welding gloves to protect against the plant’s sharp spines and protective waxes. 

During the past five years, Sly says: “I’ve developed a 100 per cent sustainable harvesting method and I needed that five years to [ensure] the methods I’d initiated didn’t kill the plants.” 

The entrepreneur went to France’s Cosmethica conference last October to pick the brains of industry specialists. 

Several key requirements are needed for a successful perfume, Sly says, and taramea now “ticks all the boxes”. 

The name taramea runs in his family – Sly’s mother Ann Pinckney was a Wakatipu wine pioneer in the early 1970s with her Taramea winery on Speargrass Flat Rd.