In Founder Focus we introduce entrepreneurs and change-makers working on innovative startups, social enterprises and SME’s around Aotearoa New Zealand.

At a glance

Founders: Paul Ensor, Harriet Bell & Siobhan O’Malley

Business: Hemprino

Founded: 2019

HQ: Canterbury

Can you tell us a bit about your business?

We make a unique blend of hemp fibre and merino wool which is knitted into soft, light, breathable jerseys and accessories, like scarves and hats. This all natural fibre blend is made in New Zealand – the yarn is made in Lower Hutt and the knitting is done in Tauranga.

Our customers are concerned about the environmental impact of their clothing choices, and prioritise natural fibres. Our garments can biodegrade at the end of their long life, and are a joy to wear in the meantime. Hemp offers durability and strength, which helps the garments hold their shape over time, while simultaneously getting softer against the skin with each wear.

We wanted to create wardrobe fundamentals that were classic, all-gender, and entirely natural fibres. Currently, we are e-commerce only, and use this model to keep our footprint low.

What’s the backstory for your business idea?

Founded by three farmers, Hemprino centered around the family farm of the Ensor family in the Rakaia Gorge. Paul is a merino grower from Mid-Canterbury and has a lifelong passion for merino. All three cofounders met on the Kellogg Rural Leadership Course in 2018 and when Siobhan came up with the idea, she called Paul as the only merino grower she knew.

The idea was 3 years in R&D, including the tricky covid period, and involved Siobhan and Paul travelling to Shanghai in 2019 to investigate knitting partners. Ultimately the product has come to made entirely in New Zealand, and Harriet is the sales and marketing specialist who masterminded bringing the product to market, in April 2022, as an e-commerce offering.

Although hemp and merino are both heritage fibres, they meet in this innovative blend for the first time in a knitted product.

What programmes, learning or mentoring, or resources have been of assistance so far?

  • We received a grant from AGMARDT (The Agricultural and Marketing Research and Development Trust) to help us develop our first prototypes and to travel to Shanghai as part of this.
  • We have leaned on the expertise in our supply chain partners and in other people working in the world of wool, such as the NZ Merino Company.


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