Kayne Horsham saw the export potential in a lightweight chainmail he created for the LOTR movies. today Kaynemaile is being sold to architectural buyers around the world.
By Catherine Beard.
Kaynemaile is a smart name for a smart product that’s gone from being used to make costumes for movie actors, to wrapping itself around multi-storey buildings.
It has a higher strength to weight ratio than steel and is made from the same material as bullet-proof glass. Couple that with its extreme flexibility, and the mind boggles as to what it could be used for on a large scale.
So how was this new twist on a 2000-year-old material born?
It all started when, as artistic director for Weta Workshop’s Creatures, Armour and Weapons Department working on movies like Lord of the Rings, Kayne Horsham was given the challenge of figuring out how to make lightweight chainmail for actors.
“Real steel chainmail was too heavy and so we started using plastic tubing to hand-make a lightweight version,” says Kayne. “Each link was assembled by hand – and there’s up to 80,000 links per shirt. It took one person 4-6 weeks to make one shirt, and we were making armies of them!”
So Weta’s production unit spent millions of dollars just on assembling the material in Wellington. “I noticed that most people that made contact with it really liked the way it looked and felt, it’s tactility, and how easy it draped on your skin. It just made people happy!
“I kept thinking, ‘This is a 2000-year-old material that we’re bringing into the 21st Century’, There was an across-the-board attraction to it and I figured there had to be potential in it,” says Kayne, who then approached his boss, head of Weta Workshop, Sir Richard Taylor.
“I told him that once the LOTR films had wrapped, I was thinking of trying to make a machine to make the plastic chainmail. He said he’d love to be my first customer.”
Creating the product
Kayne’s first step was to engage a mechanical engineer. They collaborated on the design of a machine to replicate what people did – assembling the links. But he soon realized that commercially it didn’t have a lot of logic – for example you could employ third world labour for a similar cost.
“I was about to tell my ‘Dear John’ letter for my investor, when I thought: why not make the links already assembled using injection molding?” says Kayne.
“I built a Plasticine example of my first injection molding machine and approached engineers here and overseas. All of them said I was dreaming,” says Kayne.
So he put it on the backburner and did a project for the BBC. Then a year and a half later, he got a call from one of the first engineers he’d spoken to, who said he wanted to give it a try.
By targeting an architectural market that appreciates the unique structural capability of the material, as well as the look, Kayne found a niche for what the actor Viggo Mortensen named ‘Kaynemaile’. The material creates a decorative and functional 3D façade for buildings.
Right now, his team are manufacturing the world’s largest seamless skin for a multi-storey building in Australia. It will weigh nearly 4.5 tonnes and wrap a city block. No other material in the world can do that. It’s fire-resistant, UV-stabilized, offers solar protection, and can’t corrode like traditional metal meshes do.
How they went global
“To get a market of scale we needed to look internationally,” says Kayne.
I was nominated for and won the innovative material of the year award at the International Federation of Design Awards in Germany. That led to a number of German resellers approaching Kaynemaile, and saw them signing some exclusive arrangements in Europe.
Recently Kaynemaile won the prestigious 2017 NYCxDesign Architectural Product of the Year, which has stimulated a lot of new opportunity not just in the US but around the world.
They’re now working on architectural solutions in around 30 different countries. Rather than having official re-sellers, they’ve found that with time and exposure in the design market, using internet based tools plus the classic jump-on-a-plane approach, 90% of their work comes from direct trade offshore.
“Now 90% of our sales are export and 90% of that export trade is direct,” says Kayne. “With a staff of 10, we’re small enough to collaborate and work as a team, which gives the customer more comfort – and we’re renowned for problem-solving on the spot!
“We’re not interested in just selling mesh, we’re interested in collaborating and creating something amazing. We help designers stretch their creativity and give them confidence to do that, which leads to very strong relationships.”
“There’s quite a snowball effect happening at the moment! We need to become a lot more focused in verticals of the architectural market,” says Kayne.
“We’re a niche product that provides a unique practical solution and functional aesthetic. I’m employing business development managers for different applications of the product – the Solar armour market for buildings, and interiors space providing screening solutions, then I’m going to spend more time in the high-end innovative markets – for example we may be working on a very large stadium in the States.
“The future is a bit of an unknown at the moment, but we expect Kaynemaile to be on buildings for several decades to come.”
Catherine Beard is executive director of ExportNZ. www.exportnz.co.nz