standard issue

Close Knit: Standard Issue's story

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Since establishing in the 1980s, Standard Issue has been an enduring part of New Zealand’s fashion industry, producing timeless, quality knitwear, all proudly made in the brand’s Auckland workroom. Standard Issue recently opened the doors to its flagship store in Osborne Lane where customers can shop the full range and gain insight into the craftsmanship and values behind every knit. Maddie Irvine caught up with the local label’s new owner Emma Ensor to learn more about Standard Issue’s story and the commitment to creating a more sustainable future through fashion.

NEWMARKET. How did Standard Issue come to be?
EMMA. The brand was founded in the 1980’s by Nigel Richards who had a clear vision from the beginning and set the strong foundations that have enabled the brand to still be relevant today. At some point he was also making amazing leather boots in New Zealand alongside the knitwear. Although Nigel is no longer part of the business, his ethos from the early days of making great quality knits designed to endure remains unchanged today.

N. Very few fashion brands are 100% designed and made in New Zealand due to resource constraints being such a small nation, yet Standard Issue has managed to remain local over the last 4 decades. How has this been achieved?

E. It really is through the blending of multi-generational craftmanship with technological innovation. We have an amazing team with unique skills, it is reliant on them passing this on to the next generation alongside our investment in technology. Our knitting machines are from Shima Seiki, Japan - a company founded on continuous innovation. We love how they continue to push the boundaries, enabling us also to push ourselves and innovate, all while delivering a zero-waste production cycle.

N . A core part of Standard Issue’s mission is to leave the land better for future generations. What steps are taken to ensure this mission is met?
E. I grew up on a farm in the Waihopai Valley, Marlborough. This property remains in the family, with four generations having now grown up in this magical spot. We believe that we are simply custodians of the land and it is our role to pass it on to the next generation better than we received it. Growing on this
land, I subconsciously learnt and recognised the intrinsic link between our actions and the impact it has on the land, people and animals around us. For us, everything starts and ends with the land. This means at the very beginning choosing natural fibres which are grown in a way that positively impact the micro-climate around it, whether that be through ethical and sustainable farming, biodiversity, or regenerative practices. Through to how we produce, ensuring our production process results in zero waste – this is achieved through zero-waste knitting technology, and repurposing all our production offcuts into household insulation products through a local textile waste company. And at the very end, working alongside our customers to ensure no Standard Issue garment ever ends up in landfill through our Care for Life programme – which is our promise to work alongside them to renew, reuse or repurpose their knit.

N. Circularity is another key aspect of your brand mission, with each garment designed to last a lifetime. How do you encourage this circularity and why?

E. I remember from my childhood being gifted a woollen jumper every so often (usually a hand-me-down), it would always be too big initially as the intention was for it to last a few years before I grew out of it. The principle of made to last, that I would outgrow it before it needed replacing, was just a given. Knitwear is emotional - it’s special and it should last! Our Care for Life initiative was put in place to ensure every Standard Issue knit has a lifelong story to tell. We will either renew a garment through mending or for garments that are wearable but no longer wanted, we encourage our customers to gift it on, or alternatively we will redistribute it on their behalf. And for clothing beyond renewing or reusing, it is repurposed into household insulation.

N. How has the brand evolved in terms of garment design and the technology used to create each piece?
E. Essentially as time has gone on, we have continued to invest in knitting technology which has allowed us to continue to focus on creating new designs that can be made with a zero- waste output.

N. Opening the Standard Issue flagship store must have been a huge milestone for the brand. Why did you choose Newmarket, and how did the space come together?

E. The brand had a flagship store on Kitchener Street in its early years, however this is the first flagship since we have owned the brand, and for some years. We looked at multiple locations but fell in love with the site, building and atmosphere of Osborne Lane. It felt like the perfect fit for the brand. We gave ourselves only a few weeks to pull it all together so it was a massive effort from the team and our family. Where possible we used repurposed materials, however the biggest challenge was getting the industrial knitting machine in store - we have an amazing video of the machine being wheeled down Osborne Street at 4am!

N. The Jumper for Jumper initiative in partnership with Middlemore Foundation helps vulnerable families keep warm through winter by donating a jumper for every jumper purchased. Could you talk us through this initiative?

E. As a mum, one of the things that’s always top of my mind as the chilly months kick in, is keeping my kids warm and well. Knowing there are other parents who would struggle to do just that is heart-breaking.I wanted to use our expertise to help those who need it most. From this, Jumper for Jumper was born. We’re proud to have partnered with the Middlemore Foundation, who provide amazing support to our community. In terms of how the initiative works – we simply gift a jumper for every Standard Issue jumper purchased online or in-store through the winter months. We wanted to make the initiative as accessible to as many as possible, and in the spirit of considered purchasing, wanted to ensure those who already had their winter knits covered could still gift a jumper, so you can also purchase a jumper for a small fee and we will knit and gift one on your behalf. This year we gifted over 800 jumpers and have big aspirations to continue to grow this quantity every year. During the winter months you can see these jumpers being made in-store.

N. Standard Issue uses only natural fibres which are renewable and recycled. What is the process behind sourcing these?

E. As we manufacture everything ourselves, we have direct relationships with some of the very best yarn suppliers across the globe. We work in close partnership with
a select handful and have built great relationships with them over the years. These partnerships allow our team to better understand the supply chain and production processes to ensure Standard Issue continues to make decisions that have a positive impact.

N. The brand has recently collaborated with popular leather goods label, Yu Mei, creating gorgeous cashmere sweaters. Yu Mei has also recently opened an Auckland flagship in Newmarket. What was the driving force behind this collaboration?

E. It was really down to our alignment of values. We have a shared commitment to circularity, uncompromising quality and a focus on innovation. Working with Jessie and her team on this collaboration was fun and rewarding and we love the end result.

N. Can you tell us your best fashion investment?
E. Definitely a pair of handmade leather heels from G&L in Paddington, Sydney. Authentic craftsmanship made to last through and through. I became a bit of a regular customer, so he’d pull
out one-offs he would have made for designers for the runway or photoshoots which of course I purchased a few of – I’m not sure he was really allowed to sell these to me!

N. What is next for Standard Issue?
E. We’re on a continuous journey of improvement across the board. It will never stop! There is some exciting news coming for our next Winter collection – watch this space!

N. Your most worn Standard Issue piece?

E. Lots! But I always love to throw on a Tulle Top.

N. Secrets to business longevity?
E. Foster talent, ensure it is handed down and invest in technology.