Standard Issue is the family-owned New Zealand label making knitwear to last a lifetime

Standard Issue is the family-owned New Zealand label making knitwear to last a lifetime

Close Knit: Standard Issue's story

“Slow-crafted with care for land, makers and community.”

As we move towards a sustainability-focused design future, it’s important to remember those who carved the way for slow fashion. One of those people was Nigel Richards, the founder of thoughtful Auckland-based fashion brand, Standard Issue. Launching the brand in the early ’80s, he had a “desire to create pieces to be treasured for a lifetime” – a sentiment that remains at the core of the Standard Issue DNA.

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Today, the family-run label is known for its high-quality merino knitwear, created consciously with respect for the land and its precious resources. Over 40 years in the industry have solidified Standard Issue’s status as a sustainable, quality-first fashion pioneer. Below, the brand’s CEO Emma Ensor speaks on local production, zero-waste fashion and the Standard Issue dedication to knitwear made to last.

Tell us about you. What’s your fashion background?

Hey, I’m Emma, the CEO of Standard Issue. My background isn’t actually in fashion! Standard Issue is a label that sits within our family-owned knitwear company. We’re proud to manufacture our brands in-house at our Tāmaki Makaurau (Auckland) workroom, using only natural fibres and a zero-waste output.

Our family also own a farm located at the top of the South Island where we run our own merino sheep. A lot of our brand ethos comes from growing up on the land. [This is also] why protecting and nurturing the land for future generations is integral to our cradle-to-cradle approach.

How did the label get started? Talk us through the process and the challenges.

Standard Issue was founded in the early ’80s by Nigel Richards. He was very much seen as a forward thinker and introduced many elements to the brand ‘before their time’… like the flagship store on Kitchener St in Auckland. [It] had a minimalistic aesthetic and the brand imagery he created still looks relevant to this day.

The landscape of making in Aotearoa has evolved greatly since the brand’s inception, with a lot of infrastructure moving offshore. Over the years, we’ve invested in technology to support our local production. Without this, it would be difficult to continue making [our pieces] here. Ensuring we upskill and cross-train our team is also mission-critical, with New Zealand not being a clothing manufacturing ‘hub’.

The upside of having our full team onsite is working with them every day and having full control over every aspect of manufacturing. It’s well worth the challenges and we have an amazing team with unique skills. However, [the continuation of this] relies on them passing their knowledge on to the next generation, alongside our investment in technology and innovation.

What were you trying to achieve from the project at the time? How has this evolved and what are you trying to communicate through the brand now?

At the heart of the brand DNA is our desire to create pieces to be treasured for a lifetime – this hasn’t changed. Making locally with longevity [in mind] and using local wool has always been a common thread as the brand has evolved.

Today, we continue to care deeply about what we make and how we make it, working with various amazing natural fibres. We’re finding ways to continue minimising our footprint while offering our customers garments constructed for living.

How would you describe your label to someone who’s never seen it before?

What are you most proud of in your work on your label?
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Firstly, our cradle-to-cradle and zero-waste approach. For us, everything starts and ends with the land. This means at the very beginning, we chose natural fibres grown in a way that positively impacts the micro-climate around them – through ethical and sustainable farming, biodiversity, or regenerative practices.

We ensure 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, we work alongside our customers to ensure no Standard Issue garment ever ends up in a landfill. Our Care for Life program is our promise to work alongside [our customers] to renew, reuse or repurpose their knit.

Secondly, our Jumper For Jumper initiative, which was launched in 2020. Working alongside the Middlemore Foundation, we knit and donate a jumper to our most vulnerable tamariki and their whanau for every Standard Issue jumper sold. One in nine Kiwi kids lives through winter without access to basic needs like sufficient food, a good bed or warm clothing.

For our most vulnerable families and their tamariki living in impoverished conditions, winter is a challenging time. So we wanted to support our local community with what we do best – making woollen jumpers to keep warm! This winter we donated 864 jumpers and our mission is to double this number each year.

A lot! I guess recognising you can’t change the industry by yourself… it takes time and many small steps across many people. Recognise this and take the time to be proud of what you do, even if it feels small. There are more and more people prepared to scratch beneath the surface to find brands putting the energy and time into doing better.

Who do you think is most exciting in Australian/NZ fashion right now?

I think we’ve got a bunch of brands leading the way to the change needed. I hope the current trend of localisation continues and we see more infrastructure and skills being regained in the industry here and in Australia.

How can we buy one of your pieces?

Head online to standardissueonline.com.au or standardissue.co.nz. Or if you’re vising New Zealand, come and see us in our flagship store in the Osborne Lane Precinct, Newmarket, Auckland.

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