August marks the end of an era for the husband-and-wife-duo whose clothing brand was catapulted onto the global stage by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.
The last of Ingrid Starnes' stores - its Ponsonby flagship and brand new Commercial Bay location - will close for good at the end of next month.
Designer Ingrid Starnes founded the business with her husband Simon Pound in 2009, when they were in their late 20s and shortly after their twins were born.
While the pair are sad that Covid-19 has forced them to scale back operations and shut the retail stores, Starnes says it is an opportunity for the brand to re-invent itself in an e-commerce capacity with fewer risks, and lower overheads.
Starnes looks after the creative side, while Pound runs the day-to-day operations of the business.
As Pound sees it, the pandemic has set the pair back a couple of years but he is determined to pay off suppliers and wrap up the past decade of business with a clean slate.
Ingrid Starnes found itself in financial strife through lockdown when sales fell by 80 per cent and orders were cancelled, forcing it to lay off all its staff but one and shut its Vulcan Lane store.
The company launched a crowdfunding campaign to help it carry on, but funding fell through when just $120,000 of the $200,000 target was met. It plans to continue its operations as an online business selling made-to-order garments.
Pound says Covid-19 created a financial hole greater than $200,000.
Has the business earned back the money invested in the brand over the past decade? Not now, Pound laughs. Not since Covid-19 knocked the wind out of its sails.
"The business was going quite well, which is why we were trying to expand to a larger store in the Commercial Bay development. For the last three years we'd broken even or returned a small profit and we felt really confident, but with Covid hitting and the headwinds, we went from being a positive story to being undercapitalised, over-extended and forecasting that sales wouldn't be as easy as in past years.
"When we realised we were going to be in trouble, we tried to do a crowdfund; the crowdfund wasn't successful, and then after that happened we realised that there wasn't actually any other way to responsibly do another season without the potential of going into insolvency and losing people's money," he explains.
"We're going to, personally, go back quite a way, but it was more important to us that we wound things up so we could do right by all of our suppliers and debts."
The Ingrid Starnes brand was destined for big things this year. It had planned to launch a collection into Paris, but it wasn't to be.
The business is now continuing to trade and the couple hope that profits from sales of existing stock will be enough to pay back suppliers by the end of this year.
Designer Starnes previously worked as a junior designer for Kate Sylvester and was on leave when she made the decision to launch her fashion label and take control of her own destiny.
"I've always loved clothing, always been a maker," says Starnes, reflecting on the motivation for starting the label in 2009. The business started out sharing stores with the now-disestablished Miss Crabb and with Tessuti.
"Once I'd left to have the twins it was kind of that choice - they got to a year old or maybe not even a year and it was 'what am I going to do' - I was active and busy making lots of things and between me and Simon we thought this might be the time to start a small collection and see what happens."
Her first collection, autumn/winter 2009, is still one of her favourites, she says.
In the early days Starnes worked with a pattern maker and once the business secured a few orders she made a lot of the collections herself and things grew from there.
But now, ten and a half years later, after a high of nine staff and contracting out-workers, the business has laid off its staff and begun shutting its stores.
"It [Covid-19] caught us at a time where we were quite stretched," says Starnes.
The retailer had just signed on to Commercial Bay - investing heavily in extra stock and taking on debt to cover getting into the 57 square metre store - and was part way through production for its next collection.
"The responsible thing to do was pull back - it wouldn't be responsible to keep going [with the same business model]."
Ingrid Starnes has been receiving rent relief from Commercial Bay owner Precinct Properties since Covid-19. If the Commercial Bay store had not gone ahead, the outcome for the business might have been different, she says.
At the height of its success Ingrid Starnes had three stores - in Ponsonby, Newmarket and Vulcan Lane - and about 20 stockists. It began opening stores four years after its inception.
But the journey in business has not been without its setbacks. In 2017, a fire in a food court in Newmarket ravaged Ingrid Starnes' Teed St store and forced its closure.
Starnes says there have been lots of setbacks along the way, but the label will reinvent itself. While she is not yet sure what that will look like, she says it will involve e-commerce and custom orders.
The business may revisit its wholesale model on a smaller scale later down the track.
"It will be more of a customer demand-based business, we've got our next collection, which I'd already designed, and it's collaborated with artist Amy Neave - there's piece in there that we will bring forward from there and make if there is demand.
"We're three months in now, a few of the staff have left and people are starting to get jobs and I'm really sad about it, but really happy that things are moving and we're starting to feel like we've made this decision and can now focus on the next phase," she says.
"The biggest goal for us is to pay all of our suppliers back and go out with our heads held high and continue working with them."
Starnes has a particular interest in lingerie, which she says could be part of her next move. She will continue her bridal and custom order work when she moves from Ponsonby back into her workroom at home, and wants to continue working with artists.
"We've got the chance to go back and work on the next collection and make it more special. It was so hectic and busy, and so many running parts, that [this decision] will really bring it back to what the real focus is."
Starnes says she is past feeling sadness and excited for the "creative freedom" ahead.
"Having built up 10 years of an amazing loyal customer base, [now] kind of starting from the beginning with that following, could be [beneficial]."
Some of Starnes' most memorable moments include fashion shows down O'Connell St laneway in Auckland city, Te Papa archiving a piece of her work and when Ardern wore an Ingrid Starnes shirt for the cover of Time magazine.
"She's a great supporter of New Zealand labels," says Starnes.
"The day she wore the Mio top on the cover of Time she texted Simon - it could have been any top, let's be honest. It's beautiful, sure, but it is just a cream top. To say 'I've still got this' - that was pretty special."
Ardern often frequented the Ponsonby store for a shop, she says.
Starnes says New Zealand's fashion industry is very different to what it was when she started out pattern making.
Today's consumers are more conscious about where their garments come from and how they are made, and offshore manufacturing is commonplace.
"It's always changing," says Starnes.
"Sounds like you're almost a dinosaur when you say how e-commerce is now probably the biggest part of our business and that's kind of crazy to think."
Starnes says it has become much harder to run a profitable fashion business in New Zealand, and the hours of work needed to succeed are huge.
She is familiar with working "huge hours" each week during sampling season and has often worked more than 80 hours a week.
"There's this glamour ... just because of what you charge clothes out at, but when you put down every part of what it takes to make that one piece and all the sampling that goes into it and the photoshoots. The other thing is, you can be snipping something and the tiniest mark and that garment is over then it is sold for nothing. There are so many running parts and so many things involved, especially if you are making locally."