Lisa Knowler, founder of NZ linen brand House of March, talks about how premium bedding and ethical practices can go hand-in-hand.
What does your business do?
Our business creates duvet covers, sheets and pillowcases made from soft and silky cotton. Our products are designed to give the best sleep experience.
We are Fairtrade certified and made from GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard) certified cotton. Being Fairtrade certified means that we have gone through their auditing process to obtain our certification and that our supply chain is fully audited and is also Fairtrade. We also ensure our products don’t contain any pesticides or nasty chemicals, which is often the case with store-bought bedding products without traceability.
We basically want Kiwis to know you can have premium bed sheets and have the full ethical experience.
What was the motivation for starting it?
A number of years ago my husband and I stayed in the Savoy hotel in London as a birthday treat for him. I was blown away by the bedsheets there and realised I had nothing like the feel of them on my own bed. I started buying high-end bed linen and became the authority on bed sheets for all of my friends.
When I returned to New Zealand I was trying to have a baby and detoxing my life. I needed new bed linen and started looking into how and where most of the world’s bed sheets are made. I actually spent about a year analysing shipping data for really high-end labels and lower-end labels and I deduced, that at that time, the majority of the world’s premium and lower-end brands were created in a few factories in the same country. As I was buying high-end designer sheets I was pretty dismayed to find out they were made in the same factory as lower-end brands.
I decided it would be great to offer New Zealand a point of difference and so started researching areas where beautiful cotton was being grown and decided on India.
Why is it called House of March?
I was born in the month of March. I love how “House of” can conjure up images of haute couture, for example, “House of Gucci” or “House of Versace” and I wanted my bed linens to conjure up that same imagery given that we are a premium product. I also love the idea of “marching” in a different direction to current conventional bedding practices by the very fact that we are Fairtrade certified and made from certified organic cotton that is grown in rain-fed regions of India (so no irrigation etc). I also love how when it is abbreviated it is “HOM” which alludes to one’s home and sanctuary.
What’s your background?
I am formally trained in fashion design, I trained here in New Zealand and then I left for London and trained further there, under Martin Shoben, one of the top pattern-cutters at the London College of Fashion, at his private school in Angel. I carried on in the fashion space via styling and working occasionally as a makeup artist but found my main career in the area of technology, and worked for some of the major banks in the UK in that space.
What are you focusing on right now?
I am focusing on growing the brand and getting the brand message out there to New Zealanders, that message being that you can have Fairtrade bed linens which are also a premium product. I create the bed linens I would like to sleep in. I am also focusing potentially on the retail space and also building the digital footprint. I am also looking at the next range and what that will be in terms of colour etc.
What is the main challenge you are facing?
The main challenge currently is getting the brand out there and competing with fast fashion being able to offer products at really cheap prices. We offer a premium product in terms of look and feel and it is just getting that message out there. It is also hard to compete with the greenwashing that is going on in the e-commerce and retail space. I see other bed linen companies making claims in terms of being ethical when they are not certified in any of the organic or fair trading spaces and are being made in factories that do not uphold ethical or environmental values. It is hard for consumers to know who is really ethical, if they care about that sort of thing. So, I have to find ways to try to overcome that and get our message across to customers and build that trust.
How big is your team?
My team is myself in the design area and our supplier in India who makes the products that I design from beautiful long-staple GOTS-certified cotton. Our supplier goes above and beyond in the ethical and environmental space and we have a great working relationship.
What advice do you give to others thinking about starting their own business?
Find your niche and be the best in that niche. My niche is premium bed linens for people who also care about who made their products and where they were made. Question everything that you can and really make sure you keep on top of costs. If your product is not selling, be prepared to look closely at why and be prepared to pivot if possible. Also, as much as you can, reach out to your potential customers and them what they want and what they care about.