Issue Clothing Co. wants to simplify corporate wardrobes

Hannah Burnard and her business partner Robyn Pelvin were working in corporate roles when they became frustrated with the mainstream clothing options on offer. They decided to build a new capsule-style ecommerce shopping system, offering five work-appropriate pieces bundled together.

Burnard and Pelvin, who have backgrounds in retail, marketing and ecommerce; and banking and finance, respectively, are Issue Clothing Co.’s only two staff right now, but they’ve hired contractors to handle specialist aspects such as pattern-making. They launched the Christchurch-based business in April 2016.

Their capsules each offer a top, trousers, a skirt, a dress and a blazer. All the items are made in New Zealand, and collectively retail for $995. Burnard says she wants to popularise the kind of ecommerce experience offered by US retailer Trunk Club and Rent the Runway in New Zealand.

Left to right: Hannah Burnard and Robyn Pelvin of Issue Clothing Co.

You’ve mentioned Issue was partially founded out of a frustration with existing retail models. Can you tell us about what aspects of traditional shopping wasn’t working for you?

The product honestly wasn’t great. Our experience in more traditional workplaces was that there was a pressure and need to keep your wardrobe up to date and fresh. Newness, to a certain extent, was necessary, but it was hard to be smart about it with current offerings being too fashion-y, expensive or low quality.

We wanted good-quality staples that would wear and look great for a decent amount of time and no one was offering them in this market. That was the challenge that informed our approach with the product: high-quality, foundational wardrobe pieces.

We felt that ecommerce offerings helped and made the most sense from the pure convenience standpoint and expanded the options available, but fit and sizing was hard, and honestly, the options were lacking compared to Europe and the US. So we set out to build what we felt was missing.

How have you addressed those problems with Issue Clothing Co.?

We focus on simple silhouettes and neutral colours. We choose pieces that won’t date quickly so you’ll find yourself wearing them well beyond a season or two. It’s about ease and quality, and no regrets.

We then combine selections into a curated capsule so customers don’t have to think about it, they just purchase the capsule and suddenly they have a whole lot of new outfit options.

This is our way of making it an easy and smart investment. They can really make it their own too which gives wide appeal as we’re not telling people what they should be wearing.

We also offering free shipping and have a very open returns policy, allowing risks and barriers to trial to dissolve. We are constantly gathering feedback from our customers so we can better understand and solve for their pain points.

We are still very new so our product (and service) will likely continue to be fine-tuned.

All of Issue Clothing Co.’s garments are made in New Zealand. Why did you make that choice?

This one is easy - to ensure the quality and control we wanted we had to keep our production in New Zealand. It’s not only better product but we also know this is a really important factor to our customers from an ethics standpoint -- that decision was easy!

Can you share a bit about the design and manufacturing process? Was finding Kiwi manufacturers difficult?

In terms of design we work closely with our customers to adapt concepts into a tangible product. This has helped us learn quickly in the short-term. Our sampling process is extensive and allows us to tweak to make sure our fit is right. However, I will say, we are always looking for ways to improve so I’m sure this will continue to evolve as we learn and grow.

In terms of manufacturing, we work with a very talented pattern maker and production manager who is based out of Wellington. She is a rock star and we would, I’m certain, have had a much more difficult time with the manufacturing process without her.

You mentioned a desire to get into Australian and Southeast Asian markets – tell us about that.

We are actually already selling very well in Australia, which came as a surprise to us, so we’re looking into how to grow our awareness there and expand that opportunity. We currently offer free shipping to both New Zealand and Australia -- there is so much movement between the two markets it’s best for us to really almost treat it as one country.

Our opinion, and particularly as an ecommerce business, is that we’re operating in a global market from the outset. Our customers are young and in this day and age the likelihood is they’ll leave New Zealand and work somewhere else for at least a time (Australia, Singapore, etc).

We will continue to provide for these customers no matter where they live. For the purposes of having a focus in this stage of the business we are focused on New Zealand and Australia.

What’s next on the cards for Issue?

We are working on lots of projects: a pop-up shop roadshow, extended sizing, possibly maternity, and who knows maybe a store/work loft space. We are excited!

This story first appeared at The Register.