There’s that famous scene in Mean Girls Tina Fey’s character asks “who here feels victimised by [antagonist] Regina George?” Every hand in the gymnasium is swiftly raised. Replace ‘Regina George’ with ‘Covid-19’ and watch every hand in the world shoot up. After the warm fuzzies of the “sheep take over local town” stories wore off, the impact the pandemic had on individuals, economies, and businesses sunk in.
Some of the hardest hit were small, homegrown companies. Forced to shut up shop and barred from trading over New Zealand’s nationwide lockdown, local fashion designers struggled to stay afloat.
One brand that bore the brunt of Covid-19, is Ingrid Starnes. A decade-old label that has dressed New Zealand women in timeless pieces and who counts Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern among its dedicated fans. Just as the brand celebrated 10 years of success and opened a new store in Auckland’s Commercial Bay, the pandemic hit.
We all stayed home, we cancelled events, and we made less money. It makes sense that we stopped buying fashion. In response to the challenging and uncertain market, Ingrid Starnes made the difficult and heart-breaking decision to shut up its retail boutiques for good.
But while Covid-19 hit Ingrid Starnes hard, you don’t become one of New Zealand’s most cherished fashion labels without resilience and adaptability. In a response to an ever-changing world, Ingrid Starnes has reacted with steadfast determination, meeting the challenge head on with a unique online-only, pre-purchase, limited-run model.
What this means for the customer is that pieces can be viewed online, and ordered in the usual way but the difference is a maximum of 100 pieces of each style will be made. To reduce waste, they won’t be made at all unless a minimum number of pieces per style are ordered. It is only once that minimum order is met and the style has been available to order for a substantial period that the brand closes orders and begins production.
Even though the new model sounds more exclusive and therefore like it could come with a hefty price tag, the opposite is true. Because the new model is limited in run, Ingrid Starnes has been able to pass the cost saving onto the customer. As a result customers can expect to pay 30 per cent less for their designs. “We’re trying to offer a meaningful alternative to two of the big problems we see in fashion: the cost inaccessibility of NZ-made clothing, and the overproduction that has so many human and environmental costs,” Starnes explains.
It’s a noble goal – and one that certainly presents a number of solutions to the unsustainable fast-fashion model. But the big question is: will it work? With no option to try before you buy and no more overnight delivery – you’ll have to wait three to six weeks for your order to be made and shipped – the new Ingrid Starnes model will undoubtedly force its clientele to rethink the way they shop.
However, Starnes and managing director Simon Pound are optimistic. Although they’re well aware that it’s a big ask for their consumers to forgo the immediate gratification of shopping that we’ve all become accustomed to, the pair say that so far that the response has been encouraging. “We’ve had a great response to the idea, lots of people share our concerns and our hopes, and we’ve had over 10 years of collections so many people know the fit and make quality, so we’re hopeful,” says Pound.
While everything is designed by Starnes and her team, once a style goes live on the website, it will be up to the consumer whether the style makes it into production or not. The duo behind the brand aren’t disheartened by this thought. Where a traditional seasonal model sees looks churned out regardless of whether they might sell or not, the new Ingrid Starnes model sets a minimum number of pieces that need to be purchased before the said style enters production.
“There may be pieces that don’t get supported to production,” explains Pound. “If this happens it will be a good thing. It will have saved us making something that wasn’t needed. We only want to make the pieces people want. We don’t want to add to the speculative stock build-up and boom-and-bust cycles of retail. But it is a bit nerve-wracking to truly have it that we don’t decide what is made, the customers do.”
Luckily for Starnes and Pound, the brand isn’t short of loyal fans and over the last decade Ingrid Starnes has garnered client base that is sure to get behind the new business model. With pieces really are the closest thing you can get to one-of-a-kind in the fashion world.