Lisa Knowler’s love affair with high-quality bed linen began with a stay at the world-famous Savoy Hotel in London where she lived with her husband. “The sheets and pillowcases were so lovely and soft to sleep on, that from that moment on I have always had a thing about buying the best bed linen possible. Having a great sleep experience is important to me and luxury sheets is now a part of that.”
After living overseas for a decade, Lisa and her husband returned home to New Zealand eight years ago with the desire to start a family, only to discover that their fertility journey wasn’t so straightforward. Struggling to maintain a pregnancy, Lisa started evaluating not only what she was eating, but also what products she was using on her body, as well as in her home. In a bid to live as toxin-free as possible, she switched to organic produce and products.
When researching the chemicals in bedlinen, Lisa was shocked to discover that many store-bought duvet covers, sheets and pillowcases are soaked in harmful chemicals to prevent wrinkling – one such ingredient is formaldehyde, a known carcinogen. Or, they are made from cotton that is grown using harmful pesticides and toxins. “The idea of sleeping on that every night was so off-putting,” says Lisa. “I wanted a better option not only for myself, but also for others.” Having studied fashion design, the only obvious answer was to create her own range of safe, chemical-free and organic bed linen, and so the idea for House of March was born.
It wasn’t until Lisa sadly lost her father to Covid-19 that she became serious about starting the business. “New Zealand was in lockdown and my family and I were unable to fly to see my father when he was ill or then go to his funeral – we watched it on a video screen. This was a turning point for me. I decided that life is short and anything can happen, so there was no better time to start House of March.”
While being chemical-free was of utmost importance to Lisa, she did not want to compromise on the luxurious feel of the bed linen that she had become so accustomed to. The fabric needed to be soft and light against the skin, and wash and wear well. Using her knowledge of textiles, she started researching organic cotton growing practices, finally finding the perfect product in India where long-staple cotton is grown in rain-fed areas without irrigation. “Long staple cotton is superior in feel to short staple cotton, giving a much smoother feel against the skin,” says Lisa.
“We spend a huge amount of time in bed, so I think it is important that we have as ‘clean’ a sleep as possible and that means no nasty chemicals or toxins against our bodies. Organic cotton is grown without any pesticides and our products are finished without any harmful chemicals – so from seed to sew it has full traceability. If a customer can have premium sheets that are also organic, then it’s a win-win situation.”
Partnering with a Fairtrade supplier meant that House of March became New Zealand’s first Fairtrade certified bedding company. “Fairtrade means a lot of things, but the key things that are extremely important to me are that our organic cotton growers are paid a fair and decent price for the amazing cotton that they grow, and a proportion of sales goes back into the community,” says Lisa. “It also means that our entire supply chain is Fairtrade and that my company and everyone in my supply chain is audited. We are audited against things like only using adult employees with free will, that they work decent hours in safe conditions, and that they are paid a fair and decent wage – many of the rights that we would expect from our own workplaces in New Zealand.”
Intended to fit into any bedroom, the House of March range of duvet covers, sheets and pillowcases is timeless in its design. The current range – so popular that it has sold out in many sizes – consists of a crisp white palette with borders in various shades, from mink to navy. “I wanted to create luxurious bed linens in beautiful neutral designs that will fit into any colour scheme, but which will standalone to create a beautiful visual aesthetic,” says Lisa. A new range of colours is to be released in May.
Where will House of March be in the next 10 years? “I want House of March to be the first company people think of when needing to buy new bed linen,” says Lisa. “I want to be associated with quality and longevity and ethical design. Some House of March shops dotted around New Zealand would be pretty nice also.”