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October 2017 Issue
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Earth Sea Sky

David, Michael and Jane Ellis – the fifth and sixth generations of the Ellis family to manufacture outdoor clothing. Their brand Earth Sea Sky won the Outdoor Brand of the YearPhoto: Dennis Radermacher
Brand of the Year

With five generations of manufacturing experience, the Ellis family’s products have been on expeditions that have become part of the fabric of Kiwi exploration, including Sir Edmund Hillary’s first summit of Everest and his pioneering expedition to the South Pole.

Coming from such stock, it’s not surprising Earth Sea Sky has been named Brand of the Year.

Company founder David Ellis’ great great grandfather started Arthur Ellis & Co, which began producing outdoor products in the 1920s under the Fairydown brand. Fairydown became a pioneer in developing sleeping bags and jackets, which were later used on the first New Zealand expeditions in the Himalaya.

Ellis’ father was also part of Hillary’s ‘dash to the pole’ expedition, which reached the South Pole on tractors in 1958. The crew were, of course, kitted out with Fairydown.

But Ellis’s career in the industry was far from predestined. His father believed the family dynasty should come to an end to let new life into the company – but Ellis couldn’t resist the pull of designing for the outdoors.

“I was a keen mountaineer, tramper and skier, and very early on I enjoyed learning about outdoor equipment and the design side of things,” Ellis says.

When he joined the company in 1980, he kept it undercover – his father, then executive director, was furious when he found out.

Ellis started Earth Sea Sky with his wife Jane in 1990, after Arthur Ellis & Co was sold to an overseas company.

Earth Sea Sky was based on the philosophy of making high quality outdoor clothing stylish, he says.

“Before then, clothing was very functional and not much emphasis was placed on style.”

The company now employs the sixth generation of Ellis manufacturers – David’s son Michael works for the company in online sales and dispatch.

“Our point of difference is we retain the values of the past. We’ve had a name change, but the style, heritage and knowledge has been maintained as a thread right through.”

The company still produces all of its clothing in New Zealand, and it’s worn by Antarctica New Zealand staff and the New Zealand Police peacekeeping force in the South Pacific.