A Look Inside Kowtow's Supply Chain

by: Rosie Dalton | 2 years ago | Features

Image: behnd the scenes at Kowtow’s fairtrade factory. Image source

Kowtow is an inspiring brand that is not only committed to sustainability and transparency, but also to Fair labour conditions for all its workers. This means for the cutters, machinists and finishers at their partner manufacturers in India, but also for the cook who feeds the workers there. And for the 21 people working across Kowtow’s Wellington head office and Melbourne showroom. Which is no small feat, but remains incredibly important to the ethical core of the brand.

Founded by Gosia Piatek more than ten years ago now, Kowtow has naturally expanded and evolved quite a bit since then – with an international team that now works with agents and showrooms in New York, Copenhagen, Tokyo, Sydney & Auckland. So we wanted to delve a little deeper into how a Kowtow garment is made and asked the brand to share a little insight into their production processes and how a successful ethical fashion brand really needs to be a team effort.

Rosie Dalton: Whereabouts is the Kowtow production facility located and what happens there?
: We source all our fairtrade organic cotton from India so it felt natural to work with fairtrade certified manufactures in Kolkata & Mumbai. The curated selection of T-shirts used for our recent collaboration with Caroline Walls were manufactured in Kolkata and printed in Wellington, New Zealand.

Rosie: How many people work for Kowtow today?
: Our head office/workroom is based in Wellington, New Zealand. We employ 19 amazing people. We also have a Melbourne showroom with 3 more.

Rosie: Can you run us through some of the different roles that exist within the overall operation?
: There are many people involved in the process of making a Kowtow garment – from Gosia’s creative direction for design, patternmaking & sampling in New Zealand, through to our partner manufacturers in India – cutters, machinists and finishers. We see all jobs at our manufacturers as important, including the cook who feeds the workers, the ladies who sweep the floor and the men who make cups of tea for us when we visit! Once our garments leave the factory our sales and marketing team works with agents and showrooms in New York, Copenhagen, Tokyo, Sydney & Auckland.

Rosie: How would you describe the atmosphere in and around the Kowtow production facility?
: Like the streets of India, our manufacturers are busy and that’s how they like it. What really stands out at the factories is the high level of order and organisation – they are run by and employ people who share our passion for organic, sustainable fabrics, fair working conditions and pride in their work. Every six months we visit these factories, wander anywhere, ask questions and really enjoy the energetic atmosphere of the factory.

Rosie: Why are fair labour conditions so important for the brand?
Kowtow: We care about all people who are involved in making our clothes, from the organic cotton farmer to packers. Fair labour conditions are at the ethical core of Kowtow and, although this has its challenges, we believe working with suppliers that have internationally recognised certifications and regular auditing is important to our sustainability.

Rosie: And how does Kowtow approach this?
: We have a set of fair labour certifications, which we require of every new supplier before we start a relationship with them; so this is a given.

Rosie: Would you say that the creation of each individual garment is a team effort and, if that’s the case, how so?
: Absolutely. With our design team in New Zealand and manufacturing in India, communication is key. Each factory has a dedicated ‘merchandiser’ who is our direct contact and our production manager is in daily communication with them. We also work with an independent Indian based contractor, who visits factories in between our trips.

Rosie: How did the latest Kowtow collaboration with artist Caroline Walls first come about?
: We noticed common aesthetics in both practices which embraced minimalism and a streamlined colour palette, so to collaborate felt really natural and authentic. Our concept was quite simple and yet powerfully universal – to inspire confidence and empowerment in a world where women's bodies keep on being mistreated. For us, working with Caroline was the natural choice for this project.

Rosie: Can you tell us a bit about the pieces in the collab and what the overall creation process was like?
Kowtow: The two paintings used in the collaboration are titled Calling Out of Context and This Must Be the Place from Caroline’s Another Thought collection. The physical works are large-scale paintings on canvas, making the biggest challenge communicating the evocative nature of Caroline’s art onto fabric in a wearable scale. The softness of our organic cotton allowed us to capture the femininity of Caroline’s work and make it look amazing on the body. Caroline utilises milky and oak tones beautifully, so it was really important to match the colours from her work carefully and accurately. We used water-based inks in our printing process and worked with a local artisan screen printer, who opened up his studio to us so we could ensure the final shades matched the original artwork. 

You can shop all of our pieces by Kowtow over here

This article reflects these values click to shop the value

This article reflects these values

Tap value for more information

Shop related categories