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Kowtow Founder Gosia Piatek On Designing For A Better Future

by: Rosie Dalton | 1 year ago | Features

Image: Kowtow founder Gosia Piatek. Image source.

When New Zealand born designer Gosia Piatek first launched her label, Kowtow more than a decade ago, she wanted to save the world. And – lofty goal though this may have been – her ability to shed light on the importance of responsible production and sustainable fabrication has become a testament to her immense drive ever since. Just as an example of this, Kowtow sources all of its fairtrade organic cotton from India and works with fairtrade certified manufacturers in Kolkata and Mumbai.

Today, Gosia is Kowtow’s creative director and oversees a team of many – one that stretches the sea from Wellington, to Melbourne and, of course, the brand’s valued manufacturers in Kolkata and Mumbai. “There are many people involved in the process of making a Kowtow garment [and] we see all jobs as important,” the brand explains, adding “we care about everyone involved in making our clothes, from the organic cotton farmer to packers. Fair labour conditions are at the ethical core of Kowtow.” So, as the brand releases its latest fabulous collection, we asked Gosia to share her vision and some of the things that inspire her.

Rosie Dalton: Can you tell me a bit about how you first begun your journey of ethical fashion design?
Gosia Piatek
: Well I wanted to do something ethical and sustainable, but I didn’t know what it was and I didn’t have a background in fashion. I was really passionate and naïve — like I still am today — about saving the world [laughs]. My partner at the time was a graphic designer from London, so he had the creative background and I could handle the organisation. I Googled [fairtrade, organic cotton business] and rolled with it. Then six months later we found a factory and ordered some printed T-shirts, which were really nice quality. He left the business a few years later and I took on a girl named Chelsea, who suggested we do a great building block range in pared back, monochromatic colours and beautiful 100 GSM cotton. We basically made an eight-piece range and lost half of our stockists. But the ones we picked up really kickstarted the career. And I guess it felt like the first time I would wear the clothes.

Rosie: What would you say really drew you to the industry, without having had that prior experience in fashion?
: The reason I started Kowtow was because I wanted to do something that was meaningful. To do something that was sustainable from the moment it was planted. And then that wasn’t enough; I wanted to make sure that the people growing the cotton were being rewarded fairly for what they do and weren’t being exploited. I really do believe that nothing is perfect, but I would say that my mission right now is to go and spend a month with the farmers.

Rosie: I can imagine it must be pretty surreal, fostering a brand from the very beginning?
: Yeah but then there’s always more. You know, I went to Oxford Street in London the other day and I just really felt like it was soulless. Because you can either go to Oxford Street, with all the chains, or you can go down the road to Prada and the other untouchables. There are just no multi-brand boutiques here, which is really weird. I feel like it’s much more of a thing in Australia, New Zealand, or even New York. And I felt really saddened by that.

Image: the Rainbow Tee and Stage Pant

Rosie: Maybe you need to start your own!
: Yeah I know, but London is like the pinnacle. If you can make it in London, you’ve made it. To me, there’s no room for average in London. I don’t know how [I would achieve it], but where there’s a will, there’s a way I suppose. 

Rosie: The accessibility factor is really important. Why do you think it is that we’ve finally reached a point now where people are really beginning to care about ethical fashion?
: I think that the negative side of the fashion industry is in the media a lot these days, especially since Rana Plaza, which has made it seem a bit more real for people. And then climate change and Leonardo DiCaprio’s Oscars acceptance speech and stuff; I think these conversations have just really gained momentum recently. It’s amazing to think now that only five years ago world leaders were getting up and saying there’s no such thing as climate change. Because if you go to the Great Barrier Reef, it’s just actually not as colourful. Maybe it’s also this idea of wanting to be connected to human feelings, rather than just doing a job too. You know, I do this job because I know that it creates positive change and I personally need that sort of fulfilment.

Rosie: What are some of the main inspirations you draw from when designing?
: Our collections are very much art and design led. We have been inspired in the past by the optimistic visions of Mexican architect, Luis Barragán and Italian industrial designer, Joe Colombo, for example. Art and design can help inform our sense of colour and texture for the season, as well as shape and structure.

Image: the Tie Dress in Navy

Rosie: I particularly love your Kowtow denim pieces – can you run us through how a pair of Kowtow jeans comes to life, from concept to creation?
Gosia: The process takes over 16 months, from design concept, through development, to final design and fabric. From our studio in Wellington, we design the denim colour, weight and quality, then work hand in hand with our certified fairtrade manufacturing partners in India to develop the fabrics. We source OEKO-TEX certified, nickel free tacks (which are sustainably manufactured in Germany) and use GOTS certified dyeing and wash processes to ensure sustainable use and treatment of water.

Rosie: Why do you think it is so important for denim (and all clothing) to be made under fair conditions?
: It’s simple – we want everyone who makes our clothing to be treated fairly. Denim is no different and we are lucky to work with a small number of ethically certified suppliers and manufacturers who share the same belief as us.

Rosie: And what does ‘fair’ mean to Kowtow as a brand?
: We consider fairness across all sectors of our business. From ensuring everyone is being supported in their work and treated with respect. And this isn’t just in our production chain, but also applies to the way we work and communicate with our staff and customers. 

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