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Back in Time: Kowtow

Created in 2007 by Gosia Piatek, Kowtow launched from a small home-based dream to one of New Zealand’s most respected ethical brands as it celebrates its first decade in business.

Kowtow was created from $5,000 – hardly anything in the world of fashion start-ups. The budget saw Piatek tracing fashion patterns onto newspaper, rather than pattern making card which she couldn’t afford.

After having an idea for an ethical fashion brand, Piatek found a factory in Calcutta, India with ethical standards that met her own and a source of cotton that was fairtrade and organic.

The brand started off, as most do, selling t-shirts and hoodies. Sticking it out through the tough years of a juvenile business saw Piatek at the head of what is now a complete head-to-toe brand, which has even worked its way into homewares. The Wellington-based label has combined a love for the planet and a love for fashion into something extraordinary.

Influenced by architecture, street style and interior design, Kowtow has a distinctive minimalist aesthetic that is easily recognisable in New Zealand fashion press. Each item sports a notable lack of embellishments and zips.

This is because the Kowtow team has not yet found a source of sustainable, ethically produced zips, so its clothing doesn’t use them. They come up with inventive design solutions instead. All Kowtow’s buttons are made from recycled hemp, and parcels are sent out in recycled card packages.

The brand only uses cotton/elastane in tighter clothing as it is reluctant to “add clutter to our designs.”

Kowtow is certified by the Fairtrade Labelling Organisation, which works with marginalised cotton farmers to ensure they work in humane conditions, and recently scored A+ for policies, and A- for knowing suppliers, auditing supplier relationships also worker empowerment in the 2017 Ethical Trade Survey.

Piatek told Retail NZ that consumers often overlook ethical markers and buy based off aesthetic preferences. She is under no illusions that being cool first, and good for the world second, was a main driver for the business growing as it has.

“Conscious fashion is not a trend anymore – it’s a fact and the only way forward,” she said.

The Kowtow brand has now started looking for a second factory to move production to, one that remains high up in ethical standards but is more accommodating to smaller brands and less required stock.

Kowtow has no bricks and mortar store of its own, only stockists, but has thrived in the online ecommerce scape. Yet even though the brand is sold with over 150 retailers worldwide, it remains New Zealand focused, with even more plans for expansion in 2018. 

Gosia Piatek, founder. 

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