Sustainable fashion is slowly entering the mainstream, thanks to labels such as Wellington-based Kowtow. In 2007, when Gosia Piatek founded what was then an online store stocking women’s basics in minimal silhouettes and natural fabrics, it was somewhat of an anomaly.
“Ethics and sustainability were not very ‘fashion’ 12 years ago – the sole focus was the design, colour and fit,” says Piatek.
Kowtow has always been a business concerned about its environmental and ethical impact, devoted to transparency and timeless design. In late October this year it debuted its first swimwear range, which, true to form, ticked multiple sustainability check boxes.
Impressively, Kowtow has recycled 120-kilograms of nylon from discarded fishing nets, regenerated in a specialist factory in Italy to produce Econyl – a closed-loop fabric that can be recycled indefinitely – to fashion distinctly ’60s-style bathers in a warm, subdued palette.
Piatek is the daughter of a captain of an industrial fishing boat, ultimately made redundant “because there was quite literally not enough fish in the sea”; she sees sweet irony in her new line being made from the likes of abandoned nets littering our oceans.
The Sienna Tie Back One Piece, Ivy Bandeau Top and Marigold High Waisted Brief were inspired by the works of Henri Matisse and David Hockney. Each retains the same clean lines and hue-driven aesthetic for which the label has become known.
Kowtow also collaborated with Melbourne-based watercolour artist Lauren Cassar of Mirador whose hand-painted sunburnt abstract swirls embellish the range’s T-shirts and sarongs in a nod to the “simple rewards of summer”.
“Nowadays, it’s acceptable to do both – to be both fashion and conscious,” Piatek says.
“As a designer you have a responsibility for the circularity of the product, not just at the time of purchase but what happens after the purchase.” It comes as no surprise then that Piatek has also introduced a “take back” program for swimwear at the end of its life, wherein customers can return their pieces in-store (the Kowtow flagship opened in Wellington earlier this year). The way the swimwear is designed ensures it can be easily pulled apart into a swathe of fabric, which is then sent to a regeneration plant in Italy. All garments are also sold in biodegradable corn-starch packaging.
Kowtow is now stocked in 250 retailers worldwide and has offices in Auckland and London, with seasonal showings in Paris, Copenhagen, New York, Los Angeles and Australia. But in spite of its expanding offering and creeping global presence, it hasn’t strayed far from its original minimalist approach.