Gosia Piatek knew right from the start she wanted Kowtow to be different from other fashion brands. “I wanted to do something where people were getting rewarded fairly for what they do,” she says. “The more I got into it, I released that ethics and sustainability go hand-in-hand.”
12 years on – Kowtow launched in 2007 – and Piatek and her team are still passionate about pushing for a serious change in the fashion industry, which continues to be the planet’s second most polluting industry. For a start, all of Kowtow’s cotton is 100% organic and certified by the Fairtrade Labelling Organisations International (FLO). “Fairtrade empowers farmers to negotiate with buyers to secure better prices for their cotton,” Piatek explains. “We only use sustainably sourced trims,” which means Italian-made buttons fashioned from hemp and nickel-free denim tacks and sliders from a factory in Germany.
All fabrics and prints Kowtow uses are Global Organic Textile Standard approved – in layman’s terms: they’re free from nasties including chlorine, bleach and toxic heavy metals. More recently, the brand has introduced an innovative organic cotton and merino wool blend. “As a natural resource, merino is a renewable and biodegradable fibre and so we have sourced a premium merino wool certified by ZQ merino,” Piatek says. “The ZQ standard ensures growers commit to the highest grade of animal welfare, environmental care and social responsibility,” she explains. In short, Piatek says with everything the company does, they’re committed to transparency, screening and innovation. “This includes the paper we use and coffee we drink in the workroom, and most recently, all the materials used within our flagship store.”
On the role of the consumer…We are all human and sometimes instinct takes over logic, but I think being mindful is a great start. Don’t buy on impulse. Consider if something is fair trade, organic or local – this way of purchasing helps build greater relationships with your community and makes your heart that little bit happier for knowing you are helping make a difference. Once you get into the swing of being a conscious consumer, it will all start making sense and you’ll find it hard going back to old habits.
On transparency… In my opinion, the reason anything exists is due to consumer demand, so if consumers demand more transparency from producers, the makers will respond. We are already seeing this happen with larger brands which is a great step in the right direction. However, with a lot of greenwashing it is up to the consumer to distinguish who is & isn’t legitimate. Looking for independent certifications is a good start, and if you can’t find what you’re looking for – ask questions! At Kowtow we have a section dedicated to our ethical and sustainable values on our website, and a film showing our entire production chain from seed to garment so customers can see that everything we make is part of a transparent, fairly paid & sustainable production chain.
On the fashion industry becoming more sustainable… At the last Copenhagen Fashion Summit I learnt an important term: Circular Economies. Basically, this means, if you are a producer of anything in this world, it is your responsibility to understand what happens to your product after purchase. The responsibility of the designer should not end at the time when the sale is made. For a sustainable future, we as designers and makers need to create ways to help consumers responsibly dispose of their unwanted goods. In fashion, this is a new and evolving subject matter, but it excites me very much. Whether the clothing is up-cycled, mended and resold or if it’s beyond repair the fibre is broken down and remade into a recycled yarn and eventually new clothing – this being the trickiest with its parameters, but it is possible.