Picture this: dangling bright, white paper pendant Japanese lights manufactured by a company operating for more than a 120 years, draping linen curtains, modular sofas mindfully produced using environment-friendly methods and renewable fibers, rugs made from recovered fishing nets from the ocean, and beautiful clothing hanging on sleek assemblies of sustainably-grown eucalyptus, finished by hand with a non-toxic, eco-friendly Osmo hard wax oil. If it weren’t for the clothes, you might think you’d stumbled into a luxury hotel or a high-end yoga studio. Let’s call it the utopian model of sustainability — except, this one is actually real. After operating for 11 years online, Kowtow, a sustainable label from New Zealand, is bringing its ethical and sustainable experience to their first flagship store in Wellington, New Zealand, with the dual objective of transmitting the consciousness concept of the brand and raising awareness, one client at a time. Every aspect of the interior design has been chosen with Mother Earth in mind, and the attentive and tender design choices paid off — the look and feel of the store gently but clearly echoes sustainable, while it lives and breathes fashion.
Founded in 2007, the intention of Founder Gosia Piatek is to thoughtfully cater the needs of the environment through an integral slow fashion process from seed to garment. Its designs effortlessly embody the definition of feminism, minimalism, and environmentalism in doing so. We interviewed Piatek, to give us some insight into her new store, her vision for the brand, and her passion for sustainability and fashion.
“Kowtow” is a Chinese word that represents the custom of deep respect, shown by kneeling and bowing so low that your forehead touches the ground. What prompted you to choose a Chinese word for the brand’s name and why?
I knew I wanted a name that represented the level of respect that I had for the environment and people who made our clothes.
Where does your passion for sustainability come from?
I think I picked it up from my parents. Dad was a commercial fisherman and came up with a net that let baby fish through while keeping the catch, and mum has always been incredibly handy at making the most out of nothing. Ever since I was a child I have cared about nature, and as a family, we would go on forest walks and I would be picking up rubbish along the way. Later, I traveled the world snowboarding and was fortunate to see so much natural beauty that I knew whatever it was I ended up doing, it would be working toward sustaining this.
Have you always wanted to open a physical space for the brand? Why now?
Our mission has always been to be leaders in ethics and sustainability, and opening a store was part of the bigger vision. We've been in business for 11 years and we were ready to take that next step in creating a Kowtow experience you could immerse yourself in.
Do you have anything within the store that helps to educate customers about your core values of sustainable, ethical, and slow fashion? Do you see this as a hub for engaging in conversations about sustainability more deeply with your customers?
I am very lucky to have staff who share the same values, and so it is only natural that conversations around ethics and sustainability occur in store on a daily basis. But also our customers are intelligent, conscious, and curious themselves, and know the flagship is an environment where they can go to discuss topics of interest and ask questions. We also participate in events that promote ethics and sustainability in fashion, and we are developing a program of our own events such as workshops, talks, and screenings to further educate our wider community. The store itself was always intended to encourage conversation — every aspect of it has been designed and selected with sustainability in mind.
What was your favorite part of the design of the interiors? As a fashion designer, what did you feel similar and different when doing interior design?
As with our clothing, the intention was to create a beautiful design with sustainable materials. While it looks minimal and simple, it is very generous. What I like the most are the bits that aren't so obvious. We have floor to ceiling slats which divide the space with rhythm and support a bespoke racking system - but if you look closely you will see no nails, instead, they're expertly crafted joinery held together with brass rods. The interlocking joints mimic the weave of fabric. The custom-made counter is a feature which anchors the space, has a ceramic counter top covered with handmade tiles and supported by Valchromat, an FSC certified recycled wood chipboard. There is so much more below the surface which I love.
Kowtow’s designs and the flagship both are very sleek and minimalist. How difficult is it to keep this style in a fast-paced and attention-seeking world?
It's actually quite easy. Because of our ethical supply chain, we have to design our collections 18 months in advance. We simply can't predict trends that far ahead, we just design what we know and love. We keep true to ourselves and I wouldn't have it any other way.
Words: Eugenia Hernandez
Copy Editor: Sonjia Hyon