Gosia the founder of Kowtow

In London, commissioned by Nila

Kowtow is a collage of a unique yet timeless design and a strong set of values that is a direct reflection of Gosia Piatek, a Polish refugee who found her new home in New Zealand but recently moved to London, and went on to dedicate her life to environmental activism and social responsibility. With a strong moral compass, it was only natural for Gosia to create something with value and longevity. Her entrepreneurial spirit and holistic approach led her to create an environmentally conscious fashion brand that stands out and speaks to people in unexpected ways. Being motivated to incorporate sustainability and circularity on as many levels as possible, the concept of Kowtow came to life. Cooperating with precisely and passionately selected farmers and factories, Kowtow takes part in growing its own organic cotton, developing it into a custom made fabric and eventually producing clothing that is loved both by its owners and loyal cus- tomers. Only this way, Gosia could make sur her values would not be compromised as she understands the chaotic complexity of fashion production chains. She talked about her personal and professional life with openness, humour and refreshing honesty, and made us want to learn more about her intriguing way of thinking. In this interview, we found out what a twist of events brought her to London, who she is at the work- place and what are her tasks in Kowtow. We also learned about her creative processes that lead to the birth of new fashion collections and what is stored for Kowtow in the future. Raw, empathic and authentic. Uncovering the face of Kowtow was a revealing and fascinating journey that gave us faith for a brighter future of fashion industry.

How would you describe the identity of Kowtow?

Gosia: I think we have a very unique style and you can see our passion and imagination reflected in every single garment. We don’t copy other peo- ple. We don’t look for inspiration in other fashion brands. You can simply tell a cotton-based cloth- ing piece that just stands out. Our customers know that they’ve purchased something unique yet comfortable. A piece of clothing that will last and is both practical and fashionable and all those things in between combined. There is an inside joke in the workroom, saying that when the garment is being designed, the first thing I ask is whether it has pockets.
I believe It’s not a piece of fashion if it doesn’t have pockets. It’s a practicality to what I do. Besides that, there’s also a question of the constraint of the fabrics and what we can do with it.

We make our own fabric by maintaining close relationships with a few selected farmers and suppliers who grow organic cotton and are the dominant part of our production in India and Italy. This approach is not very common in the fashion industry since most companies select already produced fabric and then start the creative process from there. Regarding the circular perspective that we incorporated, we have buttons from recycled hemp and we also started to do farm shell buttons which are 100% biodegradable. We haven’t worked with zips yet and the reason why is that it is still confusing which zips are biodegradable. To work with a certain material, I need clear identification of the factory, working conditions, and relevant certifi- cations otherwise I wouldn’t do it. I also think it’s about working with not too many materials. It’s about becoming an expert of circularity around one material.

How do you want the customers to feel like in your clothes?

Comfortable. I’m always designing with comfort in mind. In a way, you don’t want to wear it as a fashion piece that changes from season to sea- son. There’s a timelessness to what we design. Another thing worth mentioning is that I don’t want the clothing to feel precious. Of course, you will have to take care of it but the cotton i a low maintenance fabric and thus, very easy to wear. You can throw it in the washing machine and you don’t even have to iron it. This practicality is an essential part of our brand identity. With our clothes we also want to pay tribute to all our partners we closely collaborate with. Having this in mind, we want our customers to understand and feel the honor and appreciation of all those craftsmen in their fields and their profound con- tributions to the company. In order to prolong the lifespan of these beloved Kowtow pieces, we decided to offer a complimentary repair programme.
How would you describe your relationship to sustainability with Kowtow in mind?

I try to keep a holistic approach and incorporate sustainability on as many levels as possible. My goal is to cover all areas of the business. I find it easier to do it this way from the very beginning.

Laker. Gosia’s and Thomas’ son. He is full of energy which reminded us of his mum who shares the same passion for life. We can only wonder what he will achieve when he grows up given his loving upbringing and compassionate parents.

The wooden farm was built by Gosia’s parents and gifted to Laker. Now, it serves as a home for his collections of hand painted animals bought by Thomas on Ebay. We found it very entertaining and interesting to learn more about the pieces as Laker was eager to show us where his animals originate from. What a great way to teach children of the importance of awareness and healthy love for animals.

These finger puppets were also handmade by Laker’s grandmother and it complements the rest of the animal collection.

Think about it - if you do it only in a certain way, then it’s very difficult to change it afterwards and you may worry that the business will not succeed in the long-term perspective. On the other hand, if you start a new project, then you have a real opportunity to make it 100% sustainable. It’s inexcusable not to think of sustainability when you have the resources to do so.

We want to be as true to our ethos as possible, but sustainability isn’t black and white. It’s about complex decisions that either make the brand go further on the scale of sustainability or go backwards. To illustrate the meaning, I’ll tell you a story of the packaging we use to protect our garments when transporting. At first, we used plastic packaging, but then shortly after transitioned to biodegradable bags made from bioplastic material. However, we found out that not everyone has the knowledge of how to dispose of the bags at their end-of-life stage. People would throw them into garbage even though they require industrial conditions to properly decompose - otherwise the bags end up behaving like normal plastic material. After this realization, we decided to go back to recycled plastic. But now we took one more step. We collect the packaging back, even from our suppliers and collaborate with a company in New Zealand that recycles the bags into new products. And here we are now. You can see that sustainability is like a thread, and many times about connecting a lot of threads of decisions. We also started a recollection of our old garments to repurpose them and create a new line of clothing. We’ll launch a repurposed collection soon. With this initiative we want to make sure the clothes are truly reused.

I have one more example of our holistic approach. Opening a flagship store was a great chance to translate the Kowtow ethos into a physical space. We collaborated with an interior designer and architect, Rufus Knight, who is the knight of innovative interiors. Everything in that store was designed and built with traceability and sustainability in mind. We considered every detail - from the recycled nylon rugs to the New Zealand grown and milled timber. You can have a look on our website how it turned out and which materials we’ve used.

How would you describe your role in the company now?

My official title is a Creative Director. I consider myself more of a business person though. My usual day starts with checking in with my managing
director on all the key things that are happening that are moving the company forward. For example, the opening of the new store. Checking all the details, making sure we have the credentials for all the materials used. I also look into visual communication in marketing. I have weekly meetings with my designer where she presents her proposals and ideas to me. There are moments when I design with her but I can’t do much from London when all the production managers and assistants are in New Zealand. During the meetings, we cover the key elements of the collection such as prints, colours, shapes, knit, linings and sleeves so I know every detail of every garment. In a nutshell, my responsibility is to look for details and ask annoying questions. When I’m at work, I tend to make everyone second guess themselves. To be honest, sometimes people tend to be nervous when talking to me because I always ask questions they don’t know the answers to... haha.

There was a time when you were designing as well. How did it go?

I used to design as well but I never really knew how to make patterns. Nevertheless, my designs were very naive because I drew like a kid who just got out of high school. I find it very embarrassing now when I look back at work as a designer. It was very bad but the childlike naivety was in a way refreshing. I’d compare it to a place book. For example, I designed a top. Now, imagine a deflated football ball that had three holes in it and was turned into a shirt – that was the whole design. Even though I find it embarrassing, I still think it’s important to think outside of the box. During my time working for Kowtow and hiring people, I interviewed many recent graduate and even reviewed their collections. You could tell that some of the people attended the same university because the collections tend to feel very similar. It is natural because you get inspired by your peers and fellow students but in the end, it might be harmful because this approach does not give you the freedom to explore your creativity and establish the identity that you need.

How do you decide on a theme for the next season? Is it your job or is the designer?

It’s mainly the designer’s responsibility but I also take some part in the decision making. At the moment, we have a very talented Head Designer,

Being comfortable - that is the leading feature of Kowtow garments. It is also something that Gosia herself expects of her clothes and therefore, demands it in the creative process. Every garment is designed with comfort in mind.

Marilou Dadat, who came to work for us all the way from Paris. She is usually the one who comes up with a theme, colour palette and mood board, and then after she presents the materials to me, we discuss what it feels like and what it means. To tell you the truth, I tend to forget the theme be- cause I get super focused on the colour palette and the shapes. These are the most important driving elements for me. I wonder if it’s becaus I subconsciously want to go back to our original roots. We started out by making clothes that are off the body, oversized, very playful and childlike. I’m very excited about the new season because you can see a clear reference to our identity and heritage. I think we’ve managed to regain the original look. The fabrics that we use are usual-
ly very static and even though we can play with textures and shapes, colours still work as the dominant instrument to experiment and bring the collection alive with. The next season is very colourful, it’s like a candy shop, and reminds you of a rainbow in its own way. I am looking forward to see the reaction of our customers when our collection hits the fashion fairs for the first time. It’s been well-received so far.

Where do you get inspired from?

If there’s a photograph, sculpture or composi- tion we like, we usually use it as a reference for the colour palette. In most cases, it is mainly the artists of this century. Minimalism is a key factor to the Kowtow’s driving inspiration. I have recent- ly noticed that we tend to reference Japanese themes and culture a lot even though I’ve nev-
er been to Japan. I have to admit that Japanese people often tell me that I have an idealistic perception of Japan and that I should never go there otherwise my fantasies will be crushed by reality... haha.

How did you end up in London?/What brought you to London?

Well, like everything in my life I didn’t really think it through. It happened in India when I was there on a business trip, visiting factories and the farmers. I met someone very special there - my current partner Thomas - with whom I complete- ly fell in love. As a Film Director, he was working on one of his projects and was staying at the same hotel. Unfortunately, he lived in London but I was blinded enough to consider moving there. It was funny because all my friends would be
concerned and tell me: “What the heck are you doing?” I know that most people would probably stop right there and think it through but I was lovestruck. Fast forward, I went to London with him and we got pregnant five months later with our son Laker.

Was it difficult for you to run a business and be pregnant at the same time?

Absolutely! I realized it soon after getting pregnant. After we found out about the pregnancy, I had to visit the factory again and this time I was already six months pregnant. I’m not gonna lie, it turned out to be a very stressful experience. I had to stay in India but at the same time be available in London so I had to be online all the time and skype at three in the morning. You can probably imagine how exhausting it was. I was constantly tired so I had to keep employing people because I just couldn’t do it anymore. I was physically broken. Anyway, those new people that I hired turned out to be absolutely amazing and they just made the company bigger and better. Look- ing at it now, I realize that leaving the company for a while made the business even better. I don’t think we would be where we are now if I hadn’t left because they just made the decisions for me. It wasn’t necessarily how I wanted it, but you cannot classify decisions good or bad. In the end, it moved the company forward. It’s an interesting process of letting go and trusting people and learning that the more you trust, the more people give back. We have an amazing culture, everyone’s just heads down and working. They’re passionate about what they’re doing. We have such a cool team.

Now when you live in London, do you think of moving the business here?

No, no. I think we’re doing pretty good in New Zealand. It’s so expensive here in London, considering it’s not even that nice. It’s a bit grungy, rubbish and dirty. However, London is one of the most amazing cities I’ve ever been to when I compare it to other cities on a creative level. You don’t have to look a certain way to be an incredibly successful person and I find it so refreshing. Nevertheless, we will work on a new strategy when I go to back to New Zealand in October. We’ll focus on developing a proper long-term strategy for the next ten years because we need a vision for the team. We have to look into the
key areas and talk it through so it makes sense for everyone involved. I don’t think we’ll give London a go, at least not for now. If it ever happens, it will be with a strong financial foundation so we’d need to seek investment. Moving our offices to London would represent a whole new era for Kowtow. This visualization makes me a bit scared but I think that the message of what we’re doing is bigger than me and it’s worth it. If we lose everything doing it, it doesn’t matter because we tried. It’s bigger than me holding onto a single strategy or a business direction. I don’t want to think in terms of the profit but rather of the message and what it represents.

How do you think your parents influenced you?

I think I always tried to see the bigger picture and think in terms of the long-term perspective. I probably got it from my parents. They’re from Poland and are quite conservative. My mother was a school teacher and my father was a sailor for a big fishing company. Ironically, I ended up in the creative industry, and my brother changed his career now at the age of forty and switched from computer science to architecture. The thing is that our parents didn’t want us to work within the creative field because they thought we wouldn’t make enough money to live by. They wanted the best for us. This is why they left Poland and brought us to New Zealand. My father got a job very quickly because of his sailing experience. I remember he experienced a lot of hardship because he had to receive new qualifications even though he used to be sailing all over the world. He was eventually promoted to be a captain within a few years and the promotion gave us enough resources to live a very comfortable life. When I think about it, we even had this strange family tradition. My father would bring a box in which he’d store money and we would have to guess how much was in the box and then count it. My mother did it after she stopped smoking to show us how much money she’s saved by quitting. We would then use the spare money and go on a family vacation or a nice dinner. I reckon this little game and how it taught me the power of saving. It was a good financial lesson. I think I learned a lot from my family. I think we all do.

What do you like to do besides Kowtow?

I love spending time with my friends and having them over. I’m not a night owl and I find it very

difficult to stay awake so we usually invite people over for lunch. I’m also not really good at relaxing so the idea of going to the beach and just lying there is literally my worst nightmare. In my free time, I typically go for a walk and try to be in nature as much as possible. I don’t want to be around people all the time. I’m trying to be active but I feel like I’m not active enough. I read the news, I like to stay updated on what’s happening regarding sustainability, global warming, animal extinction, what’s happening in Amazon, news regarding human rights and refugees. It’s funny when I recently checked Instagram and the accounts that I follow, most of them turned out to be non profit organizations that supported different causes. This is probably a big passion of mine and something I like to do in my free time. Also, I remember one time when I was on a holiday in Greece, my brother and I ended up helping refugees sorting out donations. It was amazing and very heartbreaking. Meeting people that lost all their homes and family is something that just gives you a new perspective and changes you in a way. I’d definitely love to do more of that - being involved firsthand in helping others. Kowtow actually mirrors this passion of mine - we have partnered with a few non-profit organizations and charities supporting environmental cause.

Gosia’s love for nature and people is a compass for her intuition in personal and business related decisions. Her passion flashes through her personality and helps her to find key balance in life as she is both self-confident and humble. These traits are cornerstones for what she has built and tools for how Kowtow is changing fashion industry on a global scale.

Words edited by Kristyna Trojanova