When Gosia founded fairtrade clothing label Kowtow 15 years ago, she had no real inkling of how successful it would become. For the first few seasons, she produced colourful and graphic t-shirts, with CDs showcasing the music of local artists swinging from the clothing tags.
Her dogged determination and sparkling vision have grown Kowtow into an international success story – and she’s still headquartered in Wellington, with stalwarts like Commonsense Organics and Caffe L’affare right on their doorstep.
Social beings need connection
“I absolutely adore where we are. As far as our location, it couldn’t be more perfect,” Gosia enthuses. But it’s not the same, she says, “if people don’t come into the city.”
From that perspective, the pandemic has been hard on Gosia’s staff and her local ecosystem of business-owners and entrepreneurs.
“All my employees are back at work. They get to choose – but everyone wants to come back into the office, because we’re social beings. It’s nice to be together. We need interaction. I don’t think the idea of working from home full-time is considered wellbeing. The pandemic has taught us to be flexible and embrace trust. We’ve still grown year on year but’s it’s a full-on hustle.”
Going circular for the environment
The fit-out for Kowtow’s Wellington store and workroom is clean, crisp and organic – leaning into the environmental values she holds so dear.
“Most people look at the care label and see the fairtrade organic cotton – but that’s not exactly what a garment is made up of.”
In fact, it’s not just the shell of Kowtow’s garment that tread lightly on the earth but all the trimmings, swingtags and care labels too. They also offer free repair, and they take weathered garments back to recycle the fibres. Even their office is structured to adhere to principles of circularity, with a zero-plastic policy (“we don’t use pens, only pencils”), organic fruit for staff, and compost collected by a local dude from Kai Cycle.
“People think that circularity is this really complicated thing and it isn’t. As someone who produces a product, you just have to take full responsibility of taking it back and making it easier for your customer to return it. It’s all about design.”
Make the city alive again
Despite her elan and love of the city, Gosia’s feeling weary after the last few years, and believes that the full impact is still to come for small and medium-sized businesses. But she has a few ideas.
“Some people are living hand to mouth, there are doors closing. Wellington is the cultural city of interesting boutiques and independent-run stores, this isn’t how we get through. We need to get people to the city first, make the city alive again. Bring back all the cultural events – what the city relies on, and what independent businesses rely on, pivoting off the fact that we’re a cultural capital.”
She’s also embracing colabs with other creatives around Wellington – like her recent partnership with City Gallery on products for the Hilma af Klimt exhibition and artist Ed Bats from Page Galleries.
“It sparked something outside of the everyday of what we do. And I think that you need that in fashion. I think we can build something up in Wellington and create more of a scene for people to want to stay here and develop their careers in the arts. It’ll have such a massive payoff.”
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