Gosia Piatek isn't going to stop.

The New Zealand-based Piatek started Kowtow 10 years ago as a way to reform our relationship between fashion and the environment with a line of ethically-sourced clothing. Now that we are in an era where we can influence and educate with a single swipe on the screen, Piatek is ready to her bring her Midas touch to a global scale.

We chat about Fair Trade, fine art and why you should never take yourself too seriously.


How did the idea of Kowtow start?

I started 10 years ago and I was passionate about doing something that was ethical, and sustainable. I wanted to be employed and I felt disheartened with my other career choices. I just thought, "Why not I start a sustainable ethical clothing line?"

That's really interesting and fascinating that you jumped on it way before everyone. Speaking of the name, how did you come up with the name?

It's a Chinese word. To kowtow to someone, you bow down to someone [bows with hands up]. It was done a long time ago to the emperor of China.

It definitely clicks! I found out that you produce fair trade clothing in Kolkata, India. What made you seek out fair trade in India?

Cotton is growing in a few continents around the world. In terms of the countries that grow, it's India, Africa and parts of South America as well. I was getting in touch with everyone. It wasn't particularly set on India - it ended up being that way.

I wanted to do something where there was no holes or gaps and that you can monitor the whole production chain. From the farmer that's growing it to the end product at the factory, because it's a complex production line that has different processes. The cotton seed has to get planted to grow. When it's in bloom, farmers hand pick the cotton. It then goes to a ginning mill where the seed and lint get separated before it gets spun into yarn, made into fabric and dyed. And it is then when it gets cut and sewn into clothing.

There are a lot of steps in the chain before the garment arrived and I want to make people think about that. We pay a portion of our turnover to the Fair Trade organisation, then it goes back to the farmer, and they can use that money towards projects whether it's schooling or medical or building new farms.

What made you feel attached to these projects and how did you learn from getting involved with them?

I just always had a passion for it. Even since I was a child, I thought too much about processes and people's emotions. I wanted to do something good - it came from the heart. I put my faith into the Fairtrade Labelling Organization and the Global Textile Standard. I felt that I put a whole lot of research and that they were legitimate certifiers. We visit India every six months and have close working relationships with our factories. We don't dump them for a next door neighbor who can do it for 10 cents cheaper. That's not how we run or operate. We work in partnership with these people.

I like how you always tap into what is in the long run as opposed to the short run of things. In fashion, there's a cycle where it goes like, "Oh, let's make this trendy!"; "Let's sell this with an X amount of money to correlate with that trend". For you as an independent retailer and designer, do you feel this pressure to keep up with the fashion cycle?

Of course, you do. But, we love fashion. We get excited about designing about what we think is fashionable. We are part of that game. We design thinking, "Oh, the color is going to be great this season. So, we'll do that." I guess when you get influenced by what's happening in the fashion world, it's a collective consciousness. We also have some limitations because we actually design 18 months out before the launch of the range.


The company is increasing now - the growth has doubled within the last 18 months. We just do what we love. Our aesthetic is minimal and quite oversized.

Who or what inspires you to pursue this type of aesthetic?

I like to wear comfortable clothes and I'm also sensible. It happens that there are other people liking it, too. Adrienne likes a more fitted silhouette and pushes the aesthetic in a stronger direction than I. I tend to go towards the Japanese minimalist schoolgirl thing and she likes the more slicker '80s fitted thing. I think the two go really well together.

And opposites do attract!

We are such opposites as designers - we really are! We're so different, but I think the commonality is we currently work with one fiber; cotton. There is a certain minimalism and coherence with such a restriction.

Cotton is very classic and soft. What's nice about cotton is that you can sleep in it all day long. Out of curiosity, what's your definition of classic?

Classic is something that won't go out of fashion in six months' time and something that is made to last. Has a simple, but interesting cut. It isn't not a direct copy of something else that is on the scene. It's a white shirt or a pair of jeans. We create classics with a difference and play with volume. Our garments also tend to be trans-seasonal.

What's the next thing you have in mind that you've never tried before, but you always want it to be out?

Other product ranges with cotton is where I'm heading to. We want to keep pushing out our own line of ethical and sustainable products for the future.

I also found out that you are really into modern art. You're selling prints, ceramics and this is something I've never seen before. Speaking of your interest in fine art, what made you and your partner Adrienne go in that direction?

We have a creative with us and his name is Yoan. He knows every single artist and art movement. When we come up with a color palette, he'll say, "It reminds me of this artist or that artist". Through him, I really learned a lot about art. I sent Yoan and Adrienne to New York and L.A. for a research trip to inspire the next collection.

How did you become interested in art?

It's a slight progression. You learn from people - my friends are very artistic whether it's music or painting or sculpture. I lived half my year in London and there is so much art accessible there. I make sure that I go to art exhibitions at least once a week. It's kind of something to do, isn't it?

Have you always seen yourself as an artist?

No, it's funny that I don't think of myself as an artist. Not at all. I still think that this is actually happening. If I took it too seriously, I would get anxiety-ridden about it all. I'm always into listening to other people's ideas. I really respect Yoan and Adrienne, who work in the creative team.

What's the one lesson that you wish you learned back in the day?

I just think you learn as you go: don't get too caught up and all the ifs and buts. Give it a try and see where it takes you. It's very unlikely that you'll end up in a worse place. Trying a new idea is going to take you somewhere [and] don't be afraid. I think people do way too much research and psyching themselves out of something rather than doing it. I'm doing everything for the first time. You ask the people around you to help you. You get the problem solved, and you get through it!