From left: Sarah Meek; PR + Sales Manager, Gosia Piatek; Founder/ Design Director/ Boss Lady and Adrienne Marsh; Designer and Pattern Maker. Absent but loved: Megan Bourke; Dispatch + Production and Yoan Jolly; Graphic Designer.
The story of Kowtow is refreshingly different from many other fashion brands I have come across. For a start, Gosia Piatek was focused from day one on creating a sustainable business model that could take her onward and upward – it had nothing to do with lofty dreams of being a fashion designer and seeing her name in lights.
In 2006 Gosia decided her life as a “snow homie” was drawing to an end. She had chased back to back winters around the world, snowboarding and living the dream. But on her return to Wellington she was determined to find herself a form of self employment – the major question being what exactly would that be?
A large motivating factor was the start up grant of $5000 offered by the government to those setting up a new small business. Many ideas were weighed up including mobile sandwich deliveries via bike! But with Gosia’s graphic designer boyfriend; Boofa already owning a UK t-shirt label, it seemed like the obvious choice. The government didn’t entirely agree and initially said “No more t-shirt start ups!” However, undeterred, she set about finding a niche and the edge they needed to stand out from the rest.
It was on the suggestion of a friend that she look into creating a brand around organic, fair trade cotton. This was a rarely used material at the time and it suited Gosia’s ideas on sustainable business practice. So she got down to some serious investigation. Emails were fired in all directions but it was the first supplier to reply in India that she went with and is still using to this day. Then she created the concept to combine their cool graphic t-shirts with a CD of unsigned NZ music. Armed with this unique recipe the couple travelled to Australia and met with Universal Store and straight off the bat had an order of 100 units per each of their 6 designs to fill. This was mammoth!
With the procurement of that contract and her tight business plan that she had been guided through on the rigorous government run course – she was subsequently awarded her $5000 work start grant as well as a further $7000 to be paid as an allowance over 7 months. This little business called Kowtow, now had some wheels!
But Gosia wasn’t finished there. Her vision was much larger and she needed more finances to give it momentum. She admitted herself, that the steep learning curve she had experienced in creating the business plan had felt like intensive economic education which gave her belief in what she was trying to achieve. So the plan was presented at the bank who instantly awarded her a loan, as did her parents meaning that within a year she had borrowed everything she needed to boost Kowtow into the future.
Guided by her partners vision and experience in the rag trade, the brand concentrated solely on t-shirts and hoodies for a few years. Due to the awesome quality of the fabric, many of these designs can still be spotted walking the streets despite now being up to 7 years old! In 2008 Boofa made the decision to leave the business to study music, meaning Gosia was now without a designer and subsequently the rudder to the direction of the brands look. She quickly re employed former intern and graphic designer; Yoan Jolly who came back on board rich with knowledge from his experience with luxury fashion labels in France and bringing with him a new aesthetic for Kowtow.
Then….Gosia met Chelsea Mitchener. The former Starfish Retail Manager had an immense passion for sustainable fashion as well as a super strong and cool personal style. They put their heads together and took Kowtow through a total re branding process. Gosia herself admitted that up until that time she hadn’t even been wearing the clothing they had been producing! Despite neither of them being trained designers, they developed a whole new collection that was monochromatic, draped and a large break away from their original look. On presenting this to their stockists …. they promptly lost half of them! This was a pretty scary development but at the same time they were picked up by fashion forward retailer; Fabric and from there the sky was the limit.
Following 2009 and their overhaul they now produce for 4 seasons a year and have agents and promising sales in Australia and the USA. Over the last 12 months Kowtow has gone from employing 1 staff member to 5 with imminent plans to increase this to 7 by the end of the year. Most importantly, the brand is based on an economically sustainable business model which gives it every opportunity to succeed.
To say I left the Kowtow HQ inspired, would be a massive understatement. The team were vibrant and passionate about their brand at every level – the clothing, the practice, the people and it’s presentation. Everything. I kind of want to put my hand up to be part of it come their next employment round!!
All photography by Julia Atkinson for Studio Home
WHAT I LEARNT FROM GOSIA:
A solid, sustainable business plan is the reality to a successful brand.
Don’t forget it.