With cotton being one of the world’s biggest crops, it is so easy to look away from the sheer weight of insecticides used in its growing, the dismal pay received by so many people in the industry, and the toxicity of the chemicals used for bleaching and colouring. Such things are modern responses to a colossal demand for the material, yet they are not universally viewed as safe or reasonable. The Wellington design house of Kowtow, run by Gosia Piatek, bases its cotton procurement on the principles of organic growing, fair trade guidelines, dyes which avoid poisonous effluent, and a packaging-shipping model leaving minimal waste.
Within this commercial paradigm, Kowtow produces garment which satisfy a growing consciousness, but without being strident. Each garment comes with a tiny booklet simply outlining how they operate, and lets the customer decide how they feel. The photo shows one of Kowtow’s arrestingly graphic T-shirts called the ‘Yelena Tee’. The original artwork is by Wellington artist Yelena Barbalich, one of a community of ‘outsider’ artists.
It is the intensity and volume of lines which catapults the artwork, and the resulting garment, into the orbit of stunning. Here we have a full blast of imagination in which we might see fishing nets, or Polynesian navigation lines, or modern architectural metalwork. Kowtow shows how a business model of fairness and a flair for the inventive can co-exist, and perform well.