Gosia Piatek of Kowtow and Maggie Hewitt of Maggie Marilyn are champions of fashion that’s kind.
They are also two of the nicest women you could meet, genuine and passionate about their brands’ thoughtful approaches.
Quietly launching from Wellington in 2007, Kowtow has built a global following with its minimalist pieces made from sustainably and ethically sourced materials, working with certified organic cotton and Fairtrade Labelling Organisations (FLO) certified manufacturers in India.
Originally focusing on basics, it’s since grown to comprise fully formed collections of knitwear, denim, swimwear and more, and is now sold in more than 250 stores worldwide; it’s also jokingly referred to as the unofficial uniform of New Zealand curators and gallerists.
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Maggie Marilyn launched with a bang in 2016, nabbing luxury online store Net-a-Porter as its first stockist before wooing the likes of Saks, Neiman Marcus and Selfridges.
Made in New Zealand and described as “liveable luxury”, Maggie’s clothes have been worn by everyone from poet Cleo Wade to Kris and Kendall Jenner.
They’ve caught the eye of women known for their conscious fashion choices, like eco-fashion campaigner Livia Firth, and the Duchess of Sussex chose to wear a Maggie Marilyn tuxedo dress during her visit to New Zealand.
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Both brands are representative of the modern ‘think global, act local’ perspective, with Gosia living between London and Wellington and Auckland-based Maggie regularly flying to Paris and New York.
“I’m so proud to be a Kiwi,” says Maggie, who credits the calmness of being home in New Zealand with helping her be creative. “Being based here has its obvious difficulties in terms of being so geographically isolated, however, I think it’s our strength as well. It gives us a unique perspective.”
Gosia agrees that there are differences that make Kiwi brands stand out from the crowd.
“New Zealand designers are not trend followers. We each have our own aesthetic, rhythm and tone, and I believe this is what gives each of us longevity in such a competitive industry.”
For years, New Zealand fashion was described as “dark and intellectual”, but has at last shaken off that tag. We’re now seen globally as more forward thinking, with a focus on sustainability.
“We have a lot of innovators here that our breaking those stereotypes, and not just in fashion, but across all design industries,” says Gosia. “It’s really great that designers who take sustainability and ethics into account are taking centre stage. It makes sense that we’re creating conscious products because we’re from a naturally beautiful country.”
There are various globally successful brands, fashion and otherwise, championing sustainability while maximising the marketing gold of New Zealand’s ‘clean and green’ environment.
Gosia believes it’s Kiwis’ relationship to nature that often develops this more conscious approach and sense of protectionism, with many of us growing up with nature on our doorstep.
“Whether it’s the bush, coast or snow – it’s this connection to land that has afforded us sentimental memories and drives us to protect the environment for future generations.”
While already exporting this conscious approach to fashion from the ends of the earth, both designers have plans to further increase their sustainability this year. Maggie, who last year began using fully biodegradable garment bags, is passionate about her brand’s circular innovations.
“We’re working with factories to find a way to turn old stock into new fabrics and thus into new garments. It sounds a lot easier than it is – it’ll be a long and arduous journey. But I’m committed to making a difference, to be part of turning the fashion industry of a linear-based economy into a thriving circular one. Our ‘create, use, dispose’ model of mass consumption is simply unsustainable. We all have to make a change.”
With her garments made locally a source of pride, Maggie’s increasingly passionate about revitalising the local manufacturing industry, which in recent years has struggled with skills shortages.
“The future will bring a series of hurdles for sure – our youngest seamstress is in her late 40s, so over the next five to 10 years, we’re going to have to work hard to keep young people coming into these roles,” she says.
“To do so, we need help from the New Zealand government and educational institutes to support and illuminate the amazing possibilities there are in our local creative industry.”
Continuing to work with long-standing manufacturers in India, this year Kowtow will also launch a new ethical knitwear program and ZQ-certified merino wool coats, and they have also hosted a launch party at Paris Fashion Week with the creators of cult eco-footwear brand Veja.
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Thank you to everyone who came to @centre_commercial on Thursday to celebrate the launch of our new season collection. It was such a pleasure to meet so many new people and share the evening with you. A lovely surprise to see familiar faces from New Zealand, and always nice to catch up with Kowtow friends that have travelled from New York & London for #PFW. Thank you to our wine sponsor @seresinestate for joining us on trips across the world and big thank you to @roxcrch & the CC team for putting on an amazing night. Each season you can find Kowtow at @centre_commercial in Paris and our pop-up space will be up for 2 weeks. ⠀ ⠀ If you are a buyer and in town during @parisfashionweek, you can find us at @manwomanshows Paris until March 3rd. #KowtowLoves #CentreCommercial #KowtowTravels #Paris
Both Gosia and Maggie are thinking big and thinking global, with a continued appreciation for their New Zealand roots. Both women use the word ‘utopia’ to describe the New Zealand fascination from international consumers.
“It really seems like this dream world to people, a sort of utopia, which fascinates people we do business with, whether sitting on the 25th floor in the World Trade Center with Vogue or walking through our silk mill in Shanghai,” says Maggie.
“It’s always a friendly reminder to me that we’re so incredibly lucky to call New Zealand home.”