"The greatest challenge is the purity of designing for the planet before profit."
Each designer, whether helming a large Maison or the sole operator of their own brand, has a set of self-imposed design codes they abide by. Trends come and go, of course, but these codes speak more to the DNA of the brand – whether it be tailoring, occasion wear or craftsmanship, etc.
For KITX founder and creative director, Kit Willow, her brand’s DNA is intrinsically tied to the preservation of the earth. “Every decision I make is the planet before profit,” she explains on the phone during our interview. “Therefore it is a big investment for the planet, and you don’t make as much money, that is probably the biggest challenge.”
“Every decision I make is planet before profit”
Launched in 2015, Willow’s ethos was clear: build a women’s ready-to-wear label that not only celebrated beauty but was sustainably driven. The KITX website even features a dedicated ‘Our Promise’ section, detailing “KITX promises to be at the forefront of sustainable designer fashion globally, by consciously sourcing every material and component. This ethos goes into every design we create to minimise the impact on our planet’s natural precious resources.
In the debut feature for Showroom-X’s Learnings platform, we spoke to Willow about all things sustainability, regeneration and working with waste.
“We are committed to being an example of true style for the modern global era, we simply don't believe in quality fashion that harms our planet and natural eco-systems.”
How do you define sustainability in fashion?
So there is sustaining the current status quo and there is regenerating, which is what we are in right now. I almost feel like sustainability is now backward because we not only need to sustain, we need to regenerate. We need to regenerate marine litter, regenerate waste, regenerate soil, and regenerate clean water… 30, or 40 years ago we could focus on sustaining, but we are past that now. So I feel like it is more about regeneration now. The more I have learnt, the more I know that the impact we are having and what we are doing is actually more about regenerating. How we do that is through conscious sourcing. The impact of fashion has come from the materials sourced.
How do you personally go about sourcing your fabrics?
When I look at materials … I have three pillars of sustainability I will only order from. They include organic in the agricultural process; natural in that they are either silk, cotton, linen or hemp; and they are upcycled and do not come from waste, or they have come from discarded nylon, polyester, or they have been passed down and are hand woven.
Consciously sourcing materials can minimise the impact on the planet without compromising the style and design of the product. In that, there is a sustaining practice but also moving into the future with a more regenerative practice.
What are some other challenges that arise for a sustainable design-led brand?
The greatest challenge is the purity of designing for the planet before profit. Every decision I make is, about the planet before profit and therefore it is a big investment for the planet and you don’t make as much money, that is probably the biggest challenge.
How difficult do you think it is to educate customers about shopping in this more conscious manner?
It has [had] an enormous uptake since I launched KITX, so that’s been really great. I don’t criticise designers, but at least there are more people talking about it and they are feeling a rush about it, so that has created more awareness for the customers, which is a really good thing.
For me, it is always about the product as well, being able to stand on its own two feet and design beautifully and fit beautifully, that at the end of the day is going to sell the right product, not the sustainability credential, that is the bonus.
Do you find it hard to keep yourself accountable with that principle that you have made for yourself?
Always! I have that situation all the time. Locally sourced versus easy, or cheaper fabric versus organic cotton at $2.50 a metre. What do I choose? The organic cotton at $2.50 a metre because I know that it will break back down into the earth, I know that no chemicals have been used in the agricultural process. There are also some beautiful fabrics that have polyester and nylon in them which I won’t do, so it is a constant battle.
What does it mean to be circular in the context of fashion?
I think circularity is absolutely key, but at the same time, the circulatory is also about end of life. So, what I was saying about discarding denim and then reusing it, is that is circular but also regenerative. You can have circular, with a farming practice that maybe isn’t regenerative if you are reusing its end life. This is important, but the key is that 70 per cent of the materials we are using [are] sourced to have
the greatest impact on the planet’s resources, which creates pollution. That is the component that has to be nailed before working out how to circulate end-use as well.
So it is at the origin of the fabric?
Yes, we are so far from getting that right as an industry. It is so great to think ahead and think circularly, but at the same time, let’s really understand the key to sourcing to have a minimum impact.
What is on the horizon for the immediate future of KITX? What are your priority at the moment and your major focus for making the brand as planet friendly as possible?
It is more about being innovative than anything else. Working more with waste – I am really interested in that – and starting to move more into the regenerative circulatory.
It’s thinking about the impact of everything that we have. Where has it come from? What impact did it have when it was created? I suppose that is the idea of circularity too and then what will happen with it when you discard it? Where will it go?
BY VICTORIA PEARSON