Sustainable Style: Is Kowtow The World’s Biggest Plastic Free Fashion Brand?

From endlessly scrolling through online fashion sites to strolling amidst the rows of clothes in stores, fashion captivates us with its allure. Yet, beyond this surface fascination, it’s important to consider the impact fashion has on our day to day lives. Despite our woke awareness of the effects fast fashion has on the environment, our spending habits for the next season often fall short. 

Fortunately, New Zealand leads by example, with two prominent locally-owned companies taking proactive steps to foster sustainability within the fashion industry. Our small country is taking big steps into a new era of sustainable fashion, marking a leap forward that could inspire, influence and challenge other brands to follow the same sustainable path. Though is sustainable fashion accessible, affordable or more durable for the average everyday Kiwi fashion fan?

Kowtow’s Commitment to 100% Plastic Free 

As of January 2024, Wellington fashion brand Kowtow has revolutionised the industry by being one of the very first fashion companies in the world to ditch synthetics and deliver a collection (A/W 2024) that is 100% plastic free.

Kowtow has eliminated all plastic-derived components in their manufacturing process and is now using natural alternatives that both look good and do good for the environment. The viable alternatives to typically-synthetic garment trims that Kowtow have now introduced as standard include fully-cotton thread from core to outer, cotton cuff and collar interlining, latex rubber elastic as well as shell and nut buttons. And to top it off, all of Kowtow’s garments are crafted solely from a single fibre: fair trade organic cotton. The choice to source only organic cotton from Indian growers has meant that Kowtow’s team can ensure full transparency in their supply chain (including working with just two factories for garment manufacture, both of which have worked with Kowtow for many years) and organic cotton also ensures a simpler recycling and decomposing process compared to multi-material garments.

“Plastic does not ever go away; it just breaks down into smaller particles and ends up in our oceans” says Gosia Piatek, founder of Kowtow. “We want to be a solutions provider, not part of the problem, so finding plastic-free alternatives seemed obvious.” Kowtow believes that clothing can be beautiful as well as contributing to creating a healthier planet and a fairer world. The 17-year-old New Zealand company has also released its own open-source handbook online which reveals every detailed stage of their collections’ journey, from design and material sourcing to supply chain management.

Icebreaker’s Journey to 100% Plastic Free 

New Zealand’s very own Icebreaker is another formidable brand that is battling out the goal of creating collections that are 100% plastic free. Their 2018 goal of reaching 100% plastic free by 2023 wasn’t met, however Icebreaker has chosen to celebrate its failures (they call it ‘progress over perfection’) and embrace the final 4% journey ahead (they currently sit at 96.14% plastic free). What Icebreaker can guarantee is that 14% of remaining synthetics have already been substituted with bio-based alternatives.

Balancing the Good and Bad in your wardrobe 

Despite fashion’s recent love affair with sustainability, when it comes to increases in the cost of living, mortgage rate rises and increased inflation, how does an average fashion consumer afford to toe the line between looking good, building a modern, on-trend wardrobe and also being a responsible consumer?

The truth is that good quality comes with a hefty price, and while sustainability, durability and quality remain tangible characteristics of eco-friendly fashion, the price tag that comes with such garments is not within reach for everyone. As conflicting as it may be, being a better human sometimes isn’t as realistic as our favourite fashion influencers on the ‘Gram’ make it out to be. Shopping sustainably is where we can make our mark, and voting with our wallets and choosing to shop at local and ethical brands, as well as thrifting, repairing and making garments last longer can and will make a difference to the way fashion impacts the world.