Born in Poland in 1980, Gosia Piatek fled with her family to Italy in 1985 as political asylum refugees due to the unstable nature of communism. “Chernobyl also exploded, and mum wanted to seek out a safer and better life for us,” Piatek explained. After two short years in Italy, Piatek and her family were granted refugee status to New Zealand. “My upbringing was pretty varied, my parents took some huge risks and taught me that pretty much anything is possible with masses amounts of commitment and hard work.”
Focused on starting an ethical and sustainable business, Piatek didn’t know which field to start in. One night over dinner, a friend suggested she start a fair trade organic cotton clothing brand. “I had no idea what that meant, but after some intense googling I found a supplier that was willing to work with me and next thing Kowtow was born,” she said.
Piatek studied commerce and a bunch of other very unrelated fashion subjects like German at Victoria University. “I really wasn’t an academic,” she said, “but to tell you the truth I would still be where I am if I hadn’t done it.” Piatek explained that she is a very practical person and when one runs their own business, being a practical mind will get you places. Despite this, Piatek believes studying fashion would’ve been extremely helpful, meaning she could’ve fast-tracked the first three years. At the same time, because she didn’t know how to make a pattern, she had to pay someone to do it. This meant she had to outsource her work and work in partnership with people. “If I had known how to do it all, maybe I wouldn’t have taken brave steps like employing people.”
Her brother recently retrained in his 40s to architecture. Piatek’s father also finished a draftsman course in his 60s after being a sailor all his life and her mother has always had a creative streak. “We’ve always done arts and crafts in the house. My father and mother now make cute wooden toys for their grandkids,” Piatek added.
When it comes to her key inspirations, overall Piatek finds she returns to the same aesthetic over and over again which is minimalism whether it’s in architecture, interiors or objects. Ceramics is another of Piatek’s obsessions. During a recent trip to Venice, she spent a day at the Guggenheim and said it was a like a dream come true. “All the great artists are there that make my head spin; Calder, Picasso, Miro, Brancusi, Jean Arp,” she said.
Now, Piatek is working three days a week and spends the rest of her time looking after her two-year-old son, Laker. “I also spend half my year in London, to support my partner in his film directing career,” said Piatek. Her days in the workroom is very busy, spending a lot of time with the design team discussing colours, fits, themes, and other new developments. Kowtow is run on a solid team of 18 people in New Zealand and two in Australia in their newly opened Melbourne showroom. Kowtow’s Winter 2017 collection is set to be available in over 170 stores across the globe. “We are in so many countries now that I would struggle to name one that we haven’t ticked off the list. You can now even find us in Kuwait!”
Problem-solving is one of her favourite parts of running a business. Although she admits that things have gone pretty well, Piatek said there is always a new challenge every week. Excited that Kowtow is now an international brand and still growing, Piatek loves that they have stuck to their beliefs and haven’t watered down their vision for the brand. “Everything we do is still 100% certified sustainable and ethical. I love everyone I work with; I have the best staff ever, and I know that even when I'm out of the country for months on end, they have my back.”