Why Kowtow’s newest collection champions cotton

31 March 2022
By Hemma Vara

We speak to Kowtow head designer Marilou Dadat about the brand’s reimagining of the humble cotton textile.

Kowtow's Material Matters collection.

The latest collection from Kowtow, ‘Material Matters’, is a significant culmination of the brand’s learnings over its 15 years in business, and is inspired by the legendary Bauhaus women who aimed to improve life through design. 

As with other Kowtow pieces, all Material Matters styles are made entirely of one material: organic cotton. This single, natural fibre has consistently proven to be a highly sustainable and durable choice for clothing — it’s grown without harmful chemicals, and is natural, biodegradable, and renewable. 

We speak to Kowtow head designer Marilou Dadat to discover what inspires her, the story behind Material Matters, and so much more. 

Marilou Dadat.

Tell us about yourself. Who you are and what inspires you in your work and life?

I was born in France and moved to Aotearoa a little while ago, drawn to the country’s beautiful nature and the kindness of its people. Both were a shock after living in Paris for ten years!

I live in Pōneke (Wellington) with my family, surrounded by bush and native birds. I have been designing with Kowtow for four years. The capital city sums up what inspires me every day: nature, art, the eclectic city crowd, and my friends.

The Bauhaus was a 20th-century German design school housing female creatives at a time when women were barred attendance to formal art academies. How have the Bauhaus women influenced Material Matters?

The Bauhaus women contributed to shaping what is design today. They would study nature, materials, and colours to create and innovate.

Bauhaus was the art meeting the design industry to improve life by design, which should resonate in every studio today, whether architecture or fashion. I wanted to tell this story, which Kowtow also shares: natural materials made into products for everyday life.

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Like every season, the process starts with creating our colours and building a unique palette. Looking at the theories of the Bauhaus, I was inspired by the juxtaposition of the natural and the industrial. This is why you will find in Material Matters earth browns and leaf greens next to black and white grids or bold primary hues.

Reducing the amount of ‘ingredients’ is the best way to get creativity flowing, and this is part of the Bauhaus pedagogy. I love that you can enter a Kowtow store and see all the colours, textures and silhouettes, not realising at first that they are all made from the same material (cotton), that comes from organic farms.

Material Matters has an educational component, bringing light to the issues around material production. What would you like consumers to know?

Material Matters is designed to educate, prepare, and inspire everyone to recognise that we are students of nature. By using a single, natural fibre, our steps have been gentler, taking strides toward achieving our goal of a better planet.

We encourage customers to look deeper into the materials they wear every day. By choosing Fairtrade organic cotton over ‘conventional’ cotton, it benefits the farmers and their land, supports soil health and biodiversity, and reduces water consumption with rainfed crops.

As cotton is a singular natural fibre containing 0% plastic, no microplastics enter waterways from your washing. A cotton garment will eventually degrade at the end of its life, unlike a synthetic one that will leave a trace for a very long time.

It all comes back to the choice of material because it is the material that will have the most impact, good or bad, on the people and the planet.

Kowtow's Material Matters collection.

Material Matters is also the interpretation of studying nature to inform design. Tell us more. 

We draw from nature’s main lessons, circularity, longevity, and functionality, which drive responsible design. 

Therefore, there is a reductive aspect to our design process, which is both inspiring and challenging. We purposefully choose trims that are natural and recyclable. We also eliminate all synthetics, which means we don’t use zips. Instead, we use natural buttons made of agora shell or corozo nuts. They add interesting details that are both functional and biodegradable. 

Our elastic is natural rubber encased in organic cotton, which took several seasons to develop. It sounds very nerdy, but using an elastic made of natural material is one of the highlights of my time designing at Kowtow!  

To further its circular values, does Kowtow have a repair program? 

Our mission does not stop at your purchase. Because we strongly believe in circular design, we offer a free repair program for minor repairs to Kowtow garments, including mending seams, broken stitching, small holes or tears, and replacing buttons.

For larger rips or stains, we also offer a traditional Japanese patching technique, Sashiko, for a small fee. This bespoke option is about valuing and extending the life of the garment by strengthening it and taking the time to make it beautiful. 

Since the inception of our repair program in 2019, our in-house team has repaired over 500 garments. For advice on fixing your beloved Kowtow garment, email our team or visit our Auckland or Wellington stores.

What’s your favourite Material Matters style? 

My favourite piece, the ‘Unisex Tapestry’ jumper, is a bit special. It was created by my good friend and former Kowtow designer Yoshi. She recently left for a new adventure in Japan, and I miss her every day. The jumper reminds me of her, and I love spotting it on people. It’s a contemporary interpretation of iconic Bauhaus geometric shapes in a greige and black knit. 

What’s your top autumn styling tip? 

I find that cotton knitwear is the best for autumn in New Zealand. Material Matters offers knits of varying chunkiness, colours, and texture, as classic layering pieces or stand-out graphic jacquards.  

Discover Kowtow’s Material Matters collection at kowtow.com

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