'Nobody really believed it would take off': Kit Willow, founder of label KITX, on being ahead of the curve on sustainability in Aussie fashion

  • When Kit Willow left her first business in 2016 to found a new label, she was determined that it would adhere to a standard of radical sustainability completely foreign to the industry at the time.
  • Since the pandemic hit last year, forcing the industry to reckon with unsold stock and a broken supply chain — sustainability is now top priority for brands globally.
  • “We believe this must be the new standard for the industry,” Kit Willow, founder and owner of KITX, told Business Insider Australia.
  • Visit Business Insider Australia’s homepage for more stories.

Australian Fashion Week has never been considered particularly ahead of the curve, but in the past year the global fashion industry has finally caught up to one designer.

Kit Willow, who left her first brand to create a new label KITX, based on a strict philosophy of building a label with practices she could be proud of, told Business Insider Australia that while she was considered an outlier at the time, she’s vindicated to see that the industry has caught up.

“KITX was founded to lead fashion towards a positive impact,” Willow said. “Sustainability has been core to the brand’s DNA since the inception.”

“This was non-negotiable.”

For her label, it means considering “every aspect from conscious sourcing, design, manufacture throughout the garment to the life cycle and eventual disposal of fashion.”

Willow says that the industry was caught out when the consumption that kept it moving along stopped dead when the pandemic hit. It exposed the reality of how the industry works, she said.

(Photo by Stefan Gosatti/Getty Images)

Back in 2016, when her label launched, sustainability and ethics were “less important to the industry and especially suppliers,” Willow said.

“Nobody really believed that it would take off and that especially luxury customers would want sustainable and ethical fashion.”

When building supply chains that made sense long-term, Willow said it was difficult to find suppliers for materials that could provide the transparency required.

While almost every brand now has a public narrative around sustainable practices, she said the danger now is that the biggest buzzword in the industry begins to serve only marketing purposes.

“It’s dangerous to see sustainability as a trend,” Willow said.

“Now there is much more awareness and consciousness but we are still at the beginning.”

(Photo by Mark Nolan/Getty Images)

Sponsored by Australian buy now, pay later company Afterpay, many of the established Australian brands showing this week are trialling new buying strategies this year, borrowed from international runways.

Labels including Bassike and Manning Cartell are implementing “see-now, buy-now” strategies that let attendees buy direct from the runway.

Willow says her goal for her label this year is to take such initiatives one step further.

“We are looking to turn the model on its head,” she said.

“KITX shifted in early 2020 to driving a more sustainable business model via pre-order to customers, minimising waste and reducing excess stock levels.

“This was partly in response to the necessity of operating a fashion business through COVID-19, the challenges for manufacturing, logistics, but it was a necessary reckoning for the industry.”

She said that the newly-released collection has been set up to be pre-ordered directly from the runway for any customer — “so there is less future waste,” she said.

(Photo by Mark Nolan/Getty Images)

She said she hopes more brands turn to this approach in the future.

“Producing less and to pre-order means only producing what people desire, what they have bought, [which] means less in landfill.

“Ultimately more thoughtful consumption benefits us all.”

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