Cinematographer & winemaker, Michael Seresin and Kowtow founder & creative director, Gosia Piątek usually live in London. On an extraordinarily windy day, Gosia & Michael find themselves on the other side of the world. Seeking shelter in our Wellington flagship store, the two share motivations of what led them to start organic businesses over a glass of certified organic and biodynamically grown, Seresin Moana Rose.
Story photographed by Georgie Veitch.
Michael Seresin: Now, pronunciation. I say “Cow-Taw” but you say “Ko-Toe”
Gosia Piątek: Yes, you say it right. When I read it, I did as “Kia Ora Koutou” because I didn’t know what the word was.
MS: It’s an Indian word originally isn’t it?
GP: Well, our clothes are made in India, but it’s a Chinese word.
GP: Yeah. It’s a historical Chinese act of deep respect, to kneel and bow your head to the ground.
MS: So how did you get into clothing? Didn’t you start in film?
GP: Only at reception. My brother worked for Peter Jackson when they were small. I was a bit more of a vagabond and really into snowboarding, so travelled the world chasing the snow. When I came back to Wellington, he told me I had to get a job and so he put me on reception at Weta. It was while I was working there, that I realised what I really wanted to do was create change and start a business that would contribute to something good. And that was 13 years ago, when organics and fair trade wasn’t really on people’s radar. So when I started selling our clothes around the country, people didn’t really understand it. Fast forward to now and it’s at the front of people’s minds. The momentum has really built, and what I really love about our brand is that we don’t compromise.
MS: Do you design everything?
GP: I’m the creative director. We have 26 employees in Wellington now, we’ve employed a sales manager in London and have two people in Melbourne, and we have an agent in New York, warehousing in America, Europe, Australia & New Zealand. So I can’t do it all, but I do oversee every design.
MS: Yeah, I see. I know a little bit about that from meeting people in your world. There’s the concept, making, meetings, deconstruction - that whole process, and then there is the sourcing of the materials.
GP: Yeah. For us, it’s everything. Even all the elements in this store have been considered. Like, these rugs - they’re made from regenerated nylon consisting of fishing nets pulled from the ocean.
GP: Yeah, and all our swimwear is made from regenerated nylon too. I met the person who started it all at the Copenhagen Fashion Summit.
MS: So who sources all the fabrics? Do you go to trade fairs and find it yourself?
GP: The regenerated nylon is the only fabric we’ve bought that is ready to use. The rest, we make from yarn. So we have a transparent production chain - I actually just visited it before Christmas. We can trace from farm, to ginning mill, to spinning, to weaving or knitting. We don’t use zips, because we can’t find ethically made zips. All our buttons are made from recycled hemp in Italy.
MS: Who does all the homework on that?
GP: We have a design team.
MS: So, you say “I like a button, but it has to be ethical.”
GP: Well, we’re just really selective and minimal. We have a new designer now, who is very excited about the challenges of working only with organic, renewable, biodegradable and regenerated materials. There is a very tight brief in what we do and I think that's when magic happens. We don’t use anything synthetic and if we do, it has to be regenerated.
MS: We’ve made changes the vineyard a bit. We had three and I’ve sold off two mostly because we’re surrounded by industrial vineyards and so the spray drifts. But where we are now, which is our biggest of 200 acres is good. We’ve had it for around 15 years and I’ve just said no plastic - that’s it. Plastic is poison and I don’t want plastic for anything, and if it arises in anything then we need to find an alternative. I want it off the whole site. So, I just tell the staff, if you want to bring your lunch in here, please don’t bring it in plastic. And it takes time to sink in, because it has to come from the people you work with. But, recycled is something else though, you can re-use it.
GP: Definitely, so for our swimwear, we have a take back program.
MS: I saw that.
GP: I just feel it is the responsibility of the designer - and us, as business owners - to be accountable for the end life of the product.
MS: Yeah. I think in the next 10 years it is going to be so radical.
GP: I think so too.
MS: Change and awareness is necessity. I think awareness is one thing, and it’s what you do about it is another. You know, what do you do about it? How do you make your mark without just talking about it? Words are easy, but then you have to actually do something about it.
GP: Yeah, totally. You know, its funny because there are quite a few parallel interests between you and I, but I realise I don’t know much about organics in the wine industry. Why did you get into organic wine? What is bio-dynamic?
MS: Organic - the principal is, if you can grow grapes and make wine without chemicals, why not? In a cool region like Marlborough, it's simpler than in a warmer or a hot region. And even more fundamental is that, you know, us humans are making a pretty unhealthy state of the world in a lot of ways, and if you can contribute to counter-balance that, why not? At the very beginning I bought the land in 1992.
GP: As a vineyard?
MS: No. The plants started from scratch. It was 175 acres of grazing land, and we started conventionally. You know, vines, like cotton, can be grown without chemicals.
MS: It’s harder work, it’s more labour intensive and also you have the ethical element of all of it, which is part of why we’re organic. But, it was in the second year that a very close friend of mine - an Italian winemaker (who introduced us to olives) and I were driving around Tuscany, and I said “it’s strange how all the things growing are vines”. And the third time I commented on that, he told me I was an idiot, because the people who were growing these vines did so with many chemicals. We carried on the conversation that day and that night, and when I went back to London I did a bit of research, found out more, called the vineyard and told them we’re going organic. I had all sorts of reactions, and I think it was because people were insecure about it and it does require a lot more work - getting your bum off a tractor, walking around and observing. But, coming back to your original question. We pursued organics and we had a bunch of people working with us who responded to that, because they agreed with it. And then, once I found out more about bio-dynamics (I like the rituals) I found it all works. Some of it might be mumbo jumbo, but if you look at agriculture in other countries, that was how they did it. You know, using phases of the moon -
GP: But moon planting is obvious. Because water seeps up and seeps down. There is nothing mumbo jumbo about it, its physics.
MS: Well, there are elements of it that are mumbo jumbo - not phases of the moon, that absolutely isn’t nonsense at all, that is centuries old, if not millennia old. You know I’m not being negative about the mumbo jumbo.
GP: Yeah, rituals are nice.
MS: Oh they’re essential. Absolutely. There is a whole ethos around it.
GP: It’s been so lovely to meet you.
MS: Thank you so much.
GP: I can’t thank you enough, really.
MS: It’s mutual.
Kowtow is proud to have Seresin wine accompany the label at events around the world. Join us at our European launch party at Centre Commercial in Paris on February 28th.