Our Brand & Business

Behind our Brand

Kuwaii is a brand built on values. In everything we do, we try to be sustainable, honest, fair and kind – principles which have a real impact on the way we make our clothes, the people we work with, and how we run our business. Our approach is slower, more considered and sometimes complex, but we think it’s worth it.

Slow Fashion

We are passionately opposed to the ‘churn’ model of fast fashion. Our entire approach is setup to be different: smaller, slower and more simple.
Fast fashion is energy demanding, time consuming and pollution generating. It also poses serious ethical issues for worker’s rights. Items brought into Australia by trucks, ships and airplanes burn up tonnes of precious fossil fuels and emit harmful toxins into the atmosphere. Our slow fashion approach reduces this environmental havoc. It also ensures that we minimise our waste, both in terms of fabric during production and garment wastage at the end of each season.

Despite having two retail stores, we keep our production runs very, very small.
Volume and quality are intrinsically linked. Fast fashion brands typically produce huge volumes of low-quality garments, and demand unethically low prices from their makers. The items produced are designed to be high-turnover, and are often nearly out of trend before they’re even taken home by a new owner.
These fast fashion brands will release up to 52 new seasons a year, with some releasing as many as 400 new styles each week onto their web stores. When you think about how many of these items end up in landfill within six months, it’s pretty shocking.

In contrast, we produce very small runs, made to order, with a strong focus on designing forever. Our designs and fabrics last the test of time – a fact we know, because our customers tell us! We have chosen a model that is low volume and high quality. Each year, we produce two seasons and one swimwear collection – high quality garments, in timeless designs, made in very small runs. In fact, some styles we create are only ever produced in a run of 10. That’s only 10 made in the whole wide world, across all sizes and colours.

Transparency

Being honest about who we are and how we operate is central to our business. We believe in direct communication and transparency at all levels. This approach has helped us build enduring relationships with very loyal customers, suppliers and staff – many of whom have been with us since the very beginning.

Our customers know who we are. They know that when they come into a Kuwaii store, they’ll be treated like family – either by our owner/designer Kristy who is often working in store, or by one of our friendly Kuwaii shop girls. We are 100% independently owned and run, which means we are in control of every element of our business. This allows us to stay true to our values, and means we can communicate openly.

Honesty is not only important to us in our external dealings, it’s integral to the operation of our business at every level. We have meetings every month with our team, where we talk frankly about everything from business strategy, progress, and day-to-day activities. All communication between team members is transparent – there are no closed-door meetings in our office! Being honest also means not trying to hide from our own mistakes, and we promote accountability by never being afraid to admit when we’ve made a wrong turn.

Minimising Waste

Fast fashion is the second most polluting industry in the world, second only to Big Oil. It’s a pretty awful reality. This high turnover model is directly responsible for some of our planet’s most critical environmental issues, including the carbon impact of global transportation, mass consumption of nonrenewable energy, and landfill overload.

With any type of production, there is always some waste – we try to keep ours to a minimum by designing a little more cleverly. We keep off-cuts and end of season’s fabric and, instead of discarding them, turn them into garments which are sold at our charity sample sales. By doing this, we minimise our waste, create garments for our customers to love, as well as helping the community. It’s a win, win and win. When we can’t use the leftover fabric ourselves, we donate it to local craft groups, schools and kindergartens. We give fabric to the Brotherhood of St Laurence, who use it in art therapy and sewing classes, or we donate it to Resource Rescue Inc. Our fabric sample swatches are dismantled and donated to a local kindergarten for their craft projects. It’s not a bulletproof solution, and we do sometimes end up with smaller scraps of fabric that we need to dispose of. We’d love to improve this. If you have a use for fabric scraps, or know of an organisation or community group who do, we’d love to hear from you.

Recycling

At Kuwaii, we’re doing our best to minimise our waste through recycle and reuse programs. All Kuwaii stores and studios have a strict recycling policy. Our packaging and printed lookbooks are made from recycled materials, and we have a ‘paper free’ policy towards receipts for purchases made in store. We use recycled paper for printing, notebooks and practically everything we can in both our stores and offices. We also reuse our packaging and tissue paper until it’s no longer useable, at which point we recycle it.

We only use old-fashioned clothes brushes in store to avoid the waste caused by disposable lint rollers. Our studio, shop and office furniture is repurposed vintage, and we always recycle our plastic garment shipping bags. We also take great care to make sure there are no hangers being discarded – we return plastic hangers to our manufacturers and wire hangers to our dry cleaners so they can be re-used.

Environment

Our stores are run with 100% renewable, carbon neutral electricity. We also have switched to ‘GreenPower,’ meaning that we are contributing to renewable energy development in Australia by paying extra on our electricity bills. We support companies who are committed to making a difference and whose practices are in line with our strict cruelty-free policy. We look for local businesses who are vegan, committed to using natural alternatives to chemical ingredients, who donate parts of their proceeds to charity, and who, like us, try to minimise their environmental impact wherever possible. Some of our favourite companies and products are:

 

  • Who Gives a Crap toilet paper and face tissues
  • Natures Organic – Earth Choice and Organic Care cleaning products and handwash
  • WotNot biodegradable baby wipes for spot cleaning
  • Sheils reusable jewellery cleaning cloths
  • Going Green Solutions biodegradable bin liners

 

Gender Equality

Kuwaii is still independently owned and run by designer/entrepreneur Kristy Barber, who started the brand in 2008.  Women hold every role within the business – from upper management, to sales staff, to our garment and footwear makers. Even our business lawyer, accountant and business coach are women. We believe in empowering women throughout our entire business, and we are proud to say so. Mentorship is incredibly important to us, and we love seeing younger women on our team flourish. We also believe in giving women opportunities to develop, and have a strong policy in promoting people up through the ranks.

Our passion for equality and empowering women doesn’t stop with our staff and suppliers. We think it is essential that the fashion industry broadens its representation of women, and are driving this message through our Girls of Kuwaii campaign. By celebrating the real women who wear our garments and shoes, we hope to promote a more diverse, inclusive perspective of women in fashion.

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"We think it is essential that the fashion industry broadens its representation of women, and are driving this message through our Girls of Kuwaii campaign. By celebrating the real women who wear our garments and shoes, we hope to promote a more diverse, inclusive perspective of women in fashion."

Community

We believe we have a responsibility to contribute positively to our local community. All Kuwaii items are produced locally, which is important to us because it means we’re providing jobs and keeping trades alive. We’re also passionate about supporting our local creative community, and doing our best to help those who are disadvantaged. We are lucky to have a network of creative collaborators, and we support this community by hosting events and collaborative sales. We are also proud to stock a selection of pieces from small, Australian-based jewellers in our retail stores, such as Seb Brown, Mavro, Kim Victoria and Kitsu. As our business grows, we’re looking forward to being able to continue celebrating and supporting other up-and-coming local businesses.

We work with local charitable services to provide support to those in our community who are disadvantaged or underprivileged. Each season, we allocate product donations through several community organisations. We also regularly make financial contributions, and have allocated a Charity Sample Sale into our annual calendar. For one weekend each year, we donate all proceeds from our sample sale, plus 10% of our entire store’s takings, to a chosen charity. In 2015 our Charity Sample Sale generated $1800 for Oxfam’s Nepal Relief fund, while in 2016 the sale allowed us to donate $2500 to GiveDirectly.

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