A Good Evening: How Fashion can Empower Women

Last week as part of VAMFF 2017, our friends at Well Made Clothes hosted “A Good Evening – How Fashion can Empower Women”

Designer and owner of Kuwaii – Kristy Barber, was invited to share her design philosophy on the panel. Such inspiring discussions were heard, and we walked away feeling utterly empowered and activated to make some positive change in the industry. We wanted to share Kristy’s thoughts in how fashion can inspire women

Q. Tell us a little about why Kuwaii started and your philosophy behind the brand?

A. My original concept for starting the brand was to make holistic clothing – and what I mean by that is: simply beautiful clothing that to a point transcends size, age and style, so that many different women could enjoy and feel comfortable in our pieces. This was a really strong concept for me starting the brand, and one that I’ve been really able to hone over the time I’ve worked on Kuwaii. 

My main hope for Kuwaii is the same now as when I started 8 years ago – Kuwaii started from my personal ambition to want to change the way people consumed fashion, and to help lead the force against fast fashion, and encourage the return to a time when clothing was an investment.  

Part of my whole philosophy at Kuwaii is that we want to be an alternative. This can means an alternative to mass made fashion, or, to provide a thoughtful alternative for women, a safe alternative, to allow them to love themselves as they are, to feel confident, powerful and truly beautiful.

My main hope for Kuwaii is the same now as when I started 8 years ago – Kuwaii started from my personal ambition to want to change the way people consumed fashion, and to help lead the force against fast fashion, and encourage the return to a time when clothing was an investment.  

Q. What are your values as a women in the business of fashion?

A. My aim as a business owner is to recognise the value of everyone in my teams’ contributions, respect their dignity and make it possible for them to grow and develop. In everything I do, I try to be 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. 

Proudly today we employ a team of 10 women staff – women hold every role within our business, we are 100% woman owned, funded and independently run by myself. Plus we have an amazing supporting all women team of our makers – 2 incredible clothing makers who both came  to Australia in the 70s as refugees, and that we are very proud to have helped support set them and their families up with the help of the business we can give them. And also our 2 footwear makers – both women, fighting in an industry that’s firstly was considered dead in the 90s, and secondly is a traditionally male dominated industry. We’re very proud to support these women. Our lawyers, accountants and business coach – who are all women as well.

As a designer & someone who believes very strongly in a fair and simple local supply chain, I also know that there’s a powerful connection between what a woman wears and how she feels about herself. My aim as a designer is to create clothing, not only that will last my customers, and that they will truly love, but also to make every women that wears Kuwaii feel great about themselves and their appearance. 

"Proudly today we employ a team of 10 women staff – women hold every role within our business, we are 100% woman owned, funded & independently run by myself. Plus we have an amazing supporting all women team of our makers"

Q. How important is considering your customers when you design?

A. I think the most important consideration for me whenever I design anything is the intrinsic value and life that the garment will have and the value it will provide to it’s wearer & over what time. This means, actually how will our customer wear the piece – how useful will it be over the lifetime of the garment & the women, and how will it make her feel, how much will she love it, how long will she love it for. There is a sort of value in both dollar terms and emotional terms that a piece needs to illicit in a customer to make it worth us making and then worth the customer purchasing. Our aim is not to flood the market with poorly made, ill fitting clothing, but rather produce fewer, selected pieces, made with love and made to cherish.

 So when I’m designing a garment, I am always thinking – who will wear this, how will she wear it, what’s value does this piece provide to it’s wearer, how long will it last.

Q. What are some specific design details you consider when designing for the Kuwaii Women?

A. There are simple things I always think about – the coverage of bra straps and other underwear, considering sleeve and sleeve lengths, skirt lengths, the sheerness of fabrics. There’s details too – ties, wraps, strategically placed design lines, tucks, buttons – all these have the capacity to allow a garment to fit and flatter on the female form.  We have so much feedback from our customers who really notice and appreciate this level of thought and detail – feedback is that our customers actually feel understood through our designs, and that they often can tell it’s designed by a women, for a women’s body. 

I still also do all the fittings myself, often we will re sample and re fit pieces again and again until it feel just right. There’s nothing too rushed about this process, because getting it right means more to me than just simply churning out garments. This harkens back to our slower way of doing things. Over the years I have become quite experienced in how a slight tweak or tuck or a millimetre in or out here or there can change the garment for the better.