Kit Willow doesn’t let much daunt her in her uncompromising pursuit of sustainability. In her new Sydney headquarters, she’s as sanguine as ever about staring down our great ecological and ethical pain points in pursuit of a better fashion system. Among them is the loss of intergenerational and highly-specialized skills of artisans who still hand-make fabrics: the same who made the gossamer blush light silk of a dress with handkerchief hem in her newest collection. The whisper thin crepe requires 3,500 filaments of fine silk to be strung up, then hand woven. Replaced by power looms and cheaper mass manufacturing, the artisans in Varanasi, India, are the last in the world to practice the technique. “This skill is like seeing spun gold,” she says.
It’s why materiality shines so brightly in her collections. For spring 2024 these included linens, a new foray into Italian wool suiting on a nipped black jacket and skirt suit in sky blue, and liquid cowl-neck tops and dresses in a crushed satin made of regenerated cellulose that were moulded into flattering figure-eight silhouettes. These all sparked desire without tricked up embellishments. “You don’t need the bells and whistles, you just need the most beautiful fibers,” Willow says.
Willow has noticed that women are back traveling, which means functionality and convertibility are built into her new pieces, guaranteeing longevity. There’s a transformable linen midi that can be buttoned off to mini length and utilitarian day dresses are designed with extra roomy pockets. The designer uses her own pockets in lieu of plastic bags, assuring that she’s tried and tested their capacity to hold apples and the odd breadstick.
Pragmatism, a sense of humor, and a cool head: These qualities have served Willow well in the face of the sobering realities of making clothes in the 2020s. So much so she just received a local award, the Australian Fashion Laureate, for sustainable design for her pioneering work, which includes her founding of the upcycling project Future From Waste Lab. “It felt like a hug,” she says of the accolade. Hopefully a sustaining one to keep her keeping on.