It’s one thing to talk about sustainability, but putting it into practice, especially in an industry as set in its ways as the fashion industry, requires a special dedication and approach.

Felicity Bonello

Josh Geelen

1 March, 2023

Kit Willow is a champion of change. With over 20 years’ experience in the fashion industry, the Founder and Creative Director of KitX – a sustainable Australian fashion brand known for its ethical and eco-friendly approach to fashion design – is disrupting an often-complex industry, by placing environmental consciousness at the heart of every move she makes. 

Sustainability and fashion is certainly a complicated topic, and one that can feel quite confusing, both for the consumer and for brands trying to do the right thing. In Australia alone some 200,000 tonnes of clothing and textiles end up in landfill every year according to the Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water – globally the number tips 40 million tonnes either sent to landfill or incinerated.

In general we are buying more clothes than previous generations, yet wearing them less frequently before discarding them and replacing them with new, cheaply made items of essentially unknown provenance, rather than ‘buying quality clothes and wearing them longer’ as Willow advocates.

Certainly, finding a way out of our current linear system of production – that is, we take materials from the earth, make products from them, and eventually throw them away as waste – feels like a mighty big undertaking.  However, Willow is using her undeniable passion towards creativity, nature, and sustainable fashion, to forge a new way, with an authenticity that commands we sit up and take notice.

Having established herself as a trailblazer in the eco fashion movement, Willow is determined to move beyond sustainability. By challenging the world’s unhealthy relationship with fashion - which is quite literally costing the earth – she is committed to reducing the environmental impact of the KitX brand by creating design centric fashion within a considered, transparent, circular framework. 

From consciously sourcing materials from farmers who practice regenerative agriculture, utilising biodegradable materials like buttons made from nuts, and garments created from up-cycled denim, plastic pollution, or unwanted textiles, right through to manufacturing and shipping, she has created a supply-chain-first business with planet earth’s wellbeing and ethics at its core. 

She cites, “We create product love with high frequency wear, superior quality and creative design while consciously sourcing materials that minimise harm to our planet’s precious resources.” 

Then there are initiatives like KitXchange, a clothing returns program that seeks to change the ‘throwaway’ attitude by giving KitX items a new lease on life. The program allows the original owner of a KitX item to return the garment which is then cleaned and prepared for its next owner –a voucher for 50 percent of the sale going to the original owner. 

Likewise her Future from Waste Lab champions waste as a resource and diverts discarded fashion from landfill, literally transforming used clothes on-site – ‘unpicked, recut, redesigned, modelled and photographed’ before being sold anew. This initiative offers an innovative solution to closing the loop, extending the life cycle of used garments and creatively reinterpreting waste. 

Just as her brand has become a shining example of how fashion can be both stunning and sustainable, Willow, through her advocacy efforts which continue to raise awareness and inspire environmentally conscious fashion choices, is the type of business leader the fashion industry can lean on and learn from. 

Creating an ethical fashion empire is no easy feat, but for this disruptor, there was no other way to create a business. Willow launched KitX in 2014 armed with an activist streak, an inability to turn a blind eye to the social and environment transgressions of global clothing manufacturing, and perhaps a point to prove.

Like many successful entrepreneurs, Willow has experienced her share of setbacks and challenges. Following the forced departure from the eponymous label she founded in the 2000s, she has been open about the lessons she learned from this experience and has credited it with helping her to develop a more sustainable, ethical, and responsible approach to fashion design. Her ability to learn from her mistakes and use that knowledge to create a more responsible and sustainable business is testament to her entrepreneurial spirit and ability to adapt to changing circumstances.

“I strongly believe in a better world, through the simple mantra of making women look and feel beautiful, without harming our planet, so everyone can win,” she says.

While the road to building a responsible brand is a journey rather than a destination, the KitX brand continues to triumph along the way, with recognition from organisations such as Ethical Clothing Australia, a not-for-profit organisation that accredits Australian fashion brands for their commitment to fair labour practices.

Certainly Willow has demonstrated by her actions and dedication to her principles that she is more than willing to ‘put planet before profits’. There are easier and more profitable ways to build a fashion brand, but that’s not the way she operates. Fashion and genuine sustainability don’t need to be mutually exclusive and the entrenched attitudes and ways of doing things in the fashion industry can be changed. Thankfully, armed with her fierce vision and change-making initiatives, Kit Willow and her brand are at the fore.