Sydney designer Kit Willow Podgornik has been busy. Less than two years after she was forced from her label Willow after it was bought by The Apparel Group, which acquired a majority shareholding in the business in September 2011, she's back on the style agenda with a new label called KitX. The contemporary brand purports to make not only the kind of clothes that modern women want to wear, but also ethical and sustainable - a combination that is notoriously difficult to pull off.
Podgornik took a year off following her departure from Willow, an acrimonious parting of ways that resulted in a legal battle that settled out of court. 'When the split happened, I was 37 and certainly not ready to not continue,' she explains. 'I still loved designing and I wanted to build another brand with an incredible team.'
'KitX is the direction I wanted to take Willow in; to create beautiful clothes that have a deeper meaning,' said Podgornik, who spent much of that break reseraching fashion's environmental accountability. 'I never realised the effect that the materials used in fashion have on the planet - even just the packaging,' she continues. 'It made my blood boil. I realised that fashion industry is the second biggest polluting industry in the world; many cotton farmers don't live past the age of 45 because they die of cancers caused by all the chemicals they're exposed to, which in turn pollute water supplies for villages. I had space to look around and think about what to do next, what women want and need, and it was so clear to me that the way forward was a brand with no negative effects on the planet or its people, right down to having happy salespeople.'
But she's adamant that the ethical aspect doesn't drive the brand's aesthetic. 'It's not about preaching,' she insisted. 'It's about creating beautiful, wearable clothes and it's my job to make sure they're desirable. They're for women like me: a bit rock, but clean, you know? They're high-frequency pieces that you'll wear a lot. It's no more challenging than designing a [non-ethical] label; in some ways the choices are easier because the options are more focused.'
The 'X' in the name of the label, she said, is a nod to a triptych of aspects: the female chromosome, the lacing of the corsetry that she became known for at Willow, and the Roman numeral 'X' in honour of the ten years she spent helming her previous business. The collection contains many other signature elements - razor-sharp tailoring, corsetry references in lacings over bare skin exposed by cut-out panels - in a sparse palette, using ethical and sustainable silks, leather, cotton and wool.
Plans for a KitX flagship store in Sydney's Paddington neighbourhood are also in the pipeline. She has appointed March Studio, which has created the interiors of numerous international Aesop stores, as well as restaurant Lucy Liu in Sydney and the Damir Doma store on rue St Honoré, to handle the fit-out of the store, which is expected to open in late September. 'I love their work, it's all about the craft,' she explained. 'They have a dedicated carpentry section at their studio where they make everything, and I love that.'
The layout and materials for the fit-out of the store in an 19th century building, which counts fellow Australian designer label Scanlan & Theodore as a neighbour, are yet to be finalised. 'We've stripped it all out and are looking at it in its raw state,' said Podgornic. 'We're going to work with the bones of the building; it's all just bricks and floors at the moment.'