This high street label wouldn’t touch hemp until a designer opened its eyes

It took a lot of hemp to bring designer Kit Willow back to the high street, designing a capsule collection for Witchery.

The last time Willow played hard with fast fashion was in 2011 when her eponymous luxury label was acquired by Sportscraft’s parent company The Apparel Group, followed by her unceremonious departure in 2013.

Designer Kit Willow with models, in blue (Astrid Holler) in green (Nat Buchanan), wearing her latest capsule collection for Witchery.Credit:Flavio Brancaleone

“Let’s just say Willow was never intended to be high street,” Willow says. “Never.”

Since then, Willow has reinvented herself as a champion of sustainability with her label KitX and close work with the upcycling experimental workroom Future From Waste Lab. Finding herself designing for Witchery, with more than 100 stores spread across Australia and South Africa, was an unexpected departure from the green space and back onto the main road.

It was also a significant step back in time, with Willow having cut her teeth in Witchery’s marketing department before launching her first label in her twenties.

Designer Kit Willow at Vaucluse House for the launch of the KitX and Witchery capsule collection.Credit:Flavio Brancaleone

“This opportunity brought me back to my greater purpose, which is to create positive impact through design,” Willow says. “Witchery has a reach that’s much larger than my core customer with KitX, and I was excited to discover that their sustainability team was eager to work with me.”

This is where the hemp comes in, rolled carefully into fabrics that have a significantly lower environmental impact than cotton and make up nearly half of the collection.

“It was an eye-opener for the design team that hemp can have the look and feel of linen but with less of a crush,” Willow says. “As a future textile its consumption of water is low, it absorbs three times more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere than your average tree and attracts no insects, eliminating the need for insecticides.”

The spoonful of sugar accompanying the green medicine was Willow’s designs, with their statement sleeves, casual folds and subtle sexiness, drawing directly from her main collection.

“There’s no point expecting customers to buy something just because it’s sustainable,” Willow says. “It has to be appealing, so that people want to wear it again and again. All of our pieces are timeless. There’s even ocelot print, which works for a woman in her teens or her seventies.”

Willow had been circling the top of Witchery’s list as a partner, even before designer Kym Ellery became the brand’s first capsule collection collaborator in March, but managing director Simon Schofield had to confront his personal hemp prejudices.

An ocelot print dress that is part of the KitX for Witchery capsule collection ‘Towards A Sustainable Future’ designed by Kit Willow, that goes on sale November 4.

“Before this, our design team wouldn’t have touched it,” Schofield says. “Now we are looking at introducing hemp into our main collection. That’s just one change to the way we do business.”

The KitX collection, called Towards a Sustainable Future, also features compostable swing tags and care instruction tags made from organic cotton instead of polyester.

“This will filter down into our practices over time,” Schofield says. “To work with someone so much further along the sustainability journey than we are is inspiring. With this partnership, we had to abide by Kit’s principles but we have both taken away so much.”

Pieces from the Ellery collection in March sold out in days and Schofield has greater hopes for the KitX collection, which launches on November 4 in flagship stores and online.

“We found the designer collaboration brought a new customer to Witchery. It’s a younger and more fashion forward customer. We are expecting a lot of them to be coming to us through our digital stores for this collaboration.”

There were some sticking points, with the environmental impact of online delivery bags and upcycled polyester tassels keeping Willow awake at night.

“We have consciously sourced everything, but it’s still a matter of changing the world one frock at a time,” she says.

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