Hot four under 40: Kathryn Wilson

To celebrate our 40th issue, we found four smarties under 40 each doing their own thing. Here's how they did it and why they're choice.

To celebrate our 40th issue, we found four smarties under 40 each doing their own thing. Here's how they did it and why they're choice.

What would entrepreneur Kathryn Wilson be doing for a day job if she hadn’t made it as a shoe designer?

“I’ve never considered that,” she says. “Shoes have always been an important part of my life! I’ve wanted to be a shoe designer since I was a teenager.”

Wilson, who was a finalist in last year’s Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year awards, graduated from Massey University in 2001 with a Bachelor of Design degree and didn’t want to wait to start her own footwear brand, in case someone else had the same idea. Undaunted by the reality that the footwear industry in New Zealand is in decline, she opened up shop at the age of 22, after working as an assistant knitwear designer at Caroline Sills in Auckland.

An AMP scholarship for shoe design followed and Caroline and Lloyd Sills – who are now 50 percent shareholders in Wilson’s business – were “very supportive”, she says.

“They offered to help finance the launch of a footwear brand to wholesale into stores throughout New Zealand.

“In 2003 the ‘Kathryn Wilson’ brand was launched with seven designs into seven stores around the country – we now sell to more than 100 stores across New Zealand and Australia, with our flagship store in Britomart, Auckland, which opened last year.”

So now she’s kicking back and letting the cash roll in, right? Ha! Not so – her days are busier than ever.

“Every day there’s a different priority depending on the time of the year and season. I like to start the day with yoga or a walk to get some air then generally head over to the office in Devonport to tackle anything from marketing, production, quality control, design and research, distribution, sales forecasts, costings and budgets.

“I love that my role is so varied, each part is equally important and relevant to the long- term growth of the business.”

Wilson now travels to Hong Kong and Japan twice a year to see what people are wearing on the street and what’s being shown in retail stores. She’s inspired by travel, friends, movies, life, books and international trends and describes her brand as “playful, innovative, colourful, directional, sophisticated”.

Online sales are now a bigger part of the business so the brand is competing on an international scale.

“We’re fortunate to be operating in a relatively small industry in New Zealand and Australia, several of our competitors are friends in the business so we all push each other on to strive for greater success.”

Want a Wilson gig?
“Go for it! Follow your gut, stay focused, laugh along the way. Listen to the advice of experts and those who have made mistakes you can learn from. You’ll need courage, determination, passion, confidence, self-belief, patience and a sense of humour. Choose a job you love and you’ll never have to work a day in your life!”

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