Kathryn Wilson

Kathryn Wilson on diversifying design

A step ahead

Footwear designer Kathryn Wilson is diversifying in design and escalating sustainability measures at the well‑loved brand.

If the old saying ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’ is obsolete, it could be replaced by ‘judge a person by their shoes’. In fact, an American study by Wellesley College found that shoes can be an indicator of one’s personality, status and political values.

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New Zealand footwear designer Kathryn Wilson doesn’t necessarily agree that someone can be judged by their shoes – but she does consider footwear to be a reflection of how someone is feeling, or how they aspire to feel. Her extensive shoe collections cover all the bases; from fun, colourful and sparkly high heels to practical midwork-week loafers and mules.

Her footwear is more revealing of a vibe, she says, rather than serving as an insight into someone’s personality or politics.

“Fashion is a celebration of wearing what makes you feel good,”

says the Auckland-based designer and entrepreneur.

“Our shoes are high quality and made to last, comfortable and playful. Our customers want to wear and support a NZ-designed-and-owned brand that fits well and looks great.”

Kathryn launched her premium footwear label in 2003, after graduating from Massey University and winning an AMP Scholarship at just 23 years old. Kathryn Wilson became one of NZ’s fastest-growing fashion brands and today its footwear is stocked in more than 100 boutiques, as well as four purpose-built retail stores and an online store.

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There have been highlights aplenty over Kathryn’s 20- year design career, including national entrepreneurial and leadership awards. Meeting ultra-luxe footwear designer Jimmy Choo in Malaysia then hosting him in NZ has been a personal highlight, as was that time Beyoncé snapped up a pair of Kathryn Wilson shoes for herself and daughter Blue Ivy on a visit to NZ.

“I would describe our style as timeless and colourful,” she says.

“Colour is easy to wear as an accessory – in footwear or handbags – instead of a garment. As for our collections, we always have far too many ideas! We’re designing what we want to be wearing ourselves, so inspiration comes from the pieces that are missing from our wardrobes, and that includes influences such as travel, music, film and vintage references.

“Our most popular shoe style for Kiwi women would have to be the platform heel. They are stylish yet practical and can take you through the day and dancing all night.”

This ease-of-wear extends to Kathryn Wilson’s new range of leather garments featuring jackets, shorts, handbags and belts. The company regulates all manufacturers to weigh their leather waste during production, which is then collected and repurposed for other goods. It’s just one of the sustainability measures undertaken by the brand. “It’s important to us to continue to learn better practices and improve our processes in the supply chain and manufacturing, packaging and distribution each season.

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We audit our suppliers alongside our sustainability pillars and have made small changes continuously to make less impact with the production of our designs.” With so much on the go, Kathryn is big on prioritising downtime with her husband Liam Taylor and their two daughters Lola (eight) and Stella (four), often zipping down to their beach house in Pauanui for weekends away and school holidays. “We have amazing help with a wonderful family nanny who assists with the logistics of daily life and my head office and retail teams at Kathryn Wilson are a huge support to me,” she says. “I couldn’t do it without them.”

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