Your Business: Smart partners boost fashion firm

By Gill South

Designer Kathryn Wilson.  Photo / Greg Bowker
Designer Kathryn Wilson. Photo / Greg Bowker

At last year's NZ Fashion Week, shoe designer Kathryn Wilson had an extravaganza of a show, with 3000 people and the singer Kimbra performing.

"We wanted to turn it on its head this year," she says. "Fashion Week is a great platform to show to trade accounts but we are saturated," says the entrepreneur, who has 50 Kathryn Wilson stockists in New Zealand.

She showed her new swimwear range designed with Emma Ford last Friday night in a group show, hosted a designer show on behalf of Ronald McDonald House on Saturday and another event is planned in early October, sponsored by Westpac.

Wilson's focus is on retail at the moment with her first shop now open at 52 Tyler St in Britomart. "The expense of retail has been quite daunting but I am liking the fact that you get to tell your story in your own shop," she says.

The designer also has a mobile store, in the shape of a shoebox, sponsored by Vodafone, which is going to be heading down the country to a new destination.

Customers are allowed to vote for the next location by texting in.

"It's given us a massive marketing push," says Wilson.

The Auckland designer, who set up her business with the support of knitwear designer Caroline Sills and her husband, Lloyd, in October 2003, introduced a diffusion shoe line, Miss Wilson, in February 2011.

The Miss Wilson line has been a "massive" success leading to a 35 per cent growth in the business' sales in the last financial year, says Wilson.

Miss Wilson sells into stores that don't stock Kathryn Wilson, shoe stores and department stores rather than the fashion boutiques which are the Kathryn Wilson domain.

"Miss Wilson launched at the right time in the market when things were starting to slow down, it's been great for us," she says.

Both lines are being exported to Hong Kong and Australia, with China and Japan likely to be next.

An upmarket little girls' shoe range which includes patent leather riding boots and loafers is to be launched in March 2013 targeted at grandparents.

"It enables us to reach a new audience," says Wilson.

The designer has a number of brand partners which help raise the Kathryn Wilson profile.

"We are brand ambassadors for Veuve Clicquot, BMW and Hilton," she says. Wilson is also the face of the AMP scholarship programme.

"It's about being the personality behind the brand."

And while the Sills remain 50 per cent shareholders of her sub-$2-million-turnover company, it is likely they will sell their shareholding in the coming years. At the moment, Lloyd Sills handles Wilson's freight and distribution.

"It's a neat partnership, it leaves me to run the business," says Wilson, who is based above the Caroline Sills shop in Devonport.

The three-year strategic plan is for a store in Wellington and, in five years, Christchurch and Dunedin or Queenstown-as well.

When she has a question, she consults designer Karen Walker, model agency owner Sara Tetro, or TV producer Julie Christie.

The finalist for the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year 2011 has an advisory board, with finance and IP experts.

"Karen Walker said to make sure that I had someone creative as well as financial on the board," says Wilson. So the financial advisers couldn't shut down every creative idea. She has appointed Droga5's James Polhill.

Wilson has already been approached by people wanting to invest in the company. "[The Hyperfactory's] Derek Handley keeps saying, 'When can I buy into your business?'."

- NZ Herald

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