When Kathryn Wilson launched her shoe business, she was just 22 years old. Today, it's a global brand, selling in over 100 local boutiques, and her own three stores. But the whole operation was almost unravelled by New Zealand Customs.

Just four years after her launch, she got a call telling her they would have to get rid of an entire container of shoes, because they might not have been fumigated to New Zealand standards. "When they said we can't release them, we're going to have to destroy them, at first I sat on the floor and cried". But instead of crumbling, she called her mentors Caroline and Lloyd Sills, to formulate a plan. "We had to remake the order, 3,000 pairs of shoes, airfreight them, and still deliver them on time. It could have been the end of us."

That's just an example of the can-do attitude that has served Kathryn well in her career. She says it started when her father passed away when she was seven.

"The lesson from that was to make the most of the days we have here. Who knows how long we've got? We may as well do something we love."


At a very young age, she decided that something would be designing shoes. Her childhood was spent going to Para Rubber and get Kung Fu shoes and Commando-Ms, to customise.

But she took it further than her sisters' efforts with puff pens. "I would cut them out, turn them into slingbacks, cut the toe open. Mum would be like 'Kathryn they're brand new shoes!'"

By 16 her mind was set. Her dream took her to university in Wellington, days spent doing work experience in the Karen Walker workroom, then to a specific shoe design course at Nottingham Trent University in the UK.

When she returned to New Zealand, full of ideas, she found her youthful enthusiasm met with cynicism from local designers.

"My heroes just looked at me and said pick another career. It's dire, everyone's shutting down". But Kathryn says because she was young and hungry, that just made her more determined.

Hear more about Kathryn Wilson's journey to Kiwi fashion legend in her episode of HP Business class here: