Kathryn Wilson: Pressing for progress

Ryan Boyd
Kathryn Wilson: Pressing for progress

Kathryn Wilson’s love of shoes has seen her turn her passion into New Zealand’s premier footwear brand.

Always ambitious, she launched her own brand when she was just 23 years old.

“I wanted to design and manufacture shoes that were innovative, colourful, playful, and something that was different to what was available in the market,” she says.  

And since then, her designs have become highly sought after fashion items stocked in over 100 local boutiques around New Zealand and Australia, plus opening three of her own branded boutiques in Auckland.

But there is much more to Kathryn than her unique designs. As part of International Women’s Day, she talked to REDnews about pressing for progress, why “balance” doesn’t exist, and how she would love to have dinner with Beyoncé.


The 2018 IWD theme is #PressForProgress. What progress have you seen made during your time as a fashion designer, and in what areas do you think progress still needs to be made?

Probably one of the biggest things I’ve seen myself has been women in leadership roles or management roles.

In travelling overseas and working with manufacturers all over the world, it has been something that’s come up. Not only was I young, but I was also female, so going against people in the room that would answer my questions to the male counterpart, it’s just something that we’ve had to get used to.


How do you personally press for progress?

Press for Progress for me personally would reflect around giving women opportunity to grow within their chosen career and supporting and encouraging women to take on leadership positions, or step up and be brave and take risks and have fun along the way.

If you’re in love with shoes and working in an industry of fashion, you’re potentially creative and like to do something outside the square, so it’s about encouraging anyone within our team to do the same and enjoy the ride.


What new challenges to running a business did motherhood bring?

Motherhood brings of course a set of challenges in itself. I often get asked about balance in life; I don't think it exists. I think you have to be realistic and accept help and be willing to share the load with the team, but also encourage others to step up to take on responsibilities in the business place.


How do you ensure your workplace is a positive and inclusive environment?

We like to celebrate at Kathryn Wilson that there is no hierarchy, so everyone that is employed, whether you’re on the shop floor or marketing or e-commerce or distribution, everybody is involved.

Once we’ve drawn all the shoes, we have the team give us their feedback and say what they’re loving, not loving.

It’s such a small tight family that the journey of the brand becomes everyone’s journey. That’s really important to me, especially as we grow that it remains that culture and making everyone feel very involved.


What to you is the biggest issue facing women in New Zealand today?

I think the biggest issue facing women in New Zealand at the moment is the women themselves, and putting pressure on how they feel they should achieve everything and do the right thing by everyone and do everything perfectly.

I think a lot of what I’ve learnt with having Lola and being a working mother is I put so much expectation on myself. When I would come to the office and get work done I’d feel so bad that I was meant to be at home with Lola and I’m missing out because the nanny’s taking her to the swing for the first time.

And when I’m with her at home and not scheduled to be here in the office of course I’m feeling pressure that I should be here helping the team and that I’m, letting people down.

There’s a lot of learning for me personally around not trying to be everything to everyone, and living in the moment, be present with who you’re with, whether you’re at home with the family or whether you’re in the office.

If you could have dinner with any woman, who would it be and why?

Beyoncé. Beyoncé is a girl-crush for most girls, but she also celebrates women and leadership and empowering other women to take on the world, whatever that might mean to them.

She’s not necessarily someone that’s super materialistic, she’s doing something that she loves every day. She’s a family woman, she’s a mother of three but managing to remain humble about it and has a really great reputation for helping other women success around her.

We’d have a lot to talk about.

The #MeToo movement has helped start a worldwide conversation on sexism. What are your thoughts on that? Are we experiencing a cultural shift?

I think there's definitely been a cultural shift of awareness around the Me Too campaign. I think it’s important, I think talking about it is important.

Women should never feel, men should never feel, people should never feel threatened by anything around them, so absolutely the more we’re talking about it, I’m hoping that will be absolutely unacceptable globally. 

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