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Kathryn Wilson takes back her company on its 15th anniversary

As New Zealand shoe label Kathryn Wilson turns 15, its founder has bought out her two co-owners to take full control of the company. We chatted with Kathryn Wilson about the milestone and her show at New Zealand Fashion Week.

By Sarah Dunn | August 30, 2018 | Design

Kathryn Wilson officially signed the documents to confirm 100 percent ownership of the company bearing her name on May 1. This meant the end of an era for former co-owners Caroline and Lloyd Sills, who formerly had a 50 percent share in the company.

The couple, now in their 70s, run a number of apparel brands themselves: Caroline Sills, Sills + Co, Isaac + Lulu and Sills.

Wilson emphasised that there was no negative reason for the buy out, praising the couple for their kindness and support approach as shareholders: “What I do get from Lloyd and Caroline is their 45 years of expertise.”

In 15 years of working together, they’d never had a disagreement, she says. Allowing Wilson to buy the Sills out has been a shared goal for some five years.

“For me, it has been more of a natural progression than any particular reason to do it,” Wilson says. “To do [the change in ownership] in a financial way means we part ways in a really wonderful amicable way.”

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When she began the brand, Wilson says, the Sills enabled the its growth by helping her raise capital, and she’s pleased to be able to give them a return on their investment by buying them out.

“I wanted to get the business to a point where, A) They’d be proud; and B) I could thank them for their nurturing and mentoring.”

In preparation for the change in ownership, Wilson has spent the last 18 months or so getting her label shipshape and making changes. The company partnered with DHL for logistics and distribution; outsourced the contract for its admin; and shifted office in 2017.

“We knew it was coming so we put these things in place so it wasn’t like pulling the rug out from under us,” Wilson says.

Wilson, who is 38, says this new era of the business represents the end of “hopefully the first quarter to half” of her career, and the beginning of the next stage. She feels taking ownership of her label means she’s now more free to make decisions based on her own energy, goals and family needs.

“I feel like I’ve got the whole rest of my career to take the brand to new places.”

However, when it comes to growth, Wilson is focused on what the brand can do for her team.

“There’s certain risks I want to take because I love growth and I love change and I love momentum, but I wouldn’t put my staffs’ livelihood at risk.”

In the future she wants to increase Kathryn Wilson’s retail presence in New Zealand outside Auckland, while balancing this with the needs of her 80 wholesalers. There’s also a new website on the cards which will be more intuitive and data-driven.

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Wilson wants shopping for her shoes to continue to be a “joyful experience” for customers: “For us to be that happy place for women.”

Going forward, Wilson says she’d love to spend more time nurturing the next generation of Kiwi footwear designers. She wants to inspire them with the optimism and big-picture thinking that powered her own rise to the top, asking emerging designers: “What’s the worst that could happen? Pick a dream job.”

To illustrate the power of positive thinking, Wilson shares an anecdote about meeting one of her heroes, global shoe mogul Jimmy Choo. She was somewhat starstruck upon being introduced to him, and to her embarrassment, began oversharing: “I said, ‘I had a dream that I fell over in front of you’… and I looked up, and he had his arms open, and he said, ‘But I would catch you, Katherine.’”

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