Fast forward & rewind
Written by: Nadia Shaw-Owens
Women of different generations but followers of the same career path are partnered up and given the opportunity to draw from each other’s toolbox.
Beyond the structured shoulders and daring drop earrings of the 80s, the corporate landscape was a different beast to the sleek, contemporary office environments of today. Similarly, the notion of a parliamentary assembly composed of twenty- somethings was, at best, a humorous concept. Times move fast – Nadia Shaw- Owens asks what has changed, and what has endured?
Kate Sylvester is a celebrated fashion designer known for her blend of vintage-meets-contemporary designs. Her namesake label is fashion royalty here in New Zealand — remember Jacinda Ardern’s blue and red floral dress when she was sworn in as Prime Minister?
What do you believe are the greatest challenges and the rewards of your chosen career path?
As designers we have to find the balance between creativity and business and then sustain that balance. I find doing shows is a great way to keep my creativity flowing, and also building my collections around a strong theme, telling a story with my clothes ensures the creative process is fun and not just about top sellers. The greatest reward is meeting women wearing and loving my designs. It’s an incredible honour when someone chooses a Kate Sylvester dress to get married, or to be photographed for a front page but it’s just as rewarding when I meet a woman in the street and her Kate Sylvester outfit is just making her
What is something you wish you had been told when you first pursued your career, and what is the best piece of advice you can give to someone starting out in your industry?
Be bold, be brave, and back yourself. I had to learn this lesson pretty quickly in order to survive because this isn’t a career choice for the faint-hearted and I would pass this lesson on to anyone starting out. You need to have a unique voice and you need to be confident enough to shout to be heard. It’s really scary but it’s also exhilarating.
How has your industry’s landscape evolved during your career, and where do you see it going in the future?
30 years ago there was no social media and there was no online shopping. The rise and rise of the digital world has revolutionised how we communicate and how we sell. I love the fact that we now speak directly with our customers rather than press and retailers being gatekeepers. It has intensified business though — social media is a hungry beast that demands relentless feeding. I would love it if we could all find a way to slow down a bit. An important part of this is producing and buying for the long term, not the quick fix.
Which improvements would you love to see made in your industry?
The elimination of fast fashion and the elimination of textile waste. Brands like ourselves are making enormous progress on reducing our waste through initiatives such as Upparel that turn our textile waste into underlay for carpets. But anything small brands do is a drop in the bucket until the world stops buying multinational fast fashion.
From humble studio beginnings in an old farm shed in Kumeu, Caitlin Crisp is building her own fashion empire, yet still creates every custom order herself. Her bright and fresh patterns epitomise youthful sophistication.
What do you believe are the greatest challenges and the rewards of your chosen career path? The most rewarding part of what we do are all the incredible relationships that are created not only with customers, but also suppliers, employees and interns. It’s a privilege to make dresses that someone might wear on their wedding day, special birthday, baby showers and other memorable occasions. There are too many challenges to name, I’d bore you! There are so many moving parts to what we do, much more so than anyone realises. Most of our job is managing challenges and finding solutions to them but that’s all part of the fun.
What is something you wish you had been told when you first pursued your career, and what is the best piece of advice you can give to someone starting out in your industry? I wish I had been told that 99% percent of the job will be problem solving, no matter how good you are at what you do, there will always be challenges and obstacles. What will make you successful is your ability to keep a cool head and find the best possible outcome.
The best piece of advice I was given and always pass on is ‘We’re selling clothes, not saving lives’. It puts everything into perspective. We do what we do because we love it, not because anyone ‘needs’ us to do it. When something goes wrong, keep perspective and realise how lucky we are to have these problems… it could always be worse!
How has your industry’s landscape evolved during your career, and where do you see it going in the future? I have only had my business for four years but in that time there has been a huge shift to online shopping versus brick and mortar. I am sure there will be a shift back to customers preferring an in-store experience as Covid becomes a thing of the past. Personally, I love meeting and helping customers in person to find the best style and fit for them. We currently have a small area of our studio setup for this but I hope to have a store of our own someday in the future, that would be the dream!
Which improvements would you love to see made in your industry? It would be amazing to see more businesses shift production back to New Zealand where possible, our production industry here is already so small and needs help to maintain itself, let alone grow. I love the idea of a circular economy, that if someone buys a piece of Caitlin Crisp, that money is used to pay another Kiwi, who might go out and buy another NZ made product and so on.
Kate & Caitlin ask each other a question
How do you evaluate success in our career and is this something you feel you’ve already achieved or are still working towards? Our industry is fast-paced and constantly changing, so although I feel as though I have reached a level of success, there is always room for growth and improvement. I am constantly learning and striving to do better in all areas. Some measures of success to me are my team’s happiness and wellness, I wouldn’t feel successful if that success was at anyone else’s expense! It would never be worth it. I also feel success when we are able to find the perfect piece for a customer – we have dressed women for significant birthdays, weddings, and various other significant moments in their lives. I feel honoured that a CC piece may have brought joy and self-confidence on those occasions.
At what point in your career did you feel as though you’d ‘made it’? There are some milestones I’m incredibly proud of, like getting our first order from Barneys, receiving an honorary doctorate from Massey University, all six of my store openings, and being a Trivial Pursuit question! But I actually don’t believe I ever have or ever will feel that I’ve made it. Part of what keeps me going and what I love about what I do is always striving to do better.
This is an excerpt from WOMAN Magazine, read the full article in Volume 1, on sale now at all good magazine retailers.