Kate Sylvester latest to join Fashion Week elite

Kate Sylvester and Mercedes-Benz have joined forces for New Zealand's premiere fashion event this year.
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Kate Sylvester and Mercedes-Benz have joined forces for New Zealand's premiere fashion event this year.

Much has changed in the 22 years that Kate Sylvester has been in the fashion world.

There has been the onset of technology, changing the way designers interact with shoppers, who are buying and browsing more online.

The fashion market became more global, with far more Kiwi designers transcending borders than 20 years ago. 

Then there was Sylvester's own rise to fashion fame, going from her first store on Kitchener St, Auckland stocked with clothes she had sewn herself, to becoming a leading Kiwi designer with an international presence.

Her show is a highly anticipated part of any New Zealand Fashion Week she takes part in and this year, it has stepped up a notch through a collaboration with the event's elite partner Mercedes-Benz.

Sylvester will be this year's 'Mercedes-Benz Presents' designer, presenting her brand new autumn/winter 2016 collection as the debut evening show at fashion week.

The accolade is a global initiative which recognises designers who demonstrate dedication to the use of high quality materials, innovative design and unique style.

It is a match made in heaven, with perks extending far beyond this year's show.

Right now, Sylvester and her team are focused on breaking into the United States.

"The challenge in America is getting your voice heard. It's such a huge market," she said.

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"What's great for New Zealand is you can be a tiny little niche part of the American market but it can be really substantial for us."

Back when she opened her first store with partner Wayne Conway, Sylvester never thought she would be where she is now, with the fashion industry so different to how it was.

Her business changed from a New Zealand-focused wholesaler to being far more focused on the retail stores and most recently, the online shop.

Internet shopping was the "boom business" for them, with half of the US stores that already stock her clothing being web-based, Sylvester said.

Just getting her designs out of the country proved a challenge when she started exporting.

"Until we did [a show] at Sydney Fashion Week, Australians really just thought we were sheep farming cousins of theirs. It was only when we got to present a show they started to take us seriously," she said.

It was now not even practical for all of Sylvester's designs to be made in the country, let alone for her to be sewing everything herself.

Her manufacturing is split between New Zealand and China but there are no grossly underpaid, underaged labourers making her clothes.

"That's the antithesis of what we do at Kate Sylvester. I hate everything that fast fashion stands for. If you've paid $10 for a garment then you've got to think about how much the workers were paid," she said.

"We work with fantastic factories in China. There's beautiful product being made there by people who are really proud of what they do."

Sylvester has signed up to work with Child Labour Free, an organisation that accredits brands that do not use child labour, to explore supply chains. Other Kiwi labels involved include Stolen Girlfriends Club and Nom*d. 

Despite not being the one behind the sewing machine these days, Sylvester's love for working with her hands kicks in from time to time and she sits down for a bit of a play.

It is one of the things she loves the most about doing fashion shows and she said for New Zealand Fashion Week, she has been playing with jewellery.

But that was all she revealed about her upcoming show. 

"The way I design, I always have a concept and tell a story so for me the big reveal is really important. It's part of what people expect from a Kate Sylvester Show.

New Zealand Fashion Week 2015 runs from August 24 to August 30.

 - Stuff

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