Kathryn Wilson shares how she found her business mentors

29 August 2018
By Fashion Quarterly


As the shoe designer celebrates a 15-year anniversary, she shares how she found 15 meaningful mentors that helped her get ahead.

At Kathryn Wilson’s fun-loving footwear show held at New Zealand Fashion Week, invitees experienced a playful parade of heels, plenty of confetti and a vibing playlist – so far, all as wonderful as expected. But after the show, something extraordinary happened – Kathryn hosted her birthday party ‘The Tribute’ in honour of the 15 people who have helped her business reach a 15-year anniversary, and counting.

It was a high-fashion party with many high-stakes business mentors in attendance, from Sir Ray Avery to Dame Roasanne Meo, and it proved that no matter where you are at in your career, respecting and taking advice from others is one-and-the-same as success.

Here, Kathryn talks us through how to find, and keep, a meaningful mentor:


Learn what your skillset is and then find anyone who can add to that. I’m not a really great numbers person. My strengths are much more in the creative, marketing, imaginative side so having people that complement that as mentors is quite important. You don’t necessarily double-up on skill set – if you’re a creative person you’ve probably already got that covered. You’re looking at people who will fill a gap.

The advice I was given from Dame Rosanne is to write your wishlist of people you really admire and look up to. They could be from any industry, it doesn’t necessarily have to be your own, but people who you like how they think or what they represent, maybe you’ve watched their journey.

Once you have a wishlist you should go out to them with an email, or if it’s appropriate a phone call. Make it clear what you are after from the get-go.

A) Can I buy you a coffee and have 20 mins of your time?
B) With these 20 mins, this is my intention, I’d like these learnings.

If anyone is going to give you their time, they will want to know that you’re not going to waste it. New Zealand has one degree of separation – not seven – so usually, someone will know someone who can help you out who knows someone. A really neat New Zealander (multimillionaire businesswoman) Linda Jenkinson talks about it being a jelly bean jar.


When you’re given advice or a connection, you need to put a jelly bean back in the jar because at the end of the day, if have a full jelly bean jar people will be more likely to help you out or say ‘yes’ – it’s a message about being grateful. If it’s a coffee that someone has agreed to, you need to make sure you’re super genuine about using their time well. And as soon as that’s over, or the introduction’s been made, make sure there’s a lot of gratitude instantly – and that’s the jelly bean that’s put back.

It’s all about interactions. It’s the way we role as a society. Not a lot of people would be not willing to help.

A) They’ll be flattered to be asked and
B) If it’s not they’re expertise, they’ll know someone who can help.

Be as transparent and open as you can be and that will come across as a genuine thing. You don’t have to do any grand gestures, but make sure you make an effort to stay relevant in their mind –whether it’s sending an email or a txt straight away, sending them a random box of chocolates, remembering their birthday and sending a card.

Another thing I think has been important for me, is keeping these special people as part of my journey. I’m not just seeing them once a year. I remember to email them when something cool happens.

For example, Dame Roseanne was the first person I txt when I bought my company’s shareholding back at the end of this financial year. It was a Monday night at 10 pm and I said: “Sorry for the late text Dame Roseanne but I wanted you to be the first to know.” It’s about those touch points of keeping them in the loop when they are special to you.”

Words: Jessica-Belle Greer
Photos: Michael James Rooke


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