11 Apr 2024

Kate Sylvester closure: 'Really difficult' time for retailers

5:46 am on 11 April 2024
A Kate Sylvester store in Auckland's Commercial Bay.

Luxury fashion label Kate Sylvester is calling it quits after 31 years in the business. Photo: RNZ / Felix Walton

A retail industry group predicts luxury fashion label Kate Sylvester will not be the last to come under pressure from a tough economy.

The designer is calling it quits after 31 years in the fashion business, as retailers struggle with high costs and low profits.

Kate Sylvester, 2022

Kate Sylvester Photo: Kate Sylvester

Shoppers in Auckland's Commercial Bay said it was the end of an era.

"I think it's really sad, [she's] such an iconic New Zealand designer," one said.

"I didn't see it coming, it's disappointing. But I think we have lots of designers at the moment with lovely collections coming out, so there's always room in the industry for more people."

Aucklander Heather Saies said she was a fan of Sylvester's work but could not afford to shop at her stores regularly.

"I look a lot, I don't shop there very often but I really like her clothes," she said.

"It's a real shame, maybe it's a sign of the economy in New Zealand."

Self-described fashion fan Ruby Hewitt said the high cost of living had put a limit on her spending.

"It is really hard now, even myself I've pulled away from shopping as much over the past two years. [I'm] re-wearing things a lot more.

"There's still a market [for luxury fashion] but I think it's just taken a bit of a hit."

Retail NZ chief executive Carolyn Young said retailers like Kate Sylvester were in a tough spot.

"What we do know for retail in general is it's a really, really difficult time," Young said.

"There was some recent economic news from Centrix and that data is really difficult."

Centrix chief executive Keith McLaughlin said liquidations for the retail sector were up 57 percent from where they were this time last year.

"So across the [economy], they are probably the most affected of any sector out there," he said.

"At the moment, discretionary spending is being held very tightly, so consumers will not generally buy things that they don't need to. That immediately impacts some industries, retail is one in particular."

Young said it had become particularly difficult for luxury or designer brands.

"Whether you're priced at the bottom end or the higher end, you can still be successful, but it is much more difficult [at the high end] and converting customer interest into sales is taking a lot longer."

She expected more bad news from the sector throughout the year.

"I'm certainly concerned that there will be some closures of stores, I think there will be further closures before we get out the other side of this economic downturn."

In a statement, Kate Sylvester and her partner Wayne Conway said this year's summer collection would be their last.

But fellow designer Juliette Hogan said the couple would continue to have an impact on the industry.

"Kate and Wayne have had a huge impact on this industry. Me, as a designer, and us, as an industry, owe them a great deal," she said.

"I think I'll be forever grateful for their role in paving the way for designers like myself and those who will follow in the future."

Hogan said Kate Sylvester would be a tough act to follow, but she was excited to see who would rise to the challenge.

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