Kate Sylvester: One of NZ’s Top Designers


Kate Sylvester has made a huge name for herself, creating one of New Zealand’s most recognised fashion brands, with Kate Sylvester dresses and their timeless designs. In this blog post, we dive into Kate Sylvester’s life and how she became one of NZ’s top designers.


Early Life & Education

Growing up on Auckland’s North Shore, Kate Sylvester attended high school at Westlake Girls High School. As a young woman, Sylvester was inspired by books, dressing to be the characters, the way that she visualised them. After school, her love for fashion and creativity led her to study textiles and clothing design at Wellington Polytechnic.


Upon graduating, Kate met her future husband and business partner, Wayne Conway, in 1987. Conway had studied graphic design, a key asset for the future of the brand. After travelling for a few years, the couple settled down back in New Zealand as the ‘80s recession was winding up. Sylvester saw an opportunity in the aftermath of the recession. She told Ensemble Magazine that “if people can’t find jobs, creatives start creating.”



Sister was the first incarnation of the Kate Sylvester brand, created as part of her partner’s Graphic Design business, ‘The Family’ in 1993. With enough money in The Family to support Sylvester’s vision, ‘Sister’ was launched as a design collective.


Being a young start-up, Kate Sylvester took inspiration from her travels, alongside her city life in Auckland, creating streetwear and crafty couture. Upon opening their first store and getting the brand off its feet, Conway focused on the branding and business side of things, and Kate took on the position as ‘the face’ of the brand.


Sylvester prides herself on the way she and Conway managed to build their business—quite literally—from the ground up. Wayne worked on the store itself, alongside branding, stencilling the branding, and producing the first advertisements. Meanwhile, Kate was sewing everything herself, stitching each last piece and creating the intricate detail.


Kate Sylvester

Eventually in 1997, as Sister’s time at the original Kitchener Street location came to an end, the couple decided it was time for Sister to end alongside it. Sylvester has said that the Sister brand had outgrown itself, moving into something too sophisticated to be streetwear.


This time also marked the birth of Kate Sylvester, the brand we know and love today. The timeless design of a Kate Sylvester garment brings together simple elements, with stunning, intricate detail, with each element telling its own story.


Kate Sylvester has become a brand for everybody, allowing women of all shapes and sizes to enjoy sophisticated silhouettes and a beautiful balance of masculinity and femininity. 


Creating an Ethical Brand

A key part of the iconic New Zealand brand is its core values, with sustainability sitting at the forefront. Kate Sylvester is a brand for everybody, producing locally made and high-quality clothing. Fashion brands must take responsibility for their business practices, and this is where Kate Sylvester goes above and beyond.


Kate Sylvester focuses on producing high-quality clothing, designed to last a lifetime rather than just a short season. This is a responsibility all fashion brands have, but many ignore it. Kate Sylvester offers minor repairs to garments to extend their life. This includes lining repairs, seam stitching, broken zips, and more—to extend their life. The brand put effort into cutting down the amount of clothing going into the landfill.


Alongside the basic ethical practices, Kate Sylvester launched an upcycled collection in early 2021. This took out-of-season, unused stock, and flawed garments and created them into something brand-new. This is a fantastic showcase of both the creativity and the values held close by the designer. Unused materials were also donated to fashion design institutes and other local organisations to be repurposed.


Becoming a Fashion Mogul

As Kate Sylvester’s clothing began taking off, the brand expanded its reach, venturing out into diffusion lines, additional product lines, and retailing for lower prices.


Sylvester, Kate Sylvester Eyewear, Accessories, lingerie, and homeware are some of the various diffusion lines launched by the brand. In just a few short decades, Kate took her ambition and creativity to incredible places, cementing her name in New Zealand fashion. Growing her brand and becoming a fashion mogul, Kate Sylvester and its various clothing brands have made waves internationally.


Shop Kate Sylvester at Thomas’s

Want to explore some of Kate Sylvester’s designs yourself? At Thomas’s Department Store, we share similar values with the Kate Sylvester brand. We stock high-quality, ethically made clothing, with a heavy focus on sustainability. Browse our Kate Sylvester collection online today at Thomas’s, one of New Zealand’s best online dress stores.