All Day Karen Walker Dreams About Shopping

As a doyen of New Zealand fashion design, Karen Walker knows what her customer wants. As her company celebrates a decade-long partnership with Adidas, she shares a lifelong love of our favourite sport – shopping.

By Jessica-Belle Greer

On Karen Walker’s seventh birthday, she was gifted a classic red Adidas tracksuit – the classic knit co-ord with stripes and zips, and possibly, even, stirrups. “I’ve always been an Adidas fan,” she says, on an early morning call from her home office in Auckland.

In this moment, she was preparing to celebrate the 10-year anniversary of her labels’ partnership with the beloved brand – “which has gone by in a flash.” With Adi (as Walker affectionately calls the brand), the combination of performance technology and fashion clout, along with a rich design archive, has created an exciting partnership. “It’s just beautiful design in a really functional, cool way.”

While Karen Walker has always worked with other brands that align with the label’s sense of style, it has become more and more of a focus for the company, especially since the opening of the Playpark store in Newmarket in 2011. Here, ready-to-wear clothing, jewellery and accessories are sold alongside other brands Karen Walker shoppers will want and need.

“The purpose has always been to serve our community with great product that elevates the everyday,” says Walker. “Sometimes we do it ourselves, and sometimes we do that with brands with the right expertise. Sometimes it’s welcoming into the fold a completely different brand and not even making any product together, but curating the product together and telling the story together.” (Currently, around two-thirds of sales are Karen Walker label, the rest is from other brands – although there are no set ratios or rules.)

Walker and her wider team are well connected to their community, and their needs, with four neighbourhood stores across New Zealand. “We see our customers every day,” says Walker. “I don’t even need to walk out my door. From where I’m sitting at my desk at home, I can see the street.”

“Karen Walker and her team know what they want, and they know how to best bring it to their customer,” says Patrick Wilson, head of fashion accounts at Adidas. “[They have] their finger on the pulse both locally and internationally… They know what’s working but are also willing to take risks. They don’t get caught up in what others are doing but focus directly on their consumer.”

At Walker’s local store, Ponsonby, customers can walk past the window multiple times a day, whether that be when walking the dog, commuting to work, or dashing to the grocery store (or all of the above). “People are very engaged in our social and our e-comm, but they are also very engaged in our windows,” she says. “We’re delivering units into store every couple of days across all the different categories. So there’s always something different.”

When Mikhail Gherman, Walker’s husband and the company’s creative director, attends range showings with Adidas, Wilson says he can see him thinking about how he’s going to bring the product to shoppers. “It’s truly inspiring and motivating,” adds Wilson. “What’s unique with working with a partner like Karen Walker is their ability to bring the product to life through their campaigns, store displays or world class photoshoots.”


Across the company, the team is always thinking about what’s next. “It’s very open and curious,” says Walker. “I think that’s the bit that brings such joy to my team. How do we bring pure creativity to every stage of this?”

While Walker used to feel the rush of international fashion weeks, including eight successful seasons in London and 20 in New York, she is enjoying the way she works now. “It’s not like we don’t get those moments of magic, those moments of alchemy,” she says. “There are other ways to show your work. And that’s what’s right for the times.”

For now, collaborations open up a word of possibility for Karen Walker. There’s Adidas, of course, but also Birkenstock for leather sandals, Lavenham for quilted jackets and St. James for Breton-striped tops. Lest we forget Levi’s, who recently celebrated 150 years of their 501 jeans. – “If you’re going to do jeans, work with the people who invented jeans,” Walker quips.

The brands Karen Walker works with have storied legacies but are still stepping into newness. “They bring something to the community that nobody else can bring,” she says. “What those products are, what those brands are, what those categories are, what the actual product is… The exciting thing is that that always changes.”

Speaking of Adidas, Walker says: “It’s just such a fun brand. Even though it’s big, it’s nimble. It’s always changing and you always have a surprise.”

Recently, the surprise was the design of a limited-edition pair of Adidas Sambas with Karen Walker’s Runaway Girl mascot walking over them. These were not for sale but gifted to a few lucky VIPs, including an Instagram competition winner.  

Last week, in a full-circle moment, Karen Walker and Adidas celebrated their anniversary with a party at the Britomart store. The windows were filled with Adidas’ classic tracksuits, styled for the display with a Karen Walker twist.

All imagery by Andre Kong