Black Milk Story
Thursday, 15 Mar 2012
James Lillis is no stranger to taking a leap of faith. His story of how Black Milk Clothing began is full of twists and turns, action and adventures. There are even a few scary bits. And so we pass the microphone over to James, who encourages you to pull up a metaphoric chair around his metaphoric fire, and listen to the story of Black Milk...
Several years ago I was broke, bored and rather cold. At that point most people would have got a job and a beanie, but not I. For some reason I decided to buy a sewing machine and make myself a shirt. I still have no idea why. So I went into a big fabric shop and looked at all the different fabrics they had - but after buying a second hand sewing machine, I only had six bucks in my pocket, which meant I had to get the cheapest fabric they had - nylon lining. It was these fateful decisions that lead me down the path to Black Milk. Because nylon lining doesn't look particularly attractive, it meant I had to make it fitted. I made myself a tight shirt. It was tragic. The stitching was wrong, the pieces were cut weird, and the neck was a nothing more than a hole. And I loved it. I wore it constantly.
From that moment, things changed. I was doing odd jobs, but at the back of my mind I was plotting and planning. If I got ten bucks it wasn't just ten bucks ... it was half a metre of printed fabric. Three dollars was a new packet of needles. A hundred bucks meant I could get my machine fixed.
A week later I went into a dance shop and bought some shiny sparkly fabric. The shop was full of mothers, grandmothers, and me. They looked at me like I was from another planet. I bought a tribal African print that I thought it would look great on legs. I drew up a pattern, cut it out and made a pair of leggings. I talked to a friend who had a friend who agreed to be a model for me to see if they fit. She put them on, and they didn't. So I cut them again, and sewed them again. And they still didn't fit. I must have recut those things ten times. And finally, they fit.
It was at that point that something remarkable happened. Something totally unexpected that changed everything.
She asked if she could buy them.
She took out her wallet, gave me some money and walked off with my leggings. I couldn't stop smiling for the rest of the day.
It was at that point I knew that I could do it. I knew that if there was one girl prepared to buy one pair of my leggings, there were (probably) a hundred girls out there who would do the same.
So I threw myself into it with a passion. I would spend 5-6 hours a day on the sewing machine trying to figure out how to sew properly. I even attended sewing lessons at the local sewing shop (yes, I stuck out like a sore thumb). It was pretty tough in those early days. On more than one occasion I came close to throwing everything in the bin.
The next step ... I had to actually go out and sell the stuff!
I went door to door, trying to get shops to sell my clothes. Most said no. One place said yes and let me display a few of my pieces in a corner of their shop. I went back a week later and they gave me every single piece back.
I bought a tent and went to the markets. I turned up at 5:30am every Saturday and stood around in the sun all day, selling my creations. Even though I wasn't very popular at the markets, there was some good news - hundreds of girls all around the world finding my clothes through my blog. It very soon got to the point where far more girls were buying clothes at my little online shop than at my tent at the markets.
So I made another fateful decision - I would make Black Milk exclusively into an online fashion label. I talked to a few people in the industry who told me I was making a big mistake and that I would go broke within the month. I was told that online selling was only for companies with 'real' shops. But 'real' shops weren't interested in my clothes, so I went online.
As it turns out, it was a very good idea. :)
That was a couple of years ago. A lot has changed from those early days. Instead of me sewing away by myself at night, we have a fantastic team who pump out thousands of garments every month. Instead of trying to get our clothes into 'real' shops, we're online - and loving it. Instead of selling to a few girls at the markets, we now have a community of the most amazing girls you could hope for who are passionate about the brand.
However, there are some things that haven't changed. I still love making clothes. I still love hearing from girls who buy the clothes. I love seeing all the different ways girls style their Black Milk pieces, and I love working with all the Black Milk team.
So who am I? I'm just the guy with the coolest job in the world.
james Lillis xx
To further discover the ever-exciting world of Black Milk, head on over to their website here!
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