At Home With Millican
A home says a lot about its occupants. The way we keep our productive areas says a lot about the organisation of our minds. Where we locate our office can also reveal much about who we are. I think that the same can be said for brands. Sometimes stepping into an office will give a peek into the DNA of a brand. We are lucky enough to have been given a peek inside Millican’s HQ in Keswick, The Lake District, United Kingdom.
To top that all off we also managed to get some great answers to some revealing questions! What drives Millican, what pressures do they face and how do they ensure a continued level of quality, not just in product but in vision.
We spoke with Jorrit, half of the family inspired lead of Millican, on the considerations of a soft-goods brand development and growth.
Timelines vs Standards: How do you manage season timelines against product standards? Are there rush times, or do you hold things back until they’re nailed?
We started Millican 3 years ago very much without sales seasons in mind. Function is all that matters to us and therefore testing the designs and components is crucial. However, since we started wholesaling c. 18 months ago, we’re slowly being sucked into the seasonality thing. Our current designs are very timeless in style, so that helps – we’ve been able to avoid the trend-driven design pressures. In addition, we’ve adopted 3 design approaches alongside each other:
1. Adapting and updating existing styles plus adding related new styles – this can be achieved more easily on a seasonal basis
2. Working with a collaborative partner to find a “timeless response to product, material and colour trends” – for AW12 and SS13, we’ve partnered with British clothing label Universal Works for this
3. New design projects which need as long as they need – we’re working on a number of new projects (our Ideas Lab) at the moment, both on bags and accessories, which require more design, development and testing time; they will be ready when they’re ready…
Amazing vs Affordable: Do you have price points that you don’t like to go above, or is it more about value propositions?
Our initial designs were completely guilty of being developed with the best functionality in mind only – cost and price came second. Every brand slots into its natural place in the market, therefore surrounded by a natural competitive set. Millican is no different. Since our launch, we’ve made various adjustments to both price points and product detail, and we have landed in a place in the market (mid-to-higher end) we’re generally comfortable with. Having said that, several key price points are still open and we’re planning our upcoming designs to cover these, plus we’re looking to tweak some of our existing product designs to help with this too. I guess we’re slowly becoming a little more commercially savvy along the way!
Us vs Them: Who do you develop product for? Is it an ‘edit point’, a style of person, or actual people (like yourselves)?
All our bags have been named after local friends of ours in the English Lake District where we live. This thought was born in our local pub, as many good thoughts are. We met in The George in Keswick with a group of our local friends with our first designs, and later with the first sample collections over 3 years ago, asking for their feedback. When we described the intended use of each bag, we noticed many of them could naturally be placed with one of our friends, fitting their particular lifestyle – they were automatically drawn to specific bags or accessories. Their feedback was therefore most detailed and passionate on these specific items, giving us many functional pointers we were able to adopt.
Since the Millican brand and products are very close to our own heart, we’ve found it impossible to design anything we didn’t fall in love with ourselves too – our group of friends are a natural extension of ourselves, so it’s no surprise we secretly design for ourselves as much as anyone else. We figured that if we love the products, there’ll be more people like us who might want to buy them! The reality of the past 3 years has proven this to be the case – there clearly are a lot of people out there who love honest, no-nonsense, practical, built-to-last, timeless bags to carry their everyday stuff wherever they are in the world, knowing their bag has that little bit of sustainable extra as well. We’ve also been pleasantly surprised to see that a much wider audience than we originally thought seems to find something of value in our collection – people from all walks of life, generally with an active lifestyle and an inquisitive mind in common.
New vs known in materials: It feels like the last few years Millican has made headway with expanding known materials functions, what drives Millican’s fabrics?
Finding the highest quality, sustainable materials which are fit for purpose has been our main focus from the very first day – we started our first developments by looking for a hard-wearing, classic material with a very natural handle. We settled for 20 oz organic canvas, which we weatherproof, and have combined this with recycled polyester made from PET drinks bottles, vegetable-tanned leather where we can, as well as local Lakeland wool from a farm in the same valley we live in. We have settled into strong relationships with specialist suppliers, whose developments we follow closely to make sure we work with the latest sustainable materials. In our Ideas Lab we’re currently testing a number of new fabrics, as well as more sustainable versions of some other materials we’re already using today. The more we grow into our own brand and the more connections we’re making, the more ideas seem to come up – whether design, materials or production methods. This is the bit that gets us most excited…
Connecting with customers: What are the main ways you hear back from customers? Any great stories of rad customers?
Our customers find us online (blog, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest) or in person at some of the events we visit and support. It’s always a humbling experience for us to find that so many of our customers seem to will us on, wanting us to do well. And to share their ideas, mostly on product, online experiences or travel destinations. Every week, we’ll receive one or several phone calls or emails with a product idea – often accompanied by sketches. That’s fantastic. The only drawback is that we can’t implement them all within the time and resources we have! A brilliant example of some customer feedback was the email sent by Nick Gilmore. Can’t beat that!
What are the top 3 things you feel are changing in your market right now?
Firstly, consumers are making more conscious choices about what they buy and when they buy – buying less often, but buying more considered when they do. That impacts on the quality and style they prefer, as well as the sustainability requirement and transparency. Millican is in a good place for this, with a high-quality, functional product, contemporary yet timeless in style and we are very open about our own choices and partners on homeofmillican.com – updating our information as we grow and learn more.
Secondly, consumers are of course increasingly living and shopping online. Millican sells direct online, as well as through an increasing network of retail partners, who also increasingly sell online. Integrity in these partnerships is therefore crucial for any brand to be successful on both fronts. Product and brand imagery needs to be unified and maximised, pricing needs to be managed as best as possible, to make sure everyone’s playing on a level playing field. If this is managed well, retail partners will benefit from the brand’s activities and vice versa. A win-win.
Thirdly, there’s a definite drive to purchase more locally produced items – a (small) renaissance of local manufacturing. Naturally, this can help improve sustainability too. We currently produce a number of items in our range in the UK (leather Moleskine covers), and hand-finish the items in our range which use local Herdwick wool for insulation or padding. Several projects in our Ideas Lab involve local manufacturing. To us, all of this is primarily driven by the source of the key materials, and has been right from the start – we can find excellent vegetable-tanned leather in the UK and use this for our Moleskine covers. Herdwick wool outperforms most synthetic fibres on insulating properties, so it made sense for us to use these for our cooler bags and additionally as padding for our iPad cover and small camera case. Organic cotton and recycled polyester developments primarily take place in Asia and Turkey, hence our decision to produce those items close to the source of the materials. We’re currently working on a number of UK-based projects involving wool, E-leather and several recycled materials for 2013-14 – watch this space…
A huge thanks to Millican for the insight, it is much appreciated!