I had the pleasure of seeing Hilary MacMillan‘s runway show last week, as part of Fashion Week X RE\SET. Caught in a whirlwind of never-ending to-do’s, I missed the deadline for RSVPs, so when I got an invitation to attend Hilary’s presentation on behalf of FIJI Water, I was pretty stoked to have a second chance. And let me tell you, her latest did not disappoint. From delicious head-to-toe plaids to Matrix-style trench coats in vegan leather, there was no shortage of covetable pieces.
But there’s much more to Hilary than knowing how to put on a solid show. Her collections are always wearable and supremely well made. She’s a master at turning out prints, and her price points are AMAZING, considering that half of her garments are produced in Toronto. Over the last few years, she’s phased out leather, fur, exotic skins and feathers in an effort to become a cruelty-free brand.
In a sea of designers doing all kinds of wrong, Hilary is doing a lot of things right. As I walked out of her show, I couldn’t help beaming with pride. Being a designer in Canada is really fucking tough, so it’s extra special and inspiring to see this remarkable brand thriving.
Once the smoke settled (it was a HOT show), I sat down with Hilary to chat about her newest collection, learn about her process and see what advice she has for emerging designers.
OB: What’s your favourite look from your latest collection and why?
HM: I love print, and column dressing, which is definitely over-the-top for everyday wear but looks great on the runway. My favourite piece this season is our custom-printed faux leather lace-up dress, our show opener at Toronto Fashion Week that we paired with a matching moto jacket and matching tights.
What was your inspiration for your latest collection?
This season was inspired by the silhouettes and heartfelt love of plaid in the 1990s. We updated it for 2019 by infusing it with undertones of London street style, complete with contemporary accents such as lacing, ruching, and exaggerated menswear finishes.
Why is it important for you to keep as much of your production in Canada as possible?
Keeping production in Canada allows you to produce smaller runs and offer a larger mix to your customer. It also allows us to test certain styles and not take a deep dive into quantity.
What advice do you have for aspiring designers in Canada?
Go work for someone first! Diving into producing your own line is expensive, and it can take years to start seeing a profit. Working for someone else allows you to learn the ins and outs of running a business and lets you build contacts.
What do you wish you had known before starting your business?
Have a business plan in place. It is easy to have so many ideas floating around and to start working on them, but if you don’t have a strong understanding of running a business, or your cash flow, then ultimately you are going to run into some trouble.
There were so many nitty gritty details that I had to learn as I went, and I ended up making more mistakes because of it.
As a designer and an entrepreneur, how do you find balance between the creative and the business?
For the first three years I worked around the clock: pulled all-nighters, worked weekends, etc., because I was very much in that creative headspace and didn’t think of my business as a business (as backwards as that sounds now), but then I started to have employees, and I needed to start planning my year out.
I started with when my collection needed to ship and worked all the way back to the sketch phase. I started to plan my time, and sure surprises comes up, but when you have a plan you are able to handle unexpected surprises. I also think as small-business owners, we expect to be a jack-of-all trade and handle all aspects of the business, but it’s best to play to your strengths. If you cannot figure out how to do your bookkeeping and it is sucking up all your time, get a part-time booker. Build a team over time and fill that team with people who complement you. This is the best way to balance creative and business for me.
If you could have anybody, living or dead, wear your clothes, who would it be?
I love women who unapologetically speak their mind and go for what they want: Gloria Steinem, Maya Angelou, Emma Watson, the list goes on. Right now, I am blown away with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and would love if she ever wore any of our pieces.