Fashion maverick Emily Millichip has carved her own unique path into the industry. We’ve been crushing on her bold, colour-drenched, 50s-inspired world ever since first discovering her on social media. A homage to the tropics, punk and B-movie bad girls, she creates clothes for fashion rebels and anyone wanting something unique in their wardrobes.
Despite being a fan of unconventional style since a teenager (she managed to always annoy her teachers by refusing to stick to her uniform), Emily found herself on an academic route after school, studying Indigenous Religions at The University of Edinburgh. However, a post-graduation admin job tipped her over the edge. Thinking over what she wanted to do next, she found herself drawn back to her adolescent passion.
Sewing, pattern cutting and an HND in fashion were next, and now Emily creates small collections sold online and in boutiques. A self-confessed art world outsider, she loves the opportunities social media brings for connecting directly with customers. We visited her Edinburgh studio for chat about her unconventional story…
Describe your style in a few words
Vibrant and fun with a vintage twist.
Who or what inspires you?
1950s trash, John Waters films, the tropics, 1970s punk, Carmen Miranda, Americana and pop culture. I love old B-movies full of rebels with quiffs and girls in tight pencil skirts smoking cigarettes.
Can you tell us about your unusual route into fashion?
After university I found having an office job ground me down, so I decided to do the complete opposite and went to work on a potato farm! It gave me the space to really think about what I was interested in doing and what I enjoyed. I remembered how I’d always been passionate about clothes, textiles and colour. One day, on my afternoon off, I spotted a job vacancy for a charity shop manager in Edinburgh and decided to go for it. We had so many amazing textiles donated to the shop and it was my first time working with them directly, sorting through them and styling displays. My employers were very supportive, letting me take time off to do sewing and pattern-cutting courses.
What’s a typical working day like?
I get up between 6am and 7.30am because I’m a morning person. I check all my social media, then go to my studio. If I have sewing to do then I’ll do that in the morning, as I’m better at technical tasks then. I listen to lots of podcasts while I work. Then I’ll take my computer home and work on web design, admin or photo editing. It often ends up seeping into the evenings and weekends, but my aim this year is to improve my work/life balance.
Describe your creative process.
I like to create fantasy worlds with my work. I’ll often think about an adventure or trip I’d love to go on, then I’ll start imagining the amazing outfit I’d wear on this adventure. I’ll form the image in my mind, then start working on the pattern – I never sketch ideas out, because I’m terrible at drawing! I’ll just get straight on the sewing machine, then make adjustments on the mannequin as I work. Other times, the idea comes from an amazing print or piece of fabric I’ve discovered, and I’ll immediately start imagining what I want to turn it into. I suppose it’s all quite anarchic, and not really a normal way of running a business or designing clothes.
You say on your website you don’t like sewing – is this true?
Ha! I’m a real perfectionist but also very impatient, and those things combined don’t make for a very chilled-out sewing experience. But, if I have all these ideas in my head and want them to exist in real life, then I have to deal with the sewing part!
We can see from your Instagram that you love to travel – can you tell us about some of your trips?
I’m very inspired by textiles from other cultures. It all ties into the theme of fantasy worlds and wanting to escape. Whenever I go away, I always make an effort to track down lots of really unusual fabrics. Last year I went to Mexico on an artist in residence programme to study embroidery – I was surrounded by all these amazing crafts, but the textiles I ended up being most fascinated by were the rolls of colourful striped rags used for cleaning. Everyday items are so beautiful in Mexico, and I was fascinated by how people were using such a beautiful textile in such a mundane way. Another favourite trip was an exchange project I worked on in Bangladesh, leading design development workshops and visiting local artisans. Seeing the amazing work people produced with very few resources – simply by working so hard – was inspiring.
How do you balance travelling with running a business?
Being self-employed is always a juggling act. And sometimes I just have to decide to prioritise the travel over the making. If you want a creative career you have to sacrifice a lot of things, such as financial stability and free time. But it’s worth it.
Did your degree inspire this element of your work?
It’s taken me a long time to realise just how useful my degree was. Not just for having access to textiles from different cultures, but also learning about cultural appropriation. If you’re going to be inspired by lots of other cultures then you have to make sure you’re not exploiting them. The fashion industry has been guilty in the past of using designs from other cultures and not understanding them or even crediting them.
What’s been your biggest business struggle so far?
It’s taken me a long time to build up a support network. When I started, I was the only person I knew doing this. However, it’s possible to build it up; it just takes a while. It’s so important to reach out to people, ask for advice, and make connections in a genuine way.
Finally, what’s the best piece of creative advice you’ve ever been given?
‘Comparison is the thief of joy’ – I saw it on Pinterest, even though I normally hate Pinterest quotes. You have to stop worrying about what other people are doing, because the reality is never as it appears. Work hard and don’t give up – I’ve had so many moments where I was on the verge of packing it all in, but it’s just a normal part of the creative process. You just have to carry on and keep going.
Fashion design Emily makes custom kimonos and designs for private clients who find her through social media, and small batch collections sold in select boutiques. Find her online at www.emilymillichip.com and follow her on Instagram at @emilymillichip.