Hilary MacMillan graduated university with a poly science economics degree. But she’d always wanted her own fashion label. So she went off to fashion school and in 2013 realized her dream and launched her eponymous brand.
Starting out small in her sister’s jewellery store in Toronto, she grew the brand organically but acknowledges the challenges involved in starting a business in an area where you have no experience.
“The fashion industry is tricky because you can burn a lot of money quickly because you don’t get paid from the goods already made,” she explains. “You have to have enough startup money to be able to create a collection, then get it manufactured and then sell it. So that would help mitigate the loss in the beginning. I wish I’d known that going into it.”
As she learned about the cruelty involved in animal-based fabrics, she turned the brand vegan and is now making it more sustainable. Earlier this year she brought out her first size-inclusive collection.
“I wanted to create clothes that women felt empowered in,” says MacMillan. “I was engaging with the community and asking people what they were missing from fashion and a reoccurring thing I heard is they feel left out of the fashion conversation in general. This happens if you’re above a size 14, even sometimes a size 10 in US sizing.
“So that was a big mismatch of community and kind of sad to hear that a lot of people weren’t feeling included in this fashion world.”
It took a lot of research and fittings to get the hang of creating size-inclusive clothes. “It’s a different kind of way that you craft and a different way that you grade up sizes,” Macmillan explains. “So going from an extra small to a 4X is a different kind of process than going from extra small to extra large. We did a ton of fit meetings with different models and just got our stuff on as many people as possible. But it’s been great, the reception has been amazing.”
In 2017 MacMillan launched a range of feminist capsules (bomber jackets), with slogans including ‘Feminist’, ‘Equal Pay’ and ‘Don’t Tell Me To Smile’.
“Feminism is a great term,” she says. “If you look up the definition, it just means equality between men and women, there isn’t much beyond that. I wanted to create something that people who are proud feminists like I am can wear on their sleeves, on their backs and show to the world.
“I wanted it to be really in your face and to create conversations with people on the street or your friends or whoever you come in contact with. I don’t think it should be hidden in the shadows. I think it should be out there.”
One celebrity in particular agrees with MacMillan. Fashion icon Victoria Beckham made an appearance on a Canadian TV show where she happily donned one of MacMillan’s Varsity collection jackets with ‘Don’t Tell Me to Smile’ on the back. “This is why I love Canada,” Beckham quipped and later posted about it on social media.
The ensuring media coverage and social media leverage resulted in an uptick in brand exposure and sales. “We were featured in a series of different articles and stuff online about it,” says MacMillan. “Anytime someone well known wears your stuff or posts about it, you always see a lift in sales. I don’t know if celebrities always know what impact they have on small brands or brands in general. But when they put their name behind something, it really does make a huge impact for so many business owners.”
Fashion and feminism
As well as creating feminist-inspired collections, MacMillan also takes a practical approach to helping women. She donates 15% of all proceeds to Up With Women, an organization that supports at-risk women to rebuild careers in their respective communities, and she’s committed to donate 100% of the proceeds of her ‘Equal Pay’ Varsity Jacket to the Black Women in Motion organization – in perpetuity.
“For me fashion and feminism are always so intertwined,” says MacMillan. “Even something like the Suffragette movement was heavily influenced by picking specific colours to use to show that they were suffragettes. A lot of people have a negative view of fashion, which I understand because there’s a lot of problems with fashion, but in terms of pushing for women’s rights, it kind of does go hand in hand with social movements a lot of the time.”
This year has been challenging because of the Covid-19 situation, but MacMillan has pivoted the business from a planned 40%, ecommerce and 60% wholesale strategy and an aggressive move to enter the UK market, to 80% ecommerce and 20% wholesale.
“It’s been hard and challenging but running a business is about self-discovery,” says MacMillan.” You just focus on getting better and better every year.”