Canadian fashion designer Hilary MacMillan
With Toronto Fashion Week on the horizon, we decided to speak to Canadian fashion designer Hilary MacMillan—known for her recent "Feminist" varsity coats—about her fashion influences and the great thing about Canadian design.
Hilary MacMillan will showcase at RE/SET at Toronto Fashion Week this September, where she'll show her spring/summer collection for 2019. I know—next spring already? But such is fashion industry. The good news is, that thanks to MacMillan's accessible approach to wearable fashion, you can shop her fall 2018 collection now.
With that in mind, we asked this Toronto-based designer a few questions about what it's like to be a designer in Canada, what inspired her statement-making varsity jackets, and why she keeps her prices at a realistic level.
Editor's Note: RE/SET is a program that takes place during fashion week that allows designers to connect to buyers, media and consumers in a showroom-style model (instead of a runway show).
How did you get into fashion design?
I graduated from The University of British Columbia with a degree in political science and economics and never really considered a career in fashion until I started to explore my options at the end of my fourth year. I was always interested in fashion but didn’t really know what that meant as I couldn’t sew, and had no clue about pattern drafting. I looked into Blanche Macdonald a design school in Vancouver and loved the sound of the program, and the intensive course. I dove headfirst into that program and learned a lot and loved all of it. I moved back to Toronto at the end of my studies and my sister and I started a jewellery and accessory boutique in the West-Queen-West neighbourhood. I loved being downtown and decided I wanted to try my hand at a capsule collection. I was lucky that I had a retail location that I could sell my collection in, and it was well received and I started wholesaling a couple years later and have been working in fashion ever since.
Did you have any mentors or programs that really influenced you when you decided to pursue this career?
My family has been the biggest influence on my career thus far. My mother is a realist painter and really fostered in me a sense of design, and my father has worked in retail his whole career and really pushed me to start my own collection and gave me knowledge on markups, delivery dates, size runs, etc. Finally, my sister, who is now also my brand manager, came on to work with me a year and a half ago and without her, I would be lost. She handles all the business side of everything and is instrumental in our growth over the last couple of years.
How has being Canadian shaped your career? How has it shaped your design ethos?
The Canadian fashion industry has shaped my career in so many ways. I think, first of all, it’s supportive and full of amazing partners. We have had to work hard but the support from this community helps make every season better and better. Canada is big but small. We are lucky in many ways because as it grows, more and more consumers identify with wearing uniquely Canadian brands. Events like MadeINLAND and Toronto Fashion Week with RE/SET help to provide a platform for my designs to be seen, purchased and become part of the Canadian fashion landscape. Something I am always very thankful for.
How would you describe your design style?
My design style pretty much always incorporates a 70’s undertone. I love the silhouette, shape and drape of that era. Recently and for FW’18 and SS’19 seasons, I have blended a bit of athleisure into the mix. The comfort market is very strong and let's face it, practical. Each seasonal collection generally features a print or feature texture, like silver sequins and vegan patent for FW’18. I love for design to be good, playful, affordable and wearable!
Compared to many designers, your pieces are very accessibly priced—is that important to you and your brand?
Yes, accessibility is certainly a very important brand value for us. With the release of each collection, we work very hard to position ourselves as a contemporary womenswear brand that both consumers and retailers can buy into each season. A big part of this positioning is to offer a range in pricing each season. At hilarymacmillan.com, (and at our various retail partners across Canada), you can find both a gorgeous $60 sweater and a $375 dollar pair of sequin trousers. It’s a space in the market we look forward to growing, as we feel fashion accessibility is integral to our brand's growth.
As part of a recent collection, you featured items with the phrases "feminist," "equal pay" and "don't tell me to smile" on them—can you talk a bit about that?
Yes! That’s exactly what we should do. Talk about feminism, equal pay and equal rights. For FW’17 we started a capsule collection of varsity jackets. We started with the ‘Feminist’ jacket and over the last two seasons branched out to include the ‘Equal Pay’ and ‘Don’t Tell Me To Smile’ jackets. In early 2017 I attended the women’s march in Washington, D.C. and I was so empowered by this wave of emotion, reaction and plain action that was resonating with people. Our jackets are here to empower people, start a conversation and draw attention to these really important issues which remain, issues in our society today. We are lucky that in Canada we have a voice and the right to express our frustration and fear of inequality and sexism. Not all places and people have these rights. It is very easy to forget this. We should make a point of talking about this, and this collection gives many people a place to start. I also hope that in some way these messages empower people. We get orders from around the world, which goes to show that these are global ideas. It’s been an amazing experience so far!
What's something you love about the Canadian fashion industry?
I love how supportive and fun everyone is. The community is very close-knit, especially here in Toronto. It is full of such creative people and everyone is supportive of everyone else's success. Societies such as CAFA, FGI and TFI offer such great programs, podcasts, event and activations for networking and information gathering.
What's something you think the Canadian fashion industry could work on?
Awareness. The success of our industry truly stems from awareness. We must constantly be asking ourselves; do consumers know who is out there and what can we do to give brands exposure on both on a national and international scale. Today, it is really hard for most Canadian brands to compete with huge multi-national companies who have a big ad spend and subsequent awareness. The more we promote events like Toronto Fashion Week and the CAFA Awards, the bigger the spotlight becomes. Canada’s population is small and most Canadian brands need international exposure to truly grow revenues and capture market share. This is a multi-layered issue which we are all working day in and out to solve.
Who are some other Canadian designers you love? There are so many great Canadian designers I love.