Tell us a little bit about your background and how Millican began.
I left my home country of Holland for a round the world trip in the early 1990s. It was a classic example of planning to be away for a year and to return to start my career back in Holland; instead I ended up travelling for two years and settling somewhere completely different – England. Initially I lived in Nottingham, moving to Keswick in the Lake District National Park in 2000 to live the life of dreams. Gradually however, life’s routines got in the way of our dreams and I took a year off in 2007 to re-calibrate my life. During this year, the idea for Millican the brand was born – on the streets of Keswick – to create a brand of travel and outdoor bags, inspired by proven utility styles, with modern functionality and sustainable materials.
Why was Millican Dalton such a big inspiration to you?
Millican Dalton is a local legend, whose story is virtually unknown outside of our valley. A self-styled professor of adventure, he moved away from city life in the late 1800s, to a life in the outdoors – making his own tents, clothing and bags. His life values of living simply, with nature, are as relevant today as they were then. Eccentric, passionate and committed, Millican Dalton inspires us every day.
Sustainability is one of your key themes. How has this influenced the way you work and the way you approach the business? Why is this so important to you?
I strongly believe that any modern business has a clear responsibility to both people and the planet. It’s clear that we’re collectively on a path of using up the one planet we have, and a smarter way of living is required. Simple, daily conscious choices combined with disruptive innovations are at the heart of the solution.
We’ve made conscious choices from day one about what we produce, where we produce and how we exist as a business – and we share the ups and downs of our journey with our audience, in the hope that we inspire others to make conscious choices in their own lives.
The result of this is that all our main materials are either natural, organic, recycled or a combination of these; that our marketing materials are printed by an ISO14001 certified printer, on 100% recycled papers, using water-based inks; and that we offer a repair service to help customers with any issues or damage their Millican bags might have picked up on their travels.
Do you feel a rise in interest for sustainable and well made products? Is this a generational thing?
Most definitely, especially since the 2008 recession kicked in, forcing everyone to re-think the status quo and to a degree, go back to basics – buy less, but buy better if you can. And fortunately, the millennial generation seems significantly more demanding in terms of wanting to know the human truth behind what they buy and who they buy from.
Tell us about the first products that you made.
The first products we launched were a handful of Originals bags and accessories, all named after local friends of ours. Dave the Rucksack, Harry the Gladstone Bag, Mark the Field Bag and Les the Cooler Bag. The latter was made with a local Herdwick wool liner for insulation, outperforming many man-made materials, and sourced locally from Yew Tree Farm at the foot of Castle Crag – home to Millican Dalton’s cave.
Has your approach to the way you make bags and use materials changed over time?
If anything, our approach has become more focused on improving the sustainability of our products – we’re developing a number of very interesting new fabrics for 2018, which are driven by sustainable innovation. We’ve learned a lot along the way, mainly that sustainability is an ongoing process of learning, trialling, at times failing, and adapting. Never finished.
Tell us about your materials and manufacturing process.
Our three main collections – Originals, Mavericks and Blank Canvas Project – use a combination of regular cotton, organic cotton, recycled polyester, local wool and vegetable tanned leathers.
The Originals are made with 100% organic cotton outer and lining fabrics, while the Maverick Collection is made with bionic canvas – a unique, wax-impregnated material developed with a patented yarn using 57% recycled polyester, 38% cotton and 5% high tenacity polyester for strength and weather-proofness. Our Blank Canvas Project is made with 100% recycled polyester from a Bluesign approved supplier, who also provides us with the 100% recycled polyester lining material used in all three collections.
We produce a number of our accessories and the Crafted By collection with partners in the UK, from materials largely sourced in the UK. The rest of our products are produced by two reputable makers in Vietnam and China, who we have longstanding personal relationships with.
How has the business grown since the beginning?
We started Millican in 2008, launching our first products in 2009 – with hindsight, it was an interesting and challenging time to start a new business! Our growth in the first couple of years has been gradual, and picked up pace significantly on the back of launching the Maverick Collection two years ago. Since then, we’ve grown to nearly 200 stockists across 10 countries around the world, recently launching in the US, Japan and Korea. Most importantly, our community of online customers continues to grow and interact with us.
You recently collaborated with the Do Lectures – is collaboration with like-minded businesses and organisations a key element to your business? Is there a type of business that you would typically collaborate with?
Learning from others and feeding our curiosity certainly are key elements in how we become better people and a better business. Independent doers, creative thinkers and maverick innovators are what we look for in our collaborative partners.
We’ve been very fortunate in having worked with the people behind Universal Works, the Do Lectures and Misc Adventures in previous years, and we’ve recently started working with a number of new inspirational, creative partners who lead the way in sustainable brand development – Nau in the USA and Langbrett in Germany.
Who are Millican customers?
Every year, we learn a bit more about our customers through our annual survey, so we know they span across a range of interests, age groups and other demographics. Interestingly, although on paper the Millican customer is quite varied, they always seem to be independent, active and curious at their core.
Is travel still a key part of what you do?
Travel is core to who we are and what we do. Travel makes you feel alive, forces you to be in the moment, and brings meaning. We strongly believe it’s travelling that gives us perspective on the world we live in, and connects us with our planet, each other and, most importantly, with ourselves. Once you connect, change becomes inevitable.
What have been your proudest moments to date with the business?
My proudest moments have been the connections with our creative partners. For example, Nau in the US inspired us to start Millican in the first place, and here we are eight years later, working closely together on launching Millican in their market. The Do Lectures are a creative, thought-provoking gem – it’s impossible not to change after spending time at the lectures, and to want to inspire positive change in others.
What advice would you give to anyone starting a new manufacturing or fashion business?
Firstly, connect with your passion and develop your core business idea from there – you’ll need this passion to see you through the tougher times, while it’s also the passion that connects your brand with your customers. Secondly, surround yourself with like-minded people – both inside your business and outside. Invest in like-minded talent, since people truly are the lifeblood of your business. And thirdly, very practically, keep clear sight of who you are developing your products for and how you will reach them. It’s very easy to get lost in creativity, so combining instinct with clear focus will be an essential ingredient for success.
What’s next for you?
What’s next for me is simply more travel – bringing meaning into my life by feeding my curiosity, being outside, connecting with others and always learning.