Black Milk Clothing, named after a Massive Attack song, has grown enormously over the last five years, while maintaining its base for designing, manufacturing and distributing its wears entirely in Brisbane.
From starting as a two-person operation, the online clothing store now houses more than 180 staff members, ships up to 2000 parcels per day and has a global profile among celebrities and fashion bloggers.
We spoke to Black Milk owner, James Lillis and the company’s head of sales and marketing, Cameron Parker about the success of Black Milk Clothing and their new line ‘Battle of the Kings’ out now.
Cameron Parker says a lot of their existing staff members were actually original customers of Black Milk which makes for a lot of fun, as the office is filled with people who are personally passionate about the brand.
Have you had any prominent celebs or bloggers buy Black Milk clothing?
We don’t really pay too much attention to whether or not celebrities wear our gear – we’re much more excited to see photos of our regular, every-day customers rocking their Black Milk. One person who we do get really excited about whenever they order is Whoopi Goldberg! She absolutely rocks our gear, we love it. We also have close ties with a lot of bloggers, and they’ve always been great to work with.
As everything is 100% designed and produced in Brisbane, do you plan to continue with this as you continue to grow rapidly?
We will absolutely continue to manufacture right where our headquarters is – it just makes it so much easier to ensure we create a quality product and that our team is being looked after.
What’s next for Black Milk?
We’re looking at opening our concept space (café/bar mixed with a clothing store) here in Brisbane in August this year, and our USA distribution center will be operational hopefully in time for our Disney release in July.
How quick do you think Battle of the Kings will sell out?
As always we have selected, LIMITED pieces that will sell out in a couple of minutes. Luckily, the majority of the collection is not limited and will be restocked later on.
James Lillis’ venture into Black Milk started when he decided to make a shirt out of the cheapest material he could find; Nylon. He says it was a tragically tight shirt, but he loved it and wore it constantly. He says he nearly threw the towel in on numerous occasions but persevered with creating leggings and attempting to sell them at the markets and eventually decided an exclusively online store was the way to go.
What was the most surprising thing about starting your venture into the clothing industry?
Probably that it worked so well. I started Black Milk Clothing to do something creative and hands-on, and hoped I could sell maybe one pair of leggings a day. When things started to really escalate, it was actually a bit of a shock. But we went with it, and the next thing we knew we were doing deals with the likes of Lord of the Rings and Disney and opening up an office in LA.
What is the most challenging aspect of owning a business such as Black Milk?
Being a global is probably the thing that presents the most challenges – we might be designing our Christmas collection which is filled with swimsuits and very summery things, but we have to spare a thought for everyone in our community in the Northern Hemisphere who will be enjoying snow over Christmas. We love having an international community though, and I wouldn’t change that for the world.
With the newer ranges you’ve begun to branch out from the traditional Black Milk leggings, are there any other ambitions for Black Milk?
Our design team have absolutely been working more with new fabrics and designs as we’ve grown. We’ve created beanies, and we have scarves in the works as well. We also love doing collaborations - we have our ongoing shoe collaboration with Solestruck, which will have a new release again in October and we’re looking into other collaborations we could potentially do.
Where does the inspiration and ideas for the ranges come from?
Inspiration can come from anywhere – sometimes one particular piece will trigger the narrative for the entire collection, sometimes it will simply be something I’m interested in at the time. We also get a lot of input from our community over social media, and sometimes that can be the catalyst for a piece being included in a collection as well.
More specifically, where did the inspiration for the Battle of the Kings range originate?
The inspiration for Battle of the Kings came from medieval knights and ladies, epic battles and power struggles and that sort of thing. We wanted to represent characters with some of the pieces – like the chainmail print for the knight and the lace designer pieces for the lady.
How long did it take to create the Battle of the Kings range?
It takes several months to put a collection together and even if there might be a few last minute changes the bulk of the release is planned very early on. We generally start pulling collections together months in advance – the key lace pieces for Battle of the Kings were actually designed towards the end of last year. Right now we’re finalising our Halloween collection.