Career

Girl you need to know: Fashion designer Rachel Mills

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You’re based in Auckland – is that where you grew up?

“I grew up and still live in West Auckland, in a semi-rural suburb called Oratia near the Waitakere Ranges. It’s incredibly beautiful and peaceful there and definitely feels like a secluded getaway, which is ideal when you need a bit of R&R but less ideal when there are emails and research to catch up on.”

You studied fashion design at AUT. When was that and what did you do to gain experience between studying and starting your own label?

“I spent four years at AUT from 2009 to the end of 2012. All the while I was interning as much as I could and trying to work my way into the industry wherever possible. I interned at Jaimie Boutique, which was operating as a retail store at the time. I was lucky to be welcomed into such a small company, alongside Jaimie and her mum Di, because it meant I got to learn from experience. Here I got to meet cutters, makers, pattern makers, pressers, suppliers, as well as an insight into the entire production to store process, on a small scale. I also interned at Lonely Hearts, which was the first workroom I had encountered that included on site sampling, and it kind of demonstrated to me how important it is to have a really valuable pattern maker.

“I picked up a retail role at Black Box Boutique during my second year of uni. Here I got to see the other end of it all, from putting together a store order for a brand right through to selling the product. All of this turned into an incredibly full on few years that I don’t think I had quite prepared myself for.

“After graduating I began managing one of the Black Box stores, and also took up a short internship in the sampling room at Karen Walker. I think it just turned out that I was in the right place at the right time, and I ended up being offered a pattern making position as maternity cover. Three years later and I am still there and have learnt more than I could have imagined in such a short space of time. I think it’s here, and the wonderful people I have worked with, that I can credit to most of the knowledge I now have.”

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What was the best piece of advice anyone gave you during that period?

“The best piece of advice was in conversation with Jean Peters, who was the head pattern maker at Karen Walker for almost twenty years, and someone I have the utmost respect for, “If you want it enough it will happen.””

It can’t be easy running your own business but I’m sure it’s incredibly rewarding. What are the challenges you face as a new designer that you think aspiring graduates need to be aware of?

“My biggest personal challenge has been getting to know myself, the way I work, and the way I react to certain situations. I have recently learnt that I function as an idealist and a perfectionist. This means what I am looking to achieve is forever changing and growing, and is moving further and further away. I am constantly having to remind myself not to be too tough on my own work, not to be too sensitive and to be proud of what I am working towards.

“This has become all too clear in the ethical argument of fashion. My dream is to strive for a brand that is as socially responsible as it can be, but I am quickly learning that this comes with major limitations. I am trying to do something that goes against the very core of what the industry is built on. While I am currently manufacturing locally, I know this will not always be the case. I am having to look towards what my other options will be, that fit within my own personal moral standards, and those as a brand.

“I think anyone coming into the industry as a designer needs to have a very clear vision of what they want both as an individual and as a brand, and both as a voice of design, and as a business.”

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What has been the highlight of your career so far?

“The past year I have had to work harder than I have ever before, which is what makes something more satisfying when it all comes together. There have been some really tough times, which makes me appreciate the highlights even more. My biggest highlight so far was pulling off a presentation for my Autumn / Winter collection at the Sapphire Room in Ponsonby Central, in two and a half weeks. I think I sent out more emails in that week than I have in my entire life, and it was incredibly heartwarming to have so many individuals and businesses, both friends and complete strangers, come together to offer what they can.

“The result was a presentation that was 90% based upon sponsorship. Being a self-funded business, there is very little budget for the frivolities of the fashion industry, and it’s always a challenge working around this. I never thought I would be able to put something like that on, in my first year of business.”

Who is the ultimate Rachel Mills girl?

“The ultimate Rachel Mills girl is both sensitive and strong. She lacks patience, and is hardly a dreamer but lives life with conviction and honesty.”

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If you could have any influencer wear one of your designs, who would you choose?

“Jemima Kirke, for her raw honesty.”

At the end of last year, you won a $5000 scholarship from AMP and Rothbury. How will this help with your business and what plans do you have for 2017?

“Yes, it was an incredibly generous award and it was such a surprise to have been chosen! I am feeling very fortunate as this will allow me to take the brand places I wouldn’t have been able to otherwise. I have been looking internationally, for sales, making and sourcing, and the possibilities of doing this within socially responsible guidelines. The reality of the industry is, it is getting more and more difficult to find local makers who are willing to take on work, without an enormous price tag. And we don’t have the population within New Zealand, to be able to afford that price tag. I will be releasing a line of Essentials, which will be manufactured at a fair-trade facility, offshore. I will be travelling to ensure any offshore factories I work with, fit within my own personal ethics of fair workers rights and environmental awareness. I’ll also be looking to travel with my ranges, in order to pick up international stockists. The goal is to be running a socially responsible business on an international scale.”

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You must work with a lot of young, up-and-coming creatives. Who are your ‘ones to watch’ for 2017?

“Yes! I have had some very talented, hardworking girls helping me out this year, which has been so wonderful. Fiona Blue has been interning with me for months and she is so hardworking and such a perfectionist. I also did a shoot with Calissa from The Others agency, who is incredibly self-aware and stylish. From those who are just going into the industry now – Olivia Renouf has been working on some really cool projects! And of course Holly Marbeck with Mars Earrings, is doing amazingly well.”

What does being a millennial mean to you?

“There has been a lot of discussion about this in the past two weeks amongst my circle of friends and at work, with the circulation of Simon Sinek’s views on millennials. As much as I hate to admit it, so much of what he had to say resonated. He spoke about self-interest, entitlement and impatience, which could be seen as negative in a working situation. To me it means using these as an advantage. There is no way I have the patience to wait for anything to come to me. I would one-hundred times rather put in everything I have, to get to where I want to be, and there is so much more satisfaction in that. In saying so however, there is also no shame in asking for a helping hand where needed.”

Photos: Supplied

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