I was a costume designer for 16 years and was director of a Carnival and Educational Arts Company called Mango Creative Arts. I trained in textiles and art at GCSE and A Level, did a BTEC in Art & Design then went to Central St Martins to study BA Theatre Design- though left after 1 year as I was offered a job as a costume designer for Sony Playstation Europe.
Kempadoo Millar grew from a personal interest in sustainable and ethical fashion- which I began researching on my HNC in Millinery at Leeds College of Art. I began looking at the Yorkshire textile and cloth industry and the demise of the local manufacturing companies in the past decade, through my investigations I found that the last large flat cap manufacturers in Holbeck, Leeds had closed in 2001 and most of the flat caps and wool were being produced in China. As a keen flat cap wearer- something handed down from my Scottish/Jamaican dad - I set about making a funky Yorkshire flat cap designed, sourced and manufactured in Yorkshire. The samples I had made sold out so I decided to form Kempadoo Millar in 2010.
I design 2 collections per year- a Spring/Summer and Autumn/Winter Collection. I work alongside a pattern drafter to produce samples of each style and carefully research and source local cloth for the collections. The hats are then manufactured by a family firm in Castleford.
I needed to move the business on to the next level and the Creative Industry Finance programme seemed like the perfect opportunity to progress forward. Through the CIF loan I have been able to employ a marketing and PR firm to help promote the company, produce marketing materials, and upgrade my e-commerce website as well as produce larger quantities of stock.
Trying to establish a luxury accessories brand in the current financial climate has been difficult as I’m competing with large, well known brands. Promoting heritage products as the ‘new kid’ has taken a few years to show the authenticity not only of the materials and the manufacture but the over-riding ethos and ethics of the company. As a small business it can also be difficult to get smaller orders processed and I’m very lucky to have a great manufacturer who will always help where they can.
I received a phone call from a 86 year old man in Hull to say how proud he felt to see a young lass in a Yorkshire flat cap and that he wished me the best of luck with my business- that was probably my proudest moment.
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