Han Solo and Chewbacca are ready to make the jump to light speed right off your thighs. The blue and gray 80s Batman dives from a skyscraper across your swimsuit top and the Joker howls from the back of a black cropped jacket. If Daenerys Targaryen was going dancing at the hottest nightspot in all the realm, she’d wear a Westeros-inspired party dress by Black Milk.
These days, indie designers are thriving on LCD displays instead of traditional retail spaces. Black Milk Clothing is one vibrant label connecting to a global audience through online media. Based in Brisbane, Australia, their recent collections devoted to Batman, Star Wars and Game of Thrones are phenomenal Geek Chic. The label has found its niche through black and white graphics of mechanized bones that form sci-fi skeleton tights and catsuits that are drop-dead cool.
Not surprisingly, the brand’s motto is, “Give me nylon or give me death.” Designer James Lillis is the singular vision behind the prints and scissors. His story points toward the future of fashion, art and beyond. Lillis taught himself how to sew and started from the bottom rack, but struggled to get carried in established retail spaces. Rejections and minimal sales were frustrating, but the designs started getting attention though his blog. It wasn’t long before online sales far surpassed what Lillis was moving from his tent at local markets.
Considering a decision to make Black Milk an online-only label, Lillis reached out for advice from fashion industry insiders. They unanimously said it was a bad idea, predicted the venture would financially fail within weeks, and insisted online retailing was only for major labels with flagship stores. Sometimes even the experts can’t see what’s coming.
Paste spoke with Black Milk Clothing label representative Alex Caton in Brisbane about the international commerce of indie fashion today. Alex is like Seinfeld’s Elaine Benes character to designer James Lillis’s J. Peterman.
Paste: Has social media changed or influenced modern fashion?
Caton: Absolutely. Social media has widened people’s horizons in terms of what’s available and their confidence to wear it. We have people in our community all the time who tell us that seeing a photo of our gear on another community member made them fall in love with it.
Paste: What are some of the pros and cons of showcasing on Instagram?
Caton: The pros are definitely being able to connect with an extremely wide and varied audience, but a con would be that with a public account you do leave yourself open to Internet trolls – we’re very protective of our community, and we have to be constantly on the lookout for any unsavory comments on the photos we repost.
Paste: What about retail fashion on the Internet in general?
Caton: By sticking to online retailing, we can keep everything in-house —so no resellers, no wholesalers. That means we can personally make sure every experience people have with us is a positive one. It also lets us be truly international. The main con would be that our community don’t actually get to touch and feel the garments before buying them —but ultimately that just means we have to be really on top of telling the Black Milk story.
Paste: How does Brisbane influence Black Milk’s creativity?
Caton: Brisbane is an interesting place to be for a fashion label—it’s a city that has been traditionally fairly cut off from trends, so when Black Milk started we started with a mindset of “What trends?” We create our own. This culture has lasted in the business to this day, even though Brisbane is emerging as a more fashionable city.
Paste: When designing a new collection what’s Black Milk’s process?
Caton: When James is creating a collection it usually starts with a single theme. For example, Batman. For our Batman collection James sought classic images that he felt resonated with our brand, and developed a handful of designer products inspired by the characters and colour-scheme of Batman. From there, the styles and prints are assigned to styles, or new styles are created to fit the design.
Paste: What inspires Black Milk’s creativity?
Caton: The fantastic thing about designing and printing in-house means we can be inspired by anything. We really love pop culture and iconic imagery, as well as bright colors and strong designs.
Paste: What’s Black Milk’s best-selling piece?
Caton: Our matte black leggings are continually popular—nothing beats a pair of well-designed, comfy, black leggings!
Paste: Is the licensing element of your Star Wars, Batman and Game of Thrones collections difficult to obtain?
Caton: It’s definitely a long process—there’s usually about a year between starting to negotiate a licensing deal and actually releasing a collection. We haven’t found it particularly difficult though – everyone we’ve contacted so far has been very excited to work with us.
Cyberspace levels the geographic playing field. They’re well removed from the catwalks of the jet set, but Black Milk follows the beat of it’s own drum. Official operations started in 2009. As a private company, they decline to release annual sales reports, but as of March 2014, Black Milk Clothing is just shy of 40,000 followers on Twitter, over 600,000 Likes on Facebook and 800,000 followers on Instagram.
All art undergoes changes. Some truths hold solid as a rock in the brave new world of wireless internet as they were in ancient societies. There will always be an over-crowding of average, mediocre work and talent, but persistence and determination push the best into the spotlight. The cream rises to the top, and Black Milk Clothing is as fresh as it gets.
Check out more of Black Milk Clothing here.