The Black Milk story starts a long time ago in a little yellow house, outside an unusually loud train station, surrounded by mango trees in Brisbane, Australia. James was broke and working odd jobs here and there in order to achieve my financial goals, which included such grand ambitions such as…paying rent. And buying noodles.
Unfortunately for James, he wasn’t particularly good at anything so just got work wherever he could.
Then one day when he was unusually bored, and decided that he wanted to do something…with his hands. Most people would have bought a guitar, or a bag of golf clubs, but nope… James bought a sewing machine (pretty random, I know). To this day he still isn’t sure why he did it, he just wanted to…sew something!
He then went down to the fabric shop with a grand total of $6 in his pocket. He looked at all the fabrics…silks, cottons, all out of his price range. In fact there was only one fabric he could afford…nylon lining, at $2 per metre. It wasn’t particularly nice fabric, and being a lining, it needed to be stretched so it didn’t look shrivelled up and wrinkly. So he had to make something with it that would stretch.
The first garment he sewed was for himself. It was a tight shirt that consisted of four pieces of nylon lining, all stitched together by someone who clearly had no idea how to sew. It was way too short, cut completely wrong, and had a neckline that was nothing more than a hole. It was tragic. And he LOVED it.
Next he went to a shop that sold dance fabrics. Again he could only afford a small bag of scrap fabric. One piece he bought was a shiny pink stretch lycra. James took it home and stared at it, and touched it. It was…beautiful. It was then that he fell in love with stretch fabrics.
From that moment, things changed for James. Although technically very broke, he was still working odd jobs and he started saving. On the weekends he would go to sewing machine shops to try to get sewing lessons. The shops were full of mothers, grandmothers, and…James. Yeah, he stuck out. He didn’t care, in fact, it appealed to James’ bizarre sense of rebellion.
It was around this time he made his very first pair of leggings. James bought a tribal African print that he thought would look great on legs. He drew up a pattern, cut it out and made a pair of leggings. He talked to a friend who had a friend who agreed to be a model for him to see if they fit. She put them on, and they were terrible. So he cut them again, and sewed them again. It was at that point that something remarkable happened. Something…unexpected.
She asked if she could buy them.
She took out her wallet, gave James some money and walked off with his hand made leggings. He couldn’t stop smiling for the rest of the day. He was stunned - some girl was willing to actually pay money for clothes that I had made!
So it was then he threw himself into it with a passion. He bought new machines, and would spend 5-6 hours a day on the sewing machine trying to figure out how to sew properly. However, he never forgot what a buzz it was creating clothes that women wanted to wear. And when people asked what him did for a job, he could say… “Well… I guess I’m a fashion designer…”
The next step - James had to actually go out and sell the stuff!
He went door to door, trying to get shops to sell his clothes. Most said no. Some said, “We’ll call you next week” and, yeah, to this day he is still waiting for those guys to call. One shop he visited said yes and agreed to let me display a few of his pieces in a corner of their shop. James lovingly arranged five styles of leggings that he had designed and wondered which of them would sell. He went back a week later - and they gave me every single piece back.
He bought a tent and went to the markets. Turned up at 5:30am every Saturday and stood around in the sun all day, trying to sell my leggings. This wasn’t very successful and James only made enough to cover the pitch. However, despite this, something very special was happening…online. Girls were finding his leggings, not through shops, not at the markets, but through his blog! He would talk about all the things he was making…and they would email him asking to buy them. It very soon got to the point where far more girls were buying clothes at my little online shop than at my tent at the markets.
So James made a big decision - He would only sell online.
He talked to a few people in the industry who told him, he was making a big mistake and that he would go broke within the month. Apparently, online selling was only for companies with ‘real’ shops. But the problem was that ‘real’ shops weren’t interested in his clothes! So he went online.
And that’s where he has been ever since. :)
That was 2009. A lot has changed from those early days. Instead of James sewing everything by himself at night, he now has a fantastic team who create all the Black Milk pieces!!