MILA SULLIVAN Interview
Dissatisfied and seeking more creative freedom, Sullivan left her design role at a New York fashion house and bought a secondhand dress form off of Craigslist, where she began to construct garments sourced from from her favourite vintage stores in LA and NY. We chat with Mila about leaning towards ‘low impact’, dissatisfaction with exerting creative energy for the vision of others, and bulk buying in LA.
What does sustainability mean to you and how do you communicate this through your brand?
To me sustainability means producing the least waste and having as little negative impact on the environment as possible. I make everything myself and I use mostly thrifted or handed down materials which reduces the amount of new materials and waste I put into the world. I also hand make each piece myself instead of outsourcing to any factory. This means less shipping, no wasted samples, and less production over all.
I’m very much my brand. I’m very open about my process, how I work and who I am as an artist. I try to communicate that each piece is one of a kind and made by hand by myself so my customers know that what they are getting is a unique labor of love and appreciate the garments more.
How did your brand come about?
After studying fashion design at Pratt Institute and feeling like I had to continue creating my own work. After graduating, I got a job as a designer for a NYC fashion house and felt unfulfilled in designing for someone else. This drove me to start a new collection from my living room. I sourced all my materials from vintage and thrift stores and bought my dress form secondhand off craigslist.
What cultural influences exist in your home country that encourage or prevent sustainability?
I think in general the U.S. is really bad with consumption and consumer culture, people are constantly buying and taking more than they need. I recently moved to Los Angeles and I see a little bit more of a push for sustainability here. There’s more grocery stores with bulk items and sustainable packaging as well as a larger selection of second hand stores which makes it easier to shop more sustainably in day-to-day life.
Can you tell us more about the story behind your garments? From where the textiles are sourced, who designs the garments, where they are produced, and how they reach their first wearers?
I create each garment myself from start to finish. My process begins with finding textiles that inspire me by going to thrift stores, vintage stores, and estate sales. I do a combination of sketching and draping directly on the form. I sew everything myself in my studio located in downtown Los Angeles. I draw inspiration from the materials themselves, mainly home goods like bedsheets, pillow cases, tapestries, and towels. Once a piece is completed I ship it to one of the few retailers I sell with or sell it myself on my website or through instagram. My whole business is run solely by me so I have to handle everything from shipping to marketing to collaborating with photographers and models.
And a little bit about the community that surrounds the brand?
I am constantly collaborating with other talented photographers, models, and stores. I like working with people who have a similar mindset and are really passionate about what they are doing or making. There’s a really good community of small, one of a kind designers, artists and independent stores in Los Angeles which has been great to become a part of. I’ve also loved being able to carry my pieces in stores like Les Fleurs Studio that promote my work and independent and sustainably driven brands internationally.
In your eyes, what is most misunderstood about sustainability in fashion?
Personally I prefer to say “low-impact” instead of sustainable, because I would say not a single fashion brand is fully sustainable. In creating new work we create waste and put more materials into the world. For me it’s more about being as low impact as possible which as an individual artist is a lot easier and significantly less wasteful than any large or even small scale brand.
What is your advice towards achieving a more sustainable wardrobe?
I think having a more sustainable wardrobe is all about buying less and really investing in good handmade pieces that you will keep and cherish in your wardrobe for a lifetime. It’s also always more sustainable to buy second hand, giving new life to pieces that have been discarded. I would say be intentional with your wardrobe and only buy pieces that you don’t imagine discarding in the future. I’ve held clothing swaps with friends before which is a fun and sustainable way to trade out pieces without creating new waste.
What resources have you found most helpful for staying informed about sustainability in the fashion space?
If I’m being honest I don’t really seek out much media around fashion sustainability. I try to work in a way that’s genuine and is ethical to me and what I want to create. I have been lucky enough to find myself in a community of like minded individuals, brands, and stores to support and uplift each other and that’s what I try to focus on. I’m always looking to learn so I would love suggestions!
Tell us about a day in the studio?
Everyday is a little bit different depending on the projects I’m working on. I usually start by responding to any emails and messages in the morning. Then I usually put on a podcast and get to designing or sewing depending on what stage of a piece I’m at. Some days are just spent sourcing fabrics and others are spent collecting inspiration, looking for new imagery and texts.
What can we expect from your brand over the next year?
I’m going to continue to come out with new mini collections and hopefully once the pandemic is over I hope to do more pop ups and events. I’d love to do a small runway or gallery show to showcase what I have been working on. I love when people are able to touch and interact with the clothing in person so selling and displaying my work in a physical space is definitely something I want to do more of.
In your own words, what makes your brand unique?
I think my brand is unique because it’s a reflection of who I am and what world I want to build for myself to live in. I treat most pieces like a collage and drape them directly on the form. A quintessential Mila Sullivan garment is deconstructed and built up through layering, collage, and experimentation. A Mila Sullivan piece has a flair for performance, feminine beauty, and a childlike sense of playing dress up while escaping to a romanticized fantasy. It’s always colorful, playful and eclectic. Above all else I hope it feels like me. Like a page ripped from my sketchbook or a painting of mine come to life. An object that can be worn and loved by someone, and life can be experienced through it and in it.