In Conversation – Black Milk Clothing
Interview with Cameron Parker, Head of Sales and Marketing, Black Milk Clothing.
October 1, 2014 | The Coffee Table Book | Fall 2014
Ashely Demma: For those who might not be familiar with Black Milk Clothing, how would you sum it up? What’s the Black Milk mission?
Cameron Parker: Our mission is to take on the world and build a nylon empire! We have a saying, “Give me nylon or give me death!”
Black Milk fans are called “Sharkies” – is that because of all the sharks in Australia? Or did it come from something else?
Black Milk has been about storytelling right from the beginning. James [James Lillis, founder] had a blog called “Too Many Tights” where he blogged about legwear, and he formed a community. The blog got lots of international and domestic attention from fans. Later, people would be on the Black Milk site at all times, and sometimes it would crash. So people would say, “Why did the site crash? I can’t get gear!” So we like to tell a story when the site crashes. I likened it to Lady Gaga in a meatsuit and the fans swarming around in a feeding frenzy, nomming up gear, like a shark attack. And so “Sharkies” was born.
Can you talk a little about the Australian fashion scene? Where I’m from in Chicago, it can be hard for girls to express their fashion sense when it’s freezing cold six months out of the year.
We have something for everyone! [Black Milk doesn’t] follow seasons or trends. The designers make what the customers love. It’s kinda like reverse fashion – we listen to our fans and create what they want. Women can style pieces the way they like. Black Milk typically creates 60-80 new pieces per month, and the pieces are unique to the person. It’s so diverse and so individual!
You’re creating so many new pieces each month! Can you talk about what designs to expect for the latter half of 2014?
Up next is a princesses and villains, Disney-inspired release. Then we’ve got a safari/savannah release. And stay tuned for Halloween! We love Halloween and we go to a whole ‘nother level! Then for Christmas there will be a collection, and a new licensing mashup where we create pieces fans have been begging for, like with DC Comics and Harley Quinn. And of course there’s active-wear and gym gear, as well as a collaboration with Solestruck for shoes. And there’s some other stuff, but I can’t tell you or I’d have to kill you!
How does the licensing process work for getting the rights to major properties like Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, and Game of Thrones?
Licensing is about a six month process, negotiating contracts, using a database of images that the property allows us to use. The contracts determine how flexible our design team can be with their designs. Then the designers submit ideas to the licensing team to get the go-ahead.
I really admire how body-positive Black Milk is. But girls of different sizes might be concerned that something made of “nylon” wouldn’t fit right. How do you deal with that?
Nylon and stretch-wear products are easy for sizing. It has greater flexibility. Online sizing can be difficult, but girls use hashtags to find similar body shapes and sizes to know what size to order. For example, if you use #bmsmall on social media, you can see all the girls who are that size and you can see if it looks like it would fit you, too. We have strict rules about body positivity and diversity and we take it seriously.
Jumping off of that, I don’t want to rehash old news, but Black Milk recently experienced controversy on May 4th, 2014 aka “May the Fourth” Star Wars Day. What did you learn from that experience and how is Black Milk moving forward?
That was a real wake-up call. Social media is generally very positive. On May the 4th we posted a Star Wars meme on our facebook page that some people found offensive. It helped us learn what NOT to do. We had lots of internal training for situations like this and have implemented that training. I wanna say that Black Milk is a young brand; we’ve made some mistakes and we’ve learned from it. We hope others can look at us as an example of what not to do and learn and grow from it. In Australia, we have a saying, “taking the piss” which means making a joke. We at Black Milk like to joke and we don’t take ourselves too seriously. Unfortunately, some humor doesn’t translate well. We want to be more socially responsible and aware and respectful. We don’t want to be judged based on that mistake. We want to move forward.
What’s the day before a new release like?
The day before a new release is crazy! There’s great energy. Launch day is huge. We get 80% of our volume of orders in the first 24 hours. It’s all hands on deck, especially for packing and customer service. So launch day is game on! Every minute we get thousands of orders. It takes about a week to recover and get gear shipped to Sharkies so they can wear it right away!
What celebrities have you seen rocking Black Milk? Has anyone done a particularly good job?
Fashion traditionally uses product placement. Black Milk has a relationship with artists where they wear the pieces because they already like it and want to. Whoopi Goldberg is a big fan; she has over 50 pieces! Black Milk doesn’t use demographics to find our “target audience”; we use psychometrics and feedback from our fans. Some other celebrity fans are Jessie J, Kesha, Robyn, and some other actresses. But we’re more excited about our everyday Sharkies!
There are a lot of imitators out there. What distinguishes Black Milk from your competitors?
There weren’t many brands doing what we do a few years ago. Now you see a lot more. What separates us is that we’re the original. Others copy our patterns and styles. Some things like the licensed gear are illegal to copy, but it’s hard to police. Other patterns like the galaxy are public domain. We’re locally based in Australia and our pieces are ethically made. We use the latest printing techniques from Italy; our pieces have two-way stretch where if you stretch it any way, the print holds. Other brands use thin fabric that’s sheer enough to see your knickers if you bend over! It looks plastic-y and the print is dull and pixelated. When you buy Black Milk, you’re buying into a family and a community.
Your professional background is extensively in marketing and advertising. What advice do you have for someone who might like to pursue a career in those fields?
I don’t see this as a career – it’s a lifestyle! You need to live and breathe it. It’s not work for me. It’s in my DNA and it’s in my blood. You need to get your hands dirty and not sit around and wait for an opportunity to drop on your plate. I did work with James for a year for free, just helping out to get experience in the beginning. I also have other side projects to diversify my knowledge. I hate when people say they’re experts – there’s always something new to research and new products to learn. You have to stay on top!
Illustration by Laura C.
Ashley Demma hails from Chicago where she moonlights as a freelance writer, blogger, and illustrator outside of a day job in marketing. Her degree is in English Language & Literature from the University of Chicago. She loves YA fantasy novels, Vosges chocolate, and the Martha Stewart Halloween magazine. Find more of her work using #demondesign on social media.