Sustainability is the word on all our lips. In the last year, efforts to become greener, better citizens of the planet have reached a new height, impacting the fashion industry in a big way as groups like Extinction Rebellion and major figures like Vivienne Westwood have stood side-by-side with climate protectors such as Greta Thunberg. While screams for major fast fashion companies to become more sustainable are louder than ever, we all know that the best way to reduce our impact is to shop local, shop independent and shop second hand. A beautiful by-product of our commitment to being better, new independent brands are peaking their heads out of the soil and getting the love they deserve, and our new favourite flower? Manchester’s Grey Milk.
After less than a month in business, Grey Milk have a glorious range of womenswear complete with punchy, fun floral prints and romantic detailing that merges 90s grunge aesthetics with prairie finishes. All handmade to order from a spare room floor in Manchester, get to know Grey Milk.
#1 Why don’t we start off with introductions? Do you want to tell me a bit about yourself and your journey up to launching Grey Milk?
Yes! So, my name is Gwen and I run Grey Milk, a made to order clothing brand. I make playful, positive impact fashion for thoughtful humans in my Manchester home studio.
Launching Grey Milk was something I’d been wanting to do for a long time, but it was one of those things where something always stops you from taking the leap — so the day we went into lockdown, I decided I was going to put my all into the brand, and I’m so glad that I did. I opened the doors on 8th May and since then the interest has just kept growing and growing, it’s been crazy.
#2 One of the things that struck me most about your pieces is that any can be custom made to specific measurements for no extra cost! This is such an incredible service to offer in terms of inclusivity, is this something that’s been on your mind throughout for fashion career?
Yes, totally — I think the need for made to measure clothing is growing rapidly. One size definitely does not fit all, and this is one of the most frustrating things about fast fashion garments. We are used to buying ill-fitting garments and thinking we are the wrong shape if we don’t fit into them. That’s so wrong! I think knowing that a garment has been made to fit your unique shape and size adds immense personal value to it — and as someone who is between dress sizes, it’s just more practical.
#3 Your designs seem to perfectly merge bold shapes and materials with a kind of timelessness. When it comes to designing, what references do you look at? Where do you get your inspo from and who are some of your muses?
Thankyou! I think when it comes to inspiration, I’m usually obsessing over something and this comes out through my design work. For example, I’m a huge music buff and the print story for the summer range all started from the back of a Nirvana LP. This mash up of 90s rock and naive 60s florals got me thinking about how I could elevate some classic retro pieces to become wearable today. It’s also why the collection is called “In Bloom” and one of the summer styles is called “Polly”.
I don’t think I have a muse, but I always feel so inspired when I talk to other female creators. Some of these women I only know on Instagram, and some of them are my closest friends. But I always try and design with this kind of woman in mind — would my friends wear this? Would I wear this? If the answer is yes, I feel positive about it.
#4 Sustainability is obviously a huge thing in fashion at the minute but there’s a real problem with greenwashing and big brands shouting sustainability when behind the scenes the reality isn’t quite as dreamy. How are you ensuring Grey Milk stays true to its sustainability promises? And what steps do you think the industry on a whole need to take to be better?
I agree and I find this really irritating. Being sustainable is not an all or nothing commitment; it’s something that should be continuously worked on by brands in order to try and have the most positive impact possible on the planet. It would be much more authentic and digestible if companies were honest and upfront about the areas of their supply chain that aren’t sustainable and said “hey look, we’ve not got it all figured out yet, but we’re working on it”.
This is what Grey Milk is doing to try and be as sustainable as possible right now:
- I use a made to order model, meaning I only produce what I need to. This means no surplus fabric or stock goes to waste.
- I offer a made to measure service, meaning I cater to all shapes and sizes. Everyone can shop at Grey Milk.
- No animal products of any kind are used in my garments (no fur, leather, wool, hair or silk, or fish-derived glues). Grey Milk is 100% cruelty-free.
- The printing process I use is water-free, non-toxic and eco-friendly.
- Many of the fabrics I use are natural, organic and recyclable — by next drop, I’m committing to making ALL of my fabrics natural. I am trialling some new suppliers that are able to cater to my sustainable printing needs and can’t wait to roll this out next drop.
- My packaging and branding are 100% recyclable
- All fabric waste is recycled into packaging, trims and small accessories.
And I plan to make this list longer as I grow the brand.
#5 And as shoppers, what advice do you have for fashion lovers to lower the damage their shopping habits cause?
I think there is a fundamental issue with the relationship we have with our clothes right now. Many consumers just want an outfit they can wear once and throw away, with no regard for how they’ll store or care for it, or if they will even wear it again. This takes the creativity out of getting dressed and creates this pressure to pour more and more money into stuff that we just don’t need. Instead, I’m trying to provide a service that encourages consumers to really fall in love with a garment that has been crafted ethically just for them, that they can keep for years to come and enjoy styling in all sorts of different ways. If we can get into the habit of buying less and purchasing more carefully, this will not only have a positive effect on the planet but will also inject some creativity into getting dressed again.
#6 A lot of people seem to think that to find success in the fashion industry you have to be in London. Why Manchester? What do you like about the fashion of the city?
When I was younger, this really played on my mind. I wanted to be successful in my field, but I grew up in Manchester and have always adored it. There’s such a strong sense of togetherness and creativity that I just haven’t come across anywhere else. I moved to London for the best part of a year when I was 22 to see if I was missing out and I just knew it wasn’t for me. I like being able to turn a corner in the Northern Quarter and find another local business that’s popped up, and there are just all sorts of quirky and fantastic people wandering the streets.
#7 Can you give us a little insight into what your home studio looks like? What do you listen to while you work?
Sure — so this is actually a temporary set up because I’m in the middle of moving into a new house (where my boyfriend has given me full permission to turn our spare room into a studio, yippee!) so I’ll be renovating over the next month and will definitely share this over on Instagram.
I currently pattern cut on the floor and have a very humble set up so I’m super excited to upgrade this space!
I absolutely always have music on whilst I work, I think I would get withdrawal symptoms without it! I’m currently loving anything and everything by Phoenix but this changes every day!
#8 How do you want your pieces to make people feel?
Joyful!! I designed my prints to be bold, bright and cheerful and I hope that this translates through to the wearer.
#9 Which is your favourite piece to wear? And which piece do you enjoy making most?
I think my favourite to wear is the Ella dress. It’s a great one for throwing on, its easy and it’s super comfortable. The print is also just absolutely glorious in the sunlight!!
To make, I think my favourite is the Orla dress. There’s an awful lot of work that goes into the gathered raglan neckline and it’s really satisfying when it’s done! The organic cotton is also just a dream to sew.
#10 Thinking big picture, what’s the plan for the next 5 years or so in the world of Grey Milk?
I would love to expand the team in the future. I think it will always be a key element of Grey Milk that the customers know who is sewing their garments, so I would love to grow a small team of in-house seamstresses to help create orders with love. I can also see myself producing small runs of garments for boutiques or pop up stores that matched the values of the brand.