This Designer Takes Feminist Fashion Advocacy to the Next Level

Hilary MacMillan on how she made it happen

(Photo: Ted Belton)
(Photo: Ted Belton)

Name: Hilary MacMillan

Job title: Fashion designer

Age: 32

From: Boston and Toronto

Currently lives in: Toronto

Education: BA, University of British Columbia; certificate in fashion design, Blanche Macdonald Centre

First job out of school: Checkout clerk at Safeway

Fashion has the potential for tremendous advocacy, something Hilary MacMillan takes advantage of at every opportunity. When she launched her namesake womenswear label in 2013, MacMillan made sure to give sustainable and ethical business practices a front seat, using local production and cruelty-free vegan materials and paying fair wages. Plus, she takes every opportunity she can to push her feminist agenda through actions like providing much-needed employment opportunities for women and being a public female role model. “We’re an all-female run, all-female staffed company,” she says. “It’s really important to me that we pay everyone a real living wage.”

Today, she’s advocating for greater inclusivity for her customers, her community and her peers. “There are not very many female head designers at the old fashion houses,” she points out. Being the face of her brand, MacMillan hopes to inspire women designers to reach higher. For her customers, she has recently introduced an extended range of sizes going up to 4X and dress size 28. At the community level, MacMillan donates 15% of the sales from the varsity jackets—with empowering slogans like “Equal Pay” and “Smash the Patriarchy”—in her Feminist Capsule collection to Up With Women, a not-for-profit that helps recently homeless and at-risk women to rebuild their careers.

For anyone interested in a career as a fashion designer, MacMillan cautions that it’s not just about the glitz and glam you see on the runway or Instagram. “A lot of creative people don’t have a business plan or they’re not thinking about numbers or margins or how much fabric they need,” she says. If, like MacMillan, you don’t have a head for numbers, she advises teaming up with someone who does so you can focus on creating. “My sister started working with me, and that took a lot of stress off.”

Indeed, MacMillan’s family has been immensely supportive of her career, from a mother who shared her artistic spirit to a father who imparted his business acumen. In developing the ethos of her brand, MacMillan also looked to the responsible women in fashion who went ahead of her. “Stella McCartney is iconic to me in the vegan space,” MacMillan offers as an example. “She made cruelty-free cool.”

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