Q&A with Donna Smith, founder of Miik
As the co-founder and Creative Director of Miik, Donna Smith designs every single piece of clothing we've ever released. Today, we’re letting all of you in on a huge treat! I sat down with Donna over a cup of coffee, to talk about the story behind why our brand exists. Donna is the heart and soul behind everything Miik. She is behind all aspects of the brand – from marketing, to photoshoot direction to messaging and graphic design.
Q: How did Miik start?
A: Well, 10 years ago I was happily running my own graphic design company. My husband Michael, became interested in ethical and sustainable fashion. He was pretty much obsessed with it! I loved the idea of sustainable fashion but in my head, I had no time to run another business. Then one day he brought home a bamboo skirt that was actually kind of ugly. Not my style at all. But when I put it on and walked around the house in it, I thought, “OH WOW, now I get it.” It felt so unbelievably soft against my skin, I just kept wearing it! So much so that Michael went back to the store and bought me two different colours! That was the first moment I thought there could really be something in this. Nothing in my closet felt as good as these bamboo skirts. If I was willing to wear an ugly skirt all summer, what would happen if I could design beautiful pieces that were just as soft?
Q: What made you change your mind from thinking you didn’t have time to start a company, to co-founding Miik with your husband?
A: The main thing that grabbed me and had me hooked, was walking into the mall and being so overwhelmed. As a 40 something woman, I just didn’t know where to shop. It seemed most stores either catered to teenagers, or they had clothes my mother would have worn. I couldn’t seem to find clothes for me. And then when I tried stuff on, things never seemed to fit me properly. I felt there was a niche that needed to be filled.
Q: What were the next steps you took to start the company?
A: We concentrated on the fabric the most at the beginning. Making sure that what we were creating would be durable, lasting and sustainably sourced. We were obviously using eco-fabrics, but the most important thing from the beginning was making sure the clothes would last. I looked in my closet, and almost all my clothes were faded. After 5 washes, the cheap fabric would pill, fall apart or lose its shape. Our first season was about solving that. We sourced a bamboo fabric, and started making basics. I tested the products myself. I still own four tank tops from our very first collection. I wanted to see how long they would last, so I wore them to work out, and every week they would be in the laundry. They are still my workout tops today. That was 9 years ago.
Q: What strategies did you start using to make sure the clothes you designed would fit right?
A: At the beginning we did a lot of focus groups. I would have women to my house and ask them what issues they had shopping for their body types. I asked them what their problem areas were and what they wanted to show off. I listened and I learned a ton. I’ve always had a standard shape - but based on age and body type, there are so many differences. I couldn’t just design clothes that I liked and looked good on me, but clothes that looked great on every body type. The goal was to have a streamlined collection that had something for everyone. We never went the route of designing just the latest fad. We just wanted to make clothes that made people feel beautiful and confident. And above all, be comfortable! Most women I know care about that a lot more than the latest trend.
Q: Where does your design inspiration come from?
A: I have all different kinds of inspiration. Sometimes when I’m on a holiday, I’ll see something in a store or on a person. Sometimes it just comes to me when I first wake up in the morning. I always have a notepad and pen on my bedside so I can quickly sketch out the design before I forget. I like to take a bunch of different elements and put them together in a unique way. I always try to design versatile pieces that can be dressed up in a corporate setting or more casually on their own. Versatility is huge for me.
Q: What makes it difficult to blend together the world of eco-friendly and the world of fashion?
A: Unfortunately, fashion itself is not very eco-friendly. It’s hard to argue that. We have our beautiful sustainably sourced bamboo fabric – available in heavy and light weight. But our biggest challenge is sourcing a new, eco-friendly fabric to feature each season. Using only environmentally friendly fabric limits your options significantly. Which really limits us creatively. It’s also so much more expensive to use sustainably sourced fabrics. It’s cheaper to purchase synthetic fabrics and to produce the garments overseas. But that’s not us.
Q: So, why do you decide to keep producing clothing locally and eco-friendly?
A: It’s the whole reason we’re doing this, we can’t let go of that. We’re trying to go against what’s happening in the fast fashion world. People are buying a $10 dollar t-shirt or dress, wearing it a few times and then it ends up in a landfill site. If we let go of all our ethical values and eco-friendly standards and just make clothes for a profit, I no longer have an interest in this and I would let the company go. The whole reason Miik exists is to create durable, fashionable pieces that last not just for a season or two, but for the next 10 years. I have a closet full of clothes that range from when we started the company 9 years ago, until now. They’re still in great shape and they’re still in style.
Q: What makes Miik’s clothes last so much longer than a conventional, fast fashion piece?
A: What differentiates Miik and makes our pieces last so long has to do with our custom milled fabrics, like our bamboo. Bamboo absorbs dye differently to other fabrics, like cotton. So the colour is more saturated and does not fade over time. Most companies use an off-the-shelf bamboo/cotton blend that does not hold its colour as well and is not nearly as soft. It also doesn’t have the same rich drape. Many people stop wearing their clothes because they look faded or worn. When I compare a top I have been wearing for 8 years against a brand new one, I can’t see the difference in the colour. That’s huge, and that’s something Miik is known for.
Q: How would you describe your personal style?
A: I would say effortless. I just don’t have time! I want to look put together, but I don’t want to have to try. But I do really care about my clothes fitting me beautifully, and I want to feel great in them. I guess that’s reflected a lot in the clothes I design. Effortless.
Q: Where do you see Miik in 5 years?
A: I want Miik to be a household name. I want people to know us for everything I’ve just talked about, and to trust us with their wardrobe. But the biggest thing is that I see us giving back a lot more in the future. I want to connect with our causes, and have time for it. I would love for the day to come where 50 percent of my time is spent giving back, rather than getting lost in the day-to-day tasks of running a business. I want all of this to be for something great.