Milk And Thistle Designer Danielle Atkinson On What Ethical Fashion Means To Her

by: Rosie Dalton | 11 months ago | Features

Image: Milk & Thistle founder Danielle Atkinson. 

Danielle Atkinson is the designer behind one of our favourite Australian labels Milk & Thistle. First launched in 2006, the brand is known for its signature digital and screen prints, crafted in beautifully constructed garments that boast both form and function. Based in Sydney, this mother of two says she draws a lot of inspiration from her hometown. And was originally inspired to start her own label through her love of print – as well as a personal commitment to consuming responsibly.

Talking to Danielle, we learned that fashion wasn’t actually her first career path, though, and this was something that she pivoted to her later on in life – which we happen to find super inspiring. So, naturally, we wanted to find out a little more about what drives her as a designer and how she manages the business side of things; along with creating highly wearable pieces in a range of quality natural fibres, of course.

Rosie Dalton: Can you tell us a bit about how you first discovered fashion design?   
Danielle Atkinson
: I never actually studied fashion design at all and must admit that I’m pretty lame on a sewing machine. I always wanted to be a fashion designer, but was equally interested in the music industry. My travels after school led me to a career working for various record labels and it wasn’t until I was 30 that I decided to study Textile Design and Printing at TAFE. From there I realised that the best way to get my textile designs noticed wasthroughn clothing, so the label grew from there. Not being technically trained in fashion, it was a rather steep learning curve, but I kept things simple and achievable.

Rosie: What made you decide to start your own label? 
Danielle: I have always had an interest in small business – I guess you could say there was an entrepreneurial streak in me. I love studying other small businesses and, naturally, I also thought that being your own boss would be a dream. I know now that this doesn’t come without a lot of hard work. I realise now that it takes many years just to earn a proper wage, but I can appreciate the position I am in even more and feel like I have created my own template, which allows me to balance self-employment with family and kids. I am slowly learning not to sweat the small stuff.

Rosie: How would you describe the latest collection and what were some of your inspirations behind the pieces? 
Danielle: In the latest collection I have really paired things back and kept a much quieter aesthetic. I guess you could say that it combines the simplicity of Japanese and Scandinavian influences, which I have always been drawn to. A recent trip to Japan really ignited my love for simpler silhouettes in gorgeous natural fibres. There they create garments that get better with every wash and wear, which means they can be treasured for years to come. So I wanted to make a collection that would more be about creating everyday staples like these.

Image: our pal @iamselavai looking fab in the Linen Prairie Dress in Galaxy Print.

Rosie: I particularly love your prints – can walk us through how these come to life?
: I started the label through my love of print, but it's slowly evolving to keep things simple. I still adore a great print and believe it is a great tool to create your brand identity. Today, I believe colour is my strongest point, so everything has to come from the colour palette first. I then source images and create a moodboard of what I'm after. I really try and show restraint where I can, because I believe the quieter moments in the print are the nicest.

Rosie: Can you run us through the lifecycle of your garments, from concept to creation? 
Danielle: My garment ideas are created in several ways. Firstly, I think about what I would like to wear this season and what is missing in my wardrobe. It is easy to be influenced by what other people want – which isn't a bad thing – but sometimes you have to trust your own gut instinct. Secondly, my garment ideas are created from fabric choice. I visit fabric suppliers or create a print, which I find is the most organic way to do things. You can see a fabric and know immediately what it would be good for and how it would work. After that, the sampling process begins and this is the moment of truth – where your vision either works or doesn't. Above all, I am a big believer in smaller, more concise collections, because less is more.

Rosie: What does ethical fashion mean to you personally?
: Ethical fashion means being mindful of my purchase origins – I have a personal checklist that I try and abide by. Sometimes I can stray from this, like most, but it is a considered checklist that helps me with my purchases. Having a clothing brand, people just assume that I have an endless wardrobe, but this isn’t the case. Whilst I love everything I produce, I choose a few select pieces each season that I know will really suit my lifestyle. I don’t want to accumulate clothing just for the sake of it. For me, it is also important to support products that are locally manufactured, because this industry is shrinking  in Australia. If we don’t buy from local brands, then soon it won't even be an option. 

Rosie: And how do these values also carry through to the brand?
: I used to think that manufacturing locally and using makers that I trust was enough – but I soon realised that it takes more than that. I needed to be more conscious of my environmental impact too. So I now gravitate towards natural fibres and minimise the use of synthetic blends in my fabric. I also seek to create more concise, stronger collections – rather than creating product purely for the sake of offering more. The sampling process can often be wasteful, so I strive to minimise that by having our offcuts recycled and turned into mattresses. 


You can shop our full range of Milk & Thistle pieces over here.

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