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Jane McMillan | International Design Awards Jury

Fashion Business Coach

Jane McMillan is a Fashion Business Coach living in London, where she works with entrepreneurial fashion designers to start and grow their fashion businesses from scratch enabling them to become recognised as leading fashion brands and propelling them to the next level of success.

Jane envisages a new future for Fashion Designers supported by a level playing field which is less dominated by large corporations. Where more designers have financial and creative freedom, working in a sustainable and ethical way, instead of being exploited and unfulfilled. Not everyone gets their dream design job after college and many no longer want to spend huge amounts of cash going through the college system.

She helps fashion entrepreneurs become more optimistic in achieving their dreams and gaining financial freedom for their future, even in uncertain times! Encouraging them to develop the right mindset to grow their business in a holistic way that fits around the lifestyles they want: to gain business skills; develop a collection for a receptive market; range planning; finance; sales & marketing; public relations; grow their customer list; position themselves as a market leader; work with manufacturers; build a team and scale etc.

McMillan built her own business from scratch with no financial investment whatsoever, and for fourteen years she was Creative Director and owner of the Mac Millan brand where she had the creative freedom to design her own unique vision of colour and texture. The original charm and heritage of a Mac Millan design was enriched by quality craftsmanship which caught the attention of London boutique “Koh Samui” who bought her very first collection in 1997.

In 2000, Jane was the first designer to start using digital prints in fashion, using vibrant patterns inspired by her Scottish heritage. Digital prints, at that time, were only being used on T-shirts and she started using digital printing out of necessity. As a cash strapped solopreneur, she didn’t have time to go out sourcing fabrics so started playing around on photoshop and making her own fabrics. Since digital printing had never been used in the realm of fashion she was not sure how receptive customers would be. It was actually a huge success and many designers thereafter started using the same digital methods.

MacMillan showed twice yearly on schedule at New York, London, Paris and Tokyo Fashion Weeks. With global customers including an HRH and top celebrities, Mac Millan was featured on television shows such as The Apprentice, Top of The Pops and X Factor; and in publications such as: Vogue, In Style, Marie Claire, Glamour and Cosmopolitan.

She has received many awards for fashion design including one from the British Fashion Council presented by Diana, Princess of Wales and in 2007 she was recognised by judges such as Hilary Alexander and Kate Phelan of British Vogue when nominated for Scottish Designer of the Year.

Jane was a member of the UK Governments’ Sector Skills Council for Fashion Design, and has worked with many of London’s top designers and for twenty years have been an Associate Lecturer, teaching the students at Central St. Martins College of Art and Design.

Now she wants to pass her knowledge and experience on to ambitious entrepreneurial fashion designers who are ready to turn their success switch ON! She believes we now have a unique opportunity in time where young people can reshape the world and she’s excited to see what this will lead to.

Tell us about your definition of a good design?

My definition of good design is a perfect balance of forward thinking, innovation, aesthetic, timelessness, authenticity and desirability for an ideal market segment.

Tell us a little about your background. How did you develop a passion for design?

I designed and made my first dress at the age of three… for my Cindy doll! I draped a baby yellow brushed bri-nylon material around Cindy’s body & arms and hand-stitched up the back with these huge white stitches. Later when I was 18 years old I started sewing again and my obsession with design began!! I studied at University of the Arts London, worked for some design houses (Ally Capellini and Bella Freud) and in 1996 started my own fashion business making floaty silk chiffon dresses.

What attributes do you think makes a design stand out from the rest in Awards such as the IDA?

To stand out from the rest, a design should be innovative and timely, providing something original that no-one else is doing, while also showing intelligence and restraint so that it is marketable.

What advice would you give to future IDA entrants?

I would advise entrants to be authentic to themselves. No-one can be as good at being yourself than you! And equally if one tries to imitate what some-one else has accomplished they can never be as good as the original! Focus on going deeper into what you love most. The first step is to ask yourself what is the most original, innovative, forward thinking, exciting and new concept that can be conceived from your authentic values? And the second step is to ask how that aligns with what your ideal market segment wants.

What is your own guiding design principle?

My guiding principle is to achieve the perfect balance of forward thinking, innovation, a delicate feminine aesthetic, timelessness, authentic signature style and desirability. I start with an extremely open mind and then sharpen my focus to create a cohesive desirable collection.

Do you see design an expression of art?

Yes design can be an expression or art.. some more so than others. But unlike art, garment design also has to be functional enough to fit around a three dimensional body and strong enough to be worn several times. Apart from couture, most garments also have to be reproduced whereas with art the buyer is usually buying the original piece.

Do you believe there is a design ethic?

I think that designers should be looking at the big picture of how their decisions will affect other people and design true to their own personal ethics, morals, beliefs and the principles of their individual business.
They should always be questioning the design and production process to ensure they are not designing or producing irresponsibly.

How do you feel design has evolved over the past years and how do you see it evolving in the future?

Over the past ten years designing has become much more accessible. Social media made it easy for anyone to set up their own business as an independent designer for very little cost.

What do you think are the biggest challenges and opportunities in your career/industry now?

Some of the biggest challenges in the fashion industry are the economic environment, climate crises and exploitation of workers.

Fast fashion companies outsource their production to low cost manufacturers often with unsafe or abusive working conditions.

… And another big challenge is in re-educating consumers that throwaway fashion is NOT cool. Instead it is much more cool to pay more and invest in better quality unique small batch clothing. The biggest opportunities are in digital marketing and building communities.

How do you decide to take on certain projects?

I only take on projects that I enjoy doing or that will provide new material for my students in Fashion Entrepreneurs Academy.

What do you think are the biggest challenges and opportunities for a fashion designer today?

Biggest challenge: More people have become aware how easy it has become and more people starting up which means more competition.

The public are just beginning to value independent designers and we still have a long way to go until independent designers can sit equal to the big brands.

Biggest opportunities: Low barrier of entry. People can now start with very little capital.

There are also new opportunities for gender fluid fashion which is gaining traction and since people no longer have to invest in as many formal work clothes they are instead buying stand-out pieces. This is creating opportunities for designers specialising in statement garments.

Is there anything in particular that you look for when judging a design award?

I look for something that’s timely for the market… that has a balance of forward thinking, newness, innovation, aesthetic, timelessness, authenticity and desirability for an ideal market segment.

What did you most enjoy about the IDA judging process?

I most enjoyed seeing beautiful work especially designers who are thoughtful in their approach, have an individual style and are aware of what is happening in the market.

After reviewing the IDA projects, did you see evidence of current trends or challenges in the design industry?

Most designers seem to be addressing sustainability which feels hopeful for the next generation.

If you were to offer advice to a fashion designer on how to succeed in the industry today what would you tell them?

A powerful mindset, contemporary business skills and a great coach.

How much influence does your own personal taste influence your decisions in judging a design award?

Very little.

Can you tell us how you approach the IDA jury process?

I look at it from the perspective of how marketable, timely, innovative and original their designs are for any aesthetic.

What would be your dream design project?

My dream project is a secret which will be announced late 2023 or 2024. It will involve working more personally with designers to develop and sell their next collections but I don’t want to give away too much yet!

What did you learn from this IDA Jury experience, and is there anything that you learned that you will take back to your respective to influence your business?

There is a lot of talent in fashion but often they are misdirecting their creativity.

What are you working on, what is in the pipeline for you for 2023?

I am working with new members in my group coaching programme, Fashion Entrepreneurs Academy. They are launching collections and I feel very proud watching them develop into confident business owners.

I am also just about to embark on a new programme and a secret project which will be announced either late 2023 or 2024.