Designer Profile – Milk & Thistle

I’ve had Milk & Thistle on my radar for a while now. I’ve always really loved the brand’s aesthetic, but the new Autumn/Winter 2017 collection was like a cupids bow straight to my heart and I just couldn’t wait to share it with you all.

Launched in 2006 by Danielle Atkinson, Milk & Thistle is well-known for its feature print designs and modern, easy to wear garments.

Danielle, who is a busy mum of two and lives in Sydney, started the Milk & Thistle label after opting for a career change at the age of 30 and studying Textile Design and Printing at Ultimo TAFE. A move which later saw her working at Australian print company Signature Prints, who at the time were busy printing and reviving the Florence Broadhurst collection.

You can tell that Danielle is extremely passionate about textiles, by the use of print, colour and fabric choices that make up her collections. Her pieces are definitely fun but always with a slight mature edge and sophistication. The perfect balance between creative and timeless.

The label is also entirely designed, printed and made in Australia, which makes each piece that little bit extra special.

You can view the new Milk & Thistle Autumn/Winter 2017 collection here.

 Please read on below for my interview with Danielle, as we discuss how Milk & Thistle began, what inspires her creative designs and some exciting future steps for the label.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and how Milk & Thistle came about? 

My name is Danielle and I am the owner/designer of Milk & Thistle. I live in Sydney with my hubby and two young kiddies, Arlo (7) and Scout (5). I started Milk & Thistle nearly 10 years ago now (wowsers!) after studying Textile Design and Printing at Ultimo T.A.F.E.

I had always had a bit of a fabric fetish so after years of working in the music industry,  I opted for a career change at the age of 30 and began to study Textile Design.

Soon after completing the course I worked for screen printing company Signature Prints, who at the time were busy printing and reviving the Florence Broadhurst collection. This ignited my interest in small business and soon after Milk & Thistle started out by printing jersey tees on my dining room table. The same one I eat off now. Some things never change.

How would you best describe Milk & Thistle’s aesthetic, and customer?

 I often find it hard to answer this question. Since I opened my retail store in Newtown, Sydney nearly 4 years ago. I have come across such a diverse range of ages and styles that shop with us that it always amazes me. I would say my customer is mostly 35+ and has a keen eye for design and appreciation for locally manufactured product. Our aesthetic is quite minimalistic but with an edge. That is mostly through our use of fabrics and textile design. I always say that I think my customer is more likely to read Vogue Living than they are Vogue.  They aren’t trend driven, but more interested in timeless design. I find more and more as my customer gets older that they still want a modern look that is age appropriate. I think that’s ultimately what drives my aesthetic.  Approaching my mid 40’s I now want different things in my wardrobe than I did 10 years ago.

What’s a typical day at the Milk & Thistle office like? 

It starts with waking and checking emails over a quick cuppa, then I am in the school scramble mode. Getting kids dressed and ready for school for drop off at 9.

The two days that I am not working in the retail store I am running around on production duties. I am a one woman show so it means my to do list never ends. My days almost always include a visit to a supplier to pick up zippers or buttons etc, or a fabric supplier. Then I will touch base with my cutters and makers etc to stay on top of what is currently in production and sourcing for new styles that are about to go into production.

The afternoon often sees me sitting down to work on designs and source inspiration for new collections. Don’t be fooled though, a lot of my day is spent on admin too. It’s the downside of small business, but I can often choose to do that from a favourite coffee shop nearby before its school pick up at 3.15pm.

After dinner  I am back at it again, often spending time on the design process then. I take this time to sketch and sit around online and answer any emails from the afternoon, and there are often many.

How would you describe your personal style? 

Well being 6ft and size 16 I am far from your standard size. I would say my personal style has changed over th last few years. I probably wear less print these days and I always like to have a hint of masculinity with what I wear. I am probably most comfortable with that style.  I love a preppy style with top buttons done up to the collar, a good brogue and pant. In the warmer months I have ben known to step way out of my comfort zone and go back to my north coast rots and throw on a maxi and leather slide and be super happy. I grew up just outside of Byron Bay and I still think a little bit of that aesthetic is alive and well in me. It certainly comes out from time to time but in a slightly more refined way. I do love a good frill, but paired with some strength and structure.

What are 5 essentials in your wardrobe? 

Hands down it has become the Ranger Shirt dress in black from this current winter collection. I never take it off. I love throwing it on with my white sneakers. The Whistler sweater dress is also a staple. Its the modern day tracksuit. Who doesnt love that? I love my white Stan Smiths. I wear them with everything. My Bassike low crotch jeans are also old favourites. I am now on the search for the perfect knit.

What is the best place to shop in Sydney? 

Ha! When I have time to go shopping I will let you know. I am an online shopper through and through. When I am not wearing my own label I love to shop online with Lee Mathews, I also love Bassike for basics and Alpha 60 as well. I love what they offer styles for all shape and sizes. For gifts, I shop locally in Newtown at Pentimento. You will always find something there. If I am heading into the city I love to wander around Kinokuniya book store, and have a coffee and bite to eat.

Tell us about some of the people who inspire you and why? 

These days I am mostly inspired by other small business owners because I know how hard small business can be. It’s a tough game, specially the word of retail. I am always inspired by other artists and creators who are turning their passions and hobbies into fully fledged business. Taking the leap is courageous and I love surrounding myself with these people. I think there is a such a comradery with fellow small business folk and other rag traders that I don’t think I could live without. Working on your own means you rely on these people as a sounding board. Its priceless. If you can find your tribe, then the community is a great support. Those are the people who inspire me.

I am also inspired by my customers who are dedicated to buying ethical fashion and slow fashion. Their dedication astounds me and I admire their passion for the cause. They seek out product that they know has been made ethically and sustainably and prove that as a lifestyle it can be easier than you think. I could learn more off them and commit to this more in my daily life, and I intend to. I want to teach my children that they need to be mindful of things when they make a purchase for something. Always ask, ‘what harm will this do to the environment and what has gone into making this?’ Of course, I have a looooong road ahead of me and I don’t want to be the stick in the mud mum. It will be a slow process.

What would be your ideal collaboration? 

Well working with Edith Rewa, the botanical illustrator last summer was a bit of a dream. I had long admired her work and she is a gorgeous person to top it off. I have my eye on quite a few artists and ceramicists for future collaborations. I would love to work with Esther Stewart. Her graphic paintings are perfection and her use of colour just blows my mind, I adore her work. That would be a dream! I would also love to collaborate with some artisan weavers in Kenya or Marrakesh on a shoe range. I have so many ideas for a show collection but I just need to work on collaborating with the right people to make it happen. Another thing for the to do list!

What are the top 3 resources, which you turn to for inspiration?

I don’t think many people look past Pintrest these days. It’s such a comprehensive source of inspiration. I think travel is also an incredible source of inspiration, though I don’t get to do much of this anymore with two young kids, but I recently did take a trip to Japan and it was so inspiring. Their attention to detail had me in awe and their love of natural fibres in all of their products, is to be admired. The Japanese love their linen, products made from beautiful wood, their ceramics and love of greenery and plants was just one big pot of inspiration. I think people watching anywhere you go is also a constant source of inspiration. I love seeing how people choose to express themselves whether it be conservatively or with flamboyance. Watching what people wear and how they wear it is important to what I do.

What’s next for Milk & Thistle? Where do you see the brand heading in the future? 

Gosh, I find it hard to look past the next season really. I am working on a print collaboration with ceramicist Christina McLean of Trade The Mark. I love her etchings and print work that she crates on her ceramics and I have stocked them in the shop for quite sometime.  The minute I saw her products I knew I wanted to reincarnate her prints onto clothing. It’s quite far removed from what I would normally do, but her tribal prints strike a chord with me and there is something so organic about her process that I would like to recreate in Milk and Thistle garments.

My family and I are making a move back to the Byron Bay area to a town called Bangalow, about 10 minutes out of Byron. This will happen in January 2018. It’s a big move for us and the business but we are looking forward to a quieter lifestyle and entrenching ourselves into the increase creative community that is up there. I will continue to run the store and label remotely with regular visit to Sydney to manage production. A steep learning curve is headed my way but I am ready for it…..I think.

(All images via Milk & Thistle)

  • Susana Gonzalez

    Next time i’m in Byron, I’ll look out for her at Bungalow Markets!