In Conversation With Carol Miltimore
What made you decide to start a brand?
I was inspired to start Seek Collective after working as a designer for a decade and felt disconnected from the process as a designer and as a consumer of apparel. I also missed full creative control, a sense of collaboration, textile arts, and a mission that lifted up others around me. During an initial trip to India, where I participated in an artist residency in the state of Gujurat, I traveled for several months across the country exploring different historic techniques and crafts in the textile sector that could be used to create modern luxury clothing. On the first week there I had been gifted silk crepe pants which I immediately decided were the most comfortable piece of clothing I could wear and by the end of the trip I sampled a few similar pant styles using block printing and natural dyes. These became the beginnings for Seek Collective as a brand.
How would you say the fashion/retail climate has changed since you started your brand? Is the change for the better or worse?
We are in the midst of a changing climate in this industry and I’m not sure any of us are sure how it will end up taking shape. The wholesale climate is shifting which is leaving stores and designers alike redefining those relationships. Meanwhile there’s no denying the continued growth of ecommerce. I think it’s allowing designers to connect and communicate more directly to their customers and it’s compelling stores to create more of a curated lifestyle destination.
Does Seek have a message?
Seek Collective’s message is to always strive for expression, exploration and growth while being ethically and environmentally responsible. The label celebrates individuality and tirelessly pursues a distinct ease of being by capturing our essence of luxury rooted in thoughtful simplicity, sophisticated ease, and quality uniqueness. I’ve always had two inner drives my whole life, one as an artist and one as a human wanting to leave a positive impact on the world, so with Seek Collective I aim to speak to both of those through my work.
What is the biggest lesson that you've learned since you started Seek?
The biggest lesson has been is knowing when it’s time to push hard to get what you want and when it’s time to let go and work with the current outcome or situation. I think I’m still learning this!
Additionally, a dear friend of mine, who also has his own business, reminded me that everything boils down to relationships. Just as you do in life with personal relationships, you must work hard at recognizing value and maintaining good relationships with all the people involved in your work and business; manufacturers, buyers, designer peers, employees, interns, artisans, customers, etc. Our bonds and connections in life are significant so effort and value needs to be put into them.
What advice/warnings would you give someone looking to start their own brand?
It’s more work, more time, more energy, more of your life, and more money than you ever thought it would be when you start. How it begins and what it becomes might change or alter. Think long and hard about what would make you stand out because the market is already incredibly oversaturated.
What’s the most recent book you read? Did it feed into your creative process?
I just finished two books: My Life on the Road by Gloria Steinem and Bossy Pants by Tina Fey. Both left me feeling inspired, encouraged, and empowered. My Life on the Road caused me to contemplate about how best to stand up for and protect freedoms and diversity. Bossy Pants made me laugh out loud constantly and had great anecdotes on how to navigate juggling so much while also being the boss and remembering to have perspective through it all. I’ve now just started Incarnations: A History of India in Fifty Lives by Sunil Khilnani, which I’m looking forward to.
What or who are your influences?
In life and for written word, I would say Pema Chodron, Maya Angelou, Rumi, Milan Kundera, Gloria Steinem.
As far as artists, Joan Mitchell, Louise Bourgeois, Andy Goldsworthy, Lenore Tawney, Helen Frankenthaler, Cy Twombly.
And for designers, Dries Van Noten, Phoebe Philo, Elsa Schiaparelli, Madeleine Vionnet, Rei Kawakubo, Hussein Chalayan, Maison Martin Margiela.
If you could live the life of any other designer for a day, who would you choose?
Elsa Schiaparelli, as she was spending all her time hanging out with the Surrealists in Paris. I always appreciated her boldness and tongue-in-cheek prints and accessories, all while remaining sophisticated and wearable.
What goals do you have as a designer?
As a designer I want to create clothing that is all at once beautiful, functional, emotional, relatable and unique. I strive to design the type of items I myself want to wear, which reflects both sophistication and comfort. Clothing has always been endlessly fascinating to me as it’s something so essential as well as personal. We have to wear clothing to stay warm or travel or cover up but it’s used as a mode of self-expression in such interesting and innovative ways. It can be used to fit in as much as it can be used to stand out. It’s intimate because it’s touching us all the time, it can be a form of art, and simultaneously is a type of architecture and a necessity.
What motivates you?
I’m motivated as an artist and designer by what I see and experience in both my daily live and my travels. I love color and texture as well as theory based concepts. I’m also motivated to create and produce in ways that cause as little environmental harm as possible and by making sure fair and safe wages and conditions are adhered to. I’m inspired by all the places, colors, crafts, and techniques that exist, some that have rich history and some that are innovative. One of my favorite things is layers of paint on buildings slowly showing through over time to tell a story.
What is the best part of your job?
The best part is coming up with ideas, which at this point is really a small portion of the whole process. My other favorite part is all the people I have met and connected to from other wonderful designers, buyers who have become friends, the incredible people who produce the clothing and have worked for me, fellow travelers, inspiring customers.
What is the worst part of your job?
The worst part might be never truly being able to unplug from the work. When you are the founder, especially when you are wearing so many hats, then you’ll find you’re never not working, worrying or thinking about the business.
What is your life motto?
Hold compassion for others and never stop pushing yourself beyond your comfort zone.