Kenya Mills is a trailblazer in the fashion industry. She started her career as a stylist in Dallas and now owns her own fashion line– The KMills Collection. Since its inception in 2014, the KMills team has grown, and the collection has been worn by celebrities such as Lynn Whitfield, Dascha Polanco, and Claire Sulmers.
In this Fireside Chat, we spoke with Kenya Mills about the intricacies of designing and managing your own fashion line.
What did you do prior to designing the KMills Collection?
I started off as a stylist in Dallas which I did for two years. Styling really helped me build my name. Then, I made a transition to editor at the Southern Dallas Magazine. When I became a fashion editor, I became friends with the owner of the magazine. I found a lot of my initial clients through the magazine, so when I went on to create the collection, I was able to use that background as my clientele. Through the process of styling and editing for the magazine, I noticed that I wasn’t able to find a lot of the looks and styles that I liked. I have nothing against any clothes that are out there, but I wanted to create a clothing line that is cute and classic, one that young women could look up to, and be able to wear and feel good.
How did you successfully build a line that is diverse yet stays true to your personal brand?
My first design was the bow dress. I never realized how much I liked bows before creating this dress. I basically start with one simple concept and then build off of that. If you look at the collection you will see that I have the bow dress, and now there are also bow tops, sets, and different renditions of each. Another example are my pieces with dramatic sleeves, which I also built upon to form other looks.
How long was it before the KMills Collection landed its first customer?
Since I was previously a stylist, my name was already well-established. When I came out with my collection, it wasn’t hard for me to find clients. The first client who wore my bow dress was someone I styled. However, for someone who is just starting out, I would just advise them to consistently and constantly show off their work. Even wearing your clothes yourself helps to build your clientele through word-of-mouth.
How did you grow your clientele?
We started in Dallas but now have clients everywhere. A huge part of that is dedication to customer service which helps generate clients through word-of-mouth. The collection is also advertised through celebrities who wear my clothes and through social media. With my repeat clients, I would say it helps to have a good product because when someone buys something they really like, they will return and buy even more of it. You’ll be amazed how far that takes you.
What’s one fatal mistake you would tell other designers or stylists to avoid?
I would say poor customer service. Customer service should be your main priority. No matter the situation, you have to make sure that you treat your clients well. Although I have a social media for the brand, most of my marketing has been from word-of-mouth and repeat clients. I even have one client who has basically purchased the whole collection. That only happens when you treat clients with respect and tend to their needs.
Can you talk about the operational side of running a fashion brand?
There are a LOT of emails. I am grateful that I no longer have to manage the email account and can solely focus on designing because there are so many emails, especially when you are a custom brand such as the KMills Collection. Clients will email questions about their measurements and other inquiries. There are a few cases where I take measurements for local clients, but for the most part, we accept the measurements that clients submit online.
What are some of the key challenges you have faced?
Right now, growth is the key challenge. When you start off small and start the growth process, you really learn a lot. It will either make or break you. Initially, I was handling everything. I answered emails, designed, and sewed. As the brand began to grow, that became harder to do, so I had to hire a team.
How are tasks delegated between members of your team?
I design, there other people on that team sew, and others that handle customer communication. When you are choosing team members, it is really important to make sure you are hiring people who share the same vision for your brand and who will do anything to make it successful.
I also have a co-founder, James Thomas, who I met when I was working for the Southern Dallas Magazine. He helps mediate some of the issues that come up. For example, we had an instance where another designer stole our designs and photographs and posted them on their site as their own.
What are the keys to success in the women’s wear industry?
Dedication and passion. It is a lot of hard work and long hours. I look back, and I didn’t realize that I had it in me to create my own line. When you get past the hard work, the reward is definitely worth it. I am humbled every time I see someone in one of my pieces.
Study and to your research. I wanted my line to be a sustainable luxury line. I want women to be able to wear my pieces more than one time. To learn more, I drew inspiration from designers I look up to such as St. John and Chanel, and I also studied fabrics.
Be consistent in what you do, how you approach your line, and how you treat your customers.
Know your audience. Know who you are trying to reach and how to cater to the clientele that you want.
Have a good product!
What’s next for KMills Collection?
Stay tuned. We are making a really big announcement within the next couple of days.