Photo of Unionmade and Mill Mercantile owner Todd Barket by Andrew Paynter.
There's quite a few things that San Francisco can offer that Los Angeles can't, but none so enchanting in the apparel world as Mill Mercantile. I've never set foot in the store, but I've been stalking and purchasing items from Mill online for quite some time now. With much of the supply focused on forward-leaning classics and being the sister store to the lauded menswear operation Unionmade Goods, Mill is just exactly the perfect supplier for tomboys. I don't think I can't say it better than the way they describe themselves:
Our story is pure and simple, the way we like our clothes. At Mill, we offer women the same quality, craftsmanship, and authenticity that's usually reserved for the world of menswear. The best oxford shirts, the best denim, the best wingtips. They never go out of style and at Mill we take these things and make them a little lighter, a little prettier. The Gitman oxford shirt becomes a shirtdress. The Danish fisherman's sweater is a little sexier. And the leather dress shoe has just the right amount of girl. At Mill, if it's good enough for him, it might be even better for her.
I asked Mill and Unionmade owner Todd Barket a few questions and he gracefully obliged.
When and how did you realize you wanted to start retailing women's clothing? Too many girls coming into Unionmade?
My background is Women's. Unionmade was a bit of a fluke. I worked at Gap for 20 years and most of that time was spent in Women's doing visual merchandising in the heyday. After I opened Unionmade I realized we had so many requests from women for a similar aesthetic.
I try not to use hyperbole but I really think Mill is the most expert curation of women's clothing I've ever seen. It really speaks to me and what I think of as the fashionable tomboy. Who are your muses?
Funny, when I started I kind of harkened back to what worked in my Gap days. There are certain items that are timeless. Stripes, white shirts, dark jeans. We wanted to focus on the base of what everyone wants in their wardrobes and then add a few of the moment items that feel modern. Muse wise, I think I always was inspired by the obvious Katharine Hepburn, Diane Keaton, Audrey Hepburn, Lauren Hutton. Women who are confident that emit a certain personal style that's effortless.
Can you describe who the "Mill girl" is to you?
To me she is creative, confident, has evolved personal style, and a timeless aesthetic. We have a range of price points and we use the filter of: Will this piece look great in a few years? and Will a customer invest in it?
Is Mill the natural counterpart to Unionmade or are they different in a larger way then just male/female?
They are different in some ways. When I first started I think I tried to do more of a masculine approach to the assortment. Almost like a friend to Unionmade. I soon realized as a baseline that's a good strategy, but women still want something that's feminine and special. Women definitely shop differently than men. They like the element of surprise and really like to pick up pieces to add into what they already have. Unionmade is a bit more head-to-toe.
What challenges (if any) do you face when creating a store for women as a man?
I thought I was tuned in and then I realized that I'm not in the store all the time interacting with customers and it may be good to get a women's point of view. I hired Michele Janezic to manage the store and buy. The great news is we both share a similar aesthetic and idea of how the store should be.
Any chance you're going to open a Mill down here too?
We would love to. I think we're just trying to refine a bit more and really understand the customer and assortment. If we're going to go bigger it needs to be perfect.
Do you have any favorite fall items new to Mill?
Fall looks really great. We added some really interesting lines. Some of the Japanese lines that you don't see often are my favorite. We added Kapital, Journal Standard Luxe, and we always love Chimala. For items, we went after the idea of cocooning. Clothes that are loose and wrap and can be worn in many different ways. They're a bit more conceptual and utilitarian, but feel modern. We also have some amazing sweaters that we're really excited about. Everything from classic fisherman to chunky turtlenecks. There are also some amazing blazers this season. Our favorite being a few from the Margaret Howell mainline.
What does tomboy style mean to you?
Tomboy style to me is timeless and a bit mixed up. I always equate it to great style and confidence. It looks great now and it will look great . It's cool and effortless and it's the girl that other girls want to be.