Fashion design requires passion and desire to succeed. Gregory and Coline Baptiste-Mills have worked hard for more than two decades now to build a mensware brand from the ground up.
Art, no matter what form it comes in, requires a steady hand and determination in order to become successful. Attracting the attention of the world around you, as an artist, is no easy task. It takes a combination of dedication, perseverance, and inspiration to build an artistic brand from the ground up. Fashion is a truly unique form of artistic expression. The stimulus for fashion often comes from the world around the designer, and that individual’s determination to succeed is reflected in the quality and design of each piece. Gregory Mills and his wife, Coline Baptiste-Mills, have built the most recognisable fashion brand in Trinidad & Tobago with little more than determination and passion. With no formal training, the duo took a fashion dream and turned it into a reality that is gaining attention around the globe.
Neither Gregory nor Coline had any formal design training in their youth. The pair had nothing mor e than a passion for clothing design and a desire to work with fabrics. Beginning in the late 1980s, Gregory began to explore his enthusiasm for clothing design. As a young man the only guidance he received was from acquaintances that had attended secondary school and practiced tailoring skills. During the late 1980s and the early 1990s, the government of T rinidad & T obago w orked to encourage citizens to buy clothes made locally, with local fabrics. Gregory dedicated himself to honing his tailoring skills, working for smaller clothing brands. It was during this period he met his future wife. Coline’s desire for fashion blossomed as a 16-year-old girl attending secondary school. Coline’s parents wanted her to pursue academics, believing that a future as a doctor, lawyer, or accountant was more reasonable. In her spare time during school she would sew together uniforms and outfits for her classmates. When Gregory and Colline met in 1987, their combined passions led to the launch of their own brand.
Birth of Millhouse Menswear Gregory’s tailoring abilities and Coline’s keen eye for fashion design led to the creation of Millhouse Menswear in 1997. The catalyst for their company came from the tailor shop of a man named T revor Cragwell. Cragwell owned a shop on Frederick Street in Port of Spain, T rinidad, named Cragy’s. At the time, Cragy’s was Trinidad’s most prominent menswear shop and offered locally made clothing. Before Gregory met Coline, Cragy’s was the benchmark that he set for his future endeavours. The clean, w ell-organised shop was the dream that Gregory had had for a future retail outlet of his own. With hard work and the brilliant designs of his wife, the couple would eventually get there. Creating impressive fashion doesn’t just happen overnight, so what spurs on their ambition and drives their success?
Inspiration at Home
As the lead designer for Millhouse Menswear, Coline is in charge of developing the designs and colour schemes for various fashion lines of the company. Both Gregory and Coline point to their homeland in the Caribbean as the primary source of influence for their designs. As natives of the Caribbean, Coline says the couple are naturally affected by the world of colours at home in Trinidad. Gregory went so far as to share the story of the environment right outside their back door. As a perfect example, he excitedly tells the tale of a bright yellow tree that stands alone on a hilltop across from the couple ’s home. That lone tree, featuring bright yellow flowers when in full bloom, stands out atop a hill dominated by shades of brown and green. That contrast of rich colours is something the couple try to bring into all of its fashion lines.
Success with Hard Work
The couple met and started building the Millhouse brand in 1987, but it wasn’t until 2010 that either of them received formal training in fashion. Together with their two young sons, Gregory and Coline went to London, UK, in 2010 to pursue formal training. Coline completed two years of studying at the London College of Fashion, while Gregory graduated from Savile Row Academy. Despite the added training, the couple still find themselves working very hard to enable the Millhouse Menswear brand to continue to flourish. In addition to her fashion design commitments, Coline is a nurse and works regularly in that capacity to support the family. In her spare time at home she designs new fashion lines for Millhouse. Gregory works on a full-time basis at Millhouse Menswear as the company’s tailor. He continues to hand-stitch many of the suits and outfits that the company produces.
Though at first he primarily relied upon his hands (70% of the time in his own words), he can now work on some of the company’s fashion lines with a sewing machine the majority of the time. Still, it takes Gregory nearly a full week to craft a handmade suit. When he is working on the company’s production suits, he can complete one-and-a-half suits each day working by hand and with a sewing machine. All of this intense and time consuming dedication challenges the work-life balance of the Mills family. Gregory and Coline have two young sons aged 16 and nine, who are just as interested in the success of Millhouse Menswear as their parents. Gregory and Coline are driven to prosper because they realise their success now will help support their boys in the future. The children offer a helping hand on occasion, but the parents are careful not to ask too much of their sons.
Both sons will sit down with Coline as she creates designs for new fashion lines, but only their 16-year-old son has tried his hand at the family business. Gregory has been amazed by the speed at which his son has improved on his tailoring skills. Still, Gregory admits his son would prefer to spend time texting friends on his phone.
Growth and Future Potential
The Mills ’ show no sign of slowing down in their pursuit of creating a global identity for their humble, Trinidad-based, company. The couple have designed and tailored clothing for artists including Erykah Badu, Mos Def, and Musiq Soulchild, but the everyday collection of clothing created by Millhouse Menswear is designed for professionals in search of smart casualwear and everyday business apparel. Ask the couple where they see the company in five years, and you realise how humble the duo remains to this day. Gregory and Coline each have a favourite fashion line the company has developed, Southern Comfort and the Indian Collection 2008 respectively, but you won’t hear them brag about the successes of those lines. The Indian Collection won the company its first Caribbean Fashion Award in 2009 when it captured the award for “Caribbean Fashion Designer – Male 2009”.
The Southern Comfort line was selected to debut at the BHP Building in front of the wives of 34 visiting dignitaries when Trinidad & Tobago hosted the 5th Summit of the Americas later that same year. Gregory and Coline would like to see Millhouse Menswear grow into an international brand in the coming y ears. Their wish is not to have their designs in every shop in every country, but rather, continue to serve their niche market with a global brand identity. There is talk of expanding the business to include hard and soft accessories, as well as a possible children’s line of clothing. For now though, the couple are content with their small shop in Trinidad serving as the base f or a growing brand. Their dedication to quality work and creative design might bring them the success they are looking for sooner rather than later. Millhouse Menswear’s “Intersection: The Caribbean Meets Savile Row” fashion line was recently selected as the first Caribbean menswear brand to be showcased at London’s prestigious London Collections: Men during “London Men’s Fashion Week”. The future of Millhouse Menswear appears to be as bright and colourful as the very land that inspires each of the couple’s designs for the company.