Behind the Brand: How the Founder of Mini Street Kidswear Went from Engineer to Entrepreneur
It might not be an obvious choice to go from civil engineer to seamstress and entrepreneur for most people. However, for Milan Wilkinson, the founder of Mini Street Kidswear, it was a natural transition.
“I’m a maker, I’ve always liked making things,” Milan says. “I spent a good portion of my career working out in the field on the job sites, doing the work with the guys.”
Milan decided to leave a busy career in civil engineering because she wanted to spend more time with her children and bring more balance to her life. Already knowing how to sew and being dissatisfied with the clothing options for her children, she instinctively gravitated towards the children’s clothing industry.
Engineering Children’s Clothing
While Milan never studied fashion or clothing design, she learned how to sew in school. Between this experience and her technical background, she found that making clothing was easy for her.
“Designing is easy because it’s just proportions, and then at that point, it’s seeing what works for styling, color, fabrics,” she says. “And I learned as I went along.”
Despite the number of different clothing pieces she sells and orders she fills, Milan still designs everything herself and makes all of the clothing with the help of a local seamstress. Between them, she says that they sow hundreds of pieces a month.
“I design the clothing, I make the clothing,” Milan says. “I make it by hand and have a full-time seamstress that makes it for me. I still do all the sampling, still cut all the fabric, do all the packaging, she does most of the sewing.”
Her process for designing a new piece can be as simple as taking a walk through the mall to see what other stores are displaying in their windows, or looking at a picture for inspiration. Because of her focus on classic, European-style clothing, she always looks at adult fashion for inspiration for her children’s pieces.
“I look at adult clothing for inspiration because the premise for my brand is that I take the adult pieces and I shrink them to mini sizes,” she says. “I love the fact that they can look like me, that they can dress similarly to me without kiddish-looking clothes or cutesy clothes.”
Once she has a design, she starts with base patterns then samples it out and tweaks it, going back and forth until it looks the way she wants. Often, she buys fabrics before even knowing what she’ll do with them, and uses their patterns for inspiration as well.
Finding the Right Channels to Sell
With an eye for design and an entrepreneurial spirit, it was only a matter of time before Milan found a way to grow her brand. While she started selling the clothing through her online store right away, it wasn’t until she started doing local markets and shows that she got the advice she needed to tap into her core audience.
“When I started doing my first couple shows, someone said to me ‘You need to be on Instagram.’ And at the time, I didn’t know what Instagram was,” she says.
After getting on the social media network, and figuring out how to make it work for her business, Milan pushed her brand hard by working with influencers, doing giveaways to build her following, and more. She got the exposure she needed fairly quickly and grew her following to over 30,000.
Milan also tapped into a market that was less competitive, but still had significant demand. She started making ‘Mom and me’ clothing, or matching outfits for mothers and their children. “I don’t think there’s as many choices for ‘Mom and me’ that are quality pieces,” she says. “I focus a lot on quality and using the right fabrics that don’t just fall apart.”
Beyond her burgeoning online audience, Milan also found a niche in the local landscape, which she credits to people’s love for shopping local in Alberta. “We had a little bit of a recession a few years ago and it really struck home with everybody, making sure that money stays here,” says Milan. ”That has been a movement the last couple years and I think I’ve just been riding that wave.”
Moving from a Digital to Physical Storefront
Milan never intended to open up a physical store. However, after hearing about Fourpost from other local makers, she signed on and opened up her Studio Shop at Fourpost in West Edmonton Mall. She admits it hasn’t always been easy running and managing the store, but finds that it has elevated her brand.
She says that running a digital store is easier, but it also requires her to continually push out new styles. “What I find on the digital front is that people like what’s new, what’s fresh, and that sells faster,” she says. In her Fourpost Studio Shop, she can keep styles there longer because it generally attracts new customers who haven’t seen her clothing yet, and to them, it’s still fresh.
Her local customers who have seen her at markets will also come by her store to pick up their online orders and avoid shipping costs. Milan uses this to build up her customer base and strengthen her relationship with her current customers. “I know a lot of them by name, can refer to what they’ve purchased previously, or their kids’ names,” she says. “They are always surprised by how much I remember. Having that store, I’m able to continue building on that relationship, or my staff is able to build on that relationship a little bit more.” And these genuine relationships keep her customers coming back to support her brand.
Milan isn’t sure what the next step will be for her business—if it continues growing she believes she’ll have to start looking for more seamstresses or a way to manufacture at scale. In the meantime, she enjoys the personal connection she has with her work and takes it one day at a time.
“I kind of go with the flow, and if opportunities come up that seem like the right fit, I’ll jump on it whether it was part of the vision or not,” she says.