Ever wondered how you could support ethical, sustainable businesses? Welcome to a regular series highlighting products, services and organizations that are ‘doing well by doing good’.
Seek Collective is based in Brooklyn, NY, but works with artisans in India to create supercool clothes that are both wearable and sophisticated. We caught up with founder Carol Miltimore to talk more about her journey from the corporate world to becoming a social entrepreneur.
*The following interview has been edited and condensed.
How would you describe Seek Collective in just 3 sentences?
Seek Collective is an independent fashion label based in Brooklyn, New York and produced in India, where we work closely with artisans using centuries-old techniques including hand block printing, hand loom weaving and natural dyeing. Our philosophy 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. That was two sentences!
What was the inspiration for Seek Collective?
I was inspired to start Seek Collective after working as a designer for large corporate companies for a decade and felt disconnected from the process as a designer and as a consumer of apparel. During a trip to India where I participated in an artist residency, 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. Before that journey ended I made sure I sampled a few hand block printed silk crepe pants, which became the seeds for Seek Collective as a brand.
What is the deeper purpose that drives your work?
There are two deeper purposes really. One is striving for expression, exploration and growth as an artist. The other is a drive to constantly figure out better ways to produce that are both ethically and environmentally responsible. 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 they both drive the work.
What are you proudest of?
I’m proud at how I began this business, that I did it alone and that I continue to have it stay true to the idealistic ethos it started with. I’ve always been an incredibly determined person and won’t let anything stop me once I decide to forge ahead, even my own inner fears. I look back at how I initially traveled all over India alone as a woman, often to remote areas, on a search for different artisans, manufacturers, and cooperatives for weeks or months at a time and I feel accomplished and strong for having done that. I encourage more people, women especially, to get out in the world in ways that are outside of their comfort zones.
How do you strive to differentiate yourself from your competitors?
With Seek Collective the goal has always been to create product that stands on its own in terms of aesthetic sensibilities, design and luxury while simultaneously producing in ways that are as responsible and mindful as possible both socially and environmentally at every step of the process. I have worked very hard to make sure this is happening in ways that are honest and transparent by showing up in person to check on each step every year. Having a decade of experience as a designer at large companies and marrying that with my background as an artist and an environmentalist has created a unique brand. I think the combination of all these factors together differentiates Seek Collective from our competitors.
What is the best feedback you get from your customers?
All feedback is good and valued, whether it’s a customer telling me how great they feel when they wear their Seek dress or a customer letting me know how the fit of something could be improved. I love when friends of mine spot strangers in the subway or at a restaurant wearing Seek and then tell me about it or talk to the person wearing it about where they got their Seek Collective piece and how they know about the brand.
What is your favorite story about Seek Collective since it was started?
The most rewarding part of the process is being on the ground with the different artisans and manufacturers and through doing that meeting so many characters and interesting people. Yet it is the triumphs, struggles, and necessary problem solving that typifies my work. When working with processes that are hand done, you have to learn to know what battles to fight and when to let go, accepting the outcome because not everything is going to go according to plan. One time hundreds of meters were printed wrong for production and I had to figure out how quickly a new batch of silk could be sent and reprinted. I then had to come up with creative ways to use the silk that had been printed wrong. Production got completed in time by the skin of our teeth and we over-dyed and over-printed the other silk yardage, which we used in new designs and they’ve been really popular. Things work out in the end but the journey always takes some unforeseen twists and turns that challenge you and teach you a lot of lessons.
What difference do you strive to make in people’s lives?