In the middle of North QLD in a remote part of Australia there Is a place called Winton, where Melissa Elliot runs her clothing boutique and millinery business. Winton is a very dry part of the Australia often drought stricken but funnily enough when we spoke to Melissa her town was flooded in and the roads were all cut out of there! We are sure that Melissa, like may milliners would have found the quiet period for her business a good opportunity to take stock of her creativity and come up with some new and exciting designs. Read on more to find out about how Melissa accidentally fell into millinery and how it saved her business.
What do you love most about Millinery?
What I love most about Millinery is that people want to buy what I enjoy creating. I’ve always been creative, but spent many years sewing and a lot of time consumed doing free motion machine embroidery wearable art garments. Don’t get me wrong I enjoyed every minute of, but at the end of the day they aren’t very saleable.
How did you get into Millinery?
Getting into millinery was actually almost by accident. Owning a ladies fashion boutique for the last 26 years, has always given me an association with fashion. Over that time I have observed incredible changes in the retail industry. But it’s really only in the last 10 years millinery has exploded.
As the demand grew for race wear fashions I found that my customers were looking for millinery that was a better match for their outfits. So I started to customise readymade pieces I had in stock. Then I started to experiment with creating pieces for myself . Of course these were pretty unique so my customers then started putting in their orders. As they became more popular word spread and I started to get orders from afar. Around this same time outback Queensland was in severe drought and my boutique business was really struggling. I realise that millinery was a little bit of a niche market that sold easily via the internet, and could easily do it via Facebook without having to outlay $1000’s of dollars on a website. This gave me a little bit of extra income and meant that I could still keep the doors of the boutique open.
How you would describe your designs?
My designs probably mimics my personality, I’m a large framed person with a loud voice but also shy and a little bit reserved, so my pieces a generally large and bright colour combinations, but still simple and elegant.
What is your ideal customer?
The one who walks into the shop and says “I love that, I’ll take it”!
What inspires you?
I take inspiration from the next season garments that I’ve ordered for my boutique. Creating pieces that will work well with those. I also just like to do things on the spur of the moment when inspiration comes from materials and colours works together.
If you could invite any milliner to tea who would it be?
I would love to have tea with any milliners, so I can pick their brain. I still have so much to learn.
What is your favourite material to work with?
That’s a bit like try to pick a favourite child. I’m a very tactile person, I love my textiles. Silk Abaca was the material that captivated me originally and got me hooked on millinery. Probably because of its fabric like drape, and vibrant colours. After doing a workshop with the fabulous Ian Bennet last year I’m loving Crystoform but it doesn’t have the versatility of silk abaca. And then there is always lovely luscious leather. How do I choose??
What’s your best millinery tip?
In reference to making. If you prick your finger and get blood on the material your working with, dab a bit of your own saliva on the bloody spot and will disappear.
What has been the largest challenge you face in millinery?
My greatest challenge is not quite having all the materials to complete a piece. I’m forever buying product just in case. So the stash is enormous and even then there is always something I haven’t got. Part of the tyranny of isolation, Winton doesn’t have a sewing shop so I can’t ever buy thread if I run out.
Famous words to live by.
Like Coco Chanel said "Always take off one thing before you leave the house". I always followed the “Less is more” rule.
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