Recently, Katherine McMillan overheard her daughter talking on her play phone. “I’m going to the fabric store,” she announced to the other end. McMillan giggles, sounding in those few seconds alternately thrilled and maybe embarrassed to hear herself echoed in her child’s play. “But they are why I do all of this,” she says. “I hope it’s like Margherita Missoni. They’ll take over my empire.”
She’s being a little ironic with the word empire, but she’s not far off, between her support of local and American-made products through NorthernGRADE and SnowGRADE pop-up shops, her neckwear company Pierrepont Hicks, and her latest venture, Mrs. P. Hicks, menswear-inspired women’s shoes. None of it smacks of ego; she spends more of our interview promoting brands other than her own.
McMillan logged more than 10 years in publishing (Elle, Gourmet) and fashion in New York, including stints at Calvin Klein and Ralph Lauren. “It was grunt work, but I learned a lot from the senior designers at Ralph Lauren,” she says.
McMillan got married—inspiration for Pierrepont Hicks came when the couple researched wool for her husband’s wedding kilt—and then, eventually, pregnant with their first daughter. “When women first have children, I think it’s important to have our own space, a thing we do besides being a mom,” she says.
Pierrepont Hicks quickly gained momentum, especially among style bloggers. “I knew we had a great product,” she says. The New York Times agreed in 2010, and the rave still sends fans to the site.
This spring, she shifted gears to cater to women, who have watched Pierrepont Hicks with the green eye.
“I really wanted to make a women’s version of men’s classic hand-sewn shoes,” she says. “You’ll see [others] do a boat shoe and they add a cheesy detail, what they think is feminine and I think is unattractive.”
MacMillan’s first collection includes a chukka, moccasins, and a five-eyelet take on the desert boot, each with a trademark Kelly-green lining. The shoes are handsewn in Maine. “They’re guaranteed for life. Anything happens, we fix ’em.”
American-made also gives McMillan quality control. “I’m hands-on, and there is absolutely no comparison,” she says. “If my business creates jobs, with everyone making an honest dollar—that’s success.”
McMillan is thinking about the fashion industry from more than an aesthetic standpoint. “We need to bring manufacturing back. If more people buy American-made, it will create jobs and bring prices down. I hope this just keeps happening.” It will, if she keeps growing her well-designed empire.
MRS. P. HICKS: 3 THINGS TO KNOW
1. OK, OK, she’ll also make her shoes for you in men’s sizes if you must have a pair.
2. Forty-nine nationalities are employed in the U.S. factory. “Yes, legally,” she says.
3. Shoes cost $260-$335 and take 3-6 weeks to make. mrsphicks.com