‘We used to be called Satanic Mill, but we couldn’t get our emails through to the bank’ laughs Ken Price, one of Blake Mill's three founders. ‘The original name had come from William Blake’s poem Jerusalem where he refers to ‘these dark satanic mills’ but we made the decision to change it for practical reasons ...one such reason being HSBC’s spam filter.

‘In order to maintain the brand’s initial inspiration, we opted to borrow the poet’s surname and became Blake Mill instead.’

The idea for a rebellious Manchester-based clothing company came from Steve and Ross French (uncle and nephew respectively). The brand is best known for distinctive shirts in bold designs and vibrant shades, wilfully eschewing current trends and unconstrained by ‘this season’s’ colours.

Great British Life: Blake Mill is no stranger to bold prints and bright colours Blake Mill is no stranger to bold prints and bright colours (Image: Blake Mill)

‘From the very beginning we were determined to ignore the fashion rule book’ says Ken. ‘We’re keen to explore entirely unique design themes and we’re proud to give our designers absolute freedom to roam where they may. Our clothes have been inspired by incredibly diverse topics – from mathematics and volcanic lava flow, to Australia’s groundbreaking use of hallucinogenic drugs to treat mental illness.

‘We’re proud to be based in a thriving Northern city and this is reflected in our Manchester collection. We even secured a licence to feature L. S. Lowry’s work in recognition of his connection to this iconic place.

‘Our customers are individuals, and they want to find something original each time they see our brand in independent retailers or online. It may be as simple as an interesting collar and cuff lining on a beautifully made white shirt, or it might be something bold and brash that covers the whole item. Blake Mill provides that little extra something that sets you apart whether in the office, or at the bar.’

Great British Life: The brand's HQ is central ManchesterThe brand's HQ is central Manchester (Image: Blake Mill)

New ideas and perspectives often come from unexpected places, so perhaps it shouldn’t be a surprise that the trend-averse company was created by digital specialists - not by those with fashion industry experience. Steve spent 25 years in the financial markets forging a career as a technology and software entrepreneur, Ross is a Physics graduate turned digital wizard, and Ken is an entrepreneur and driving force behind a number of digital start-ups.

Entering the fashion industry from left field meant that the leadership team could approach things in a less conventional way. ‘Historically, the fashion industry treats designers pretty poorly, many are coerced into working for next-to-nothing just to build design portfolios. We make a point of treating everyone with respect, paying a fair rate and we’re always happy to credit artists.’

Blake Mill doesn’t have in-house designers, instead drawing on the varied perspectives and differing design styles of a large network of creatives. ‘We work with freelance fashion designers across the length and breadth of the UK. There’s a wealth of diverse British talent and we’re happy to build opportunities for those designers to make a name for themselves, and potentially collaborate with each other in the future too.

‘We work collaboratively with people all across the country, but our HQ is central Manchester. It’s a great hub of business and creativity and we’ve been lucky to benefit from the universities too, with Kate our Lead Buyer and Becca our Marketing Manager both having graduated from MMU.’

Great British Life: Blake Mill has a dedicated Manchester collectionBlake Mill has a dedicated Manchester collection (Image: Blake Mill)

The leadership team take a hands on approach and aren’t scared to get stuck in when it comes to researching and testing new products. Over 2000 fabrics from 8 different countries were considered before finding one the team deemed good enough for the brand’s first production run. They were looking for optimal stitch count, robust buttons and the ideal collar - which was apparently re-designed a staggering 53 times.

Testing a new prototype, Ross once spent several days at Glastonbury in a single shirt. The team knew they were onto a winner when (after a much needed pass through the washing machine) it came back as good as new.

Finding the right manufacturer was researched equally as thoroughly, with the quest for quality taking them around the world – eventually choosing a small, family-run boutique manufacturer in Turkey.

Great British Life: Behind the scenes of a recent shootBehind the scenes of a recent shoot (Image: Blake Mill)

Today, Blake Mill works with half a dozen factories in Turkey and Eqypt to produce shirts for a 30,000-strong customer base.

‘We’re proud to go against the grain and forge new paths. We care passionately about people as well as our products. We work together in teams rather than as a hierarchy and strive to make everything fair and sustainable in every respect. Blake Mill uses a number of organic fabrics and has removed single-use plastic from operations. When it comes to ‘doing our bit’ - we’ve also launched a collection of shirts called ‘Mind over Matter’ with a percentage of sales going to the UK’s biggest mental health charity, Mind.

‘There are plenty of exciting growth plans in the pipeline. And while we’re looking forward to them, we’re also looking back and reflecting on our journey so far; feeling pretty proud of ourselves!

‘We’ll continue to go our own way, and keep attracting curious customers by constantly breaking the mould. Life’s too short to worry about following trends.’


Great British Life: Blake Mill is no stranger to bold prints and bright colours Blake Mill is no stranger to bold prints and bright colours (Image: Blake Mill)