We had the pleasure of interviewing Gigi Burris of Gigi Burris Millinery. She is based in Brooklyn, New York and her studio is on the Lower East Side. She was a 2009 graduate of Parsons School of Design where she was nominated to be the Designer of the Year. She studied RTW there. She was a CFDA Vogue Fashion Fund finalist from 2014. Her hats have been worn by Rihanna, Lady Gaga, Haley Baldwin, Taylor Swift and many more!
Gigi grew up in Florida and didn't always dream of being a milliner. She loved art and working with her hands. Growing up, she worked with the local museum. She studied art in high school. She went abroad to Parsons Paris and got to focus on craft & heritage. Whenever she sketched RTW, it always had a hat. They offered a millinery class and she begged her friend to take it too so they wouldn't cancel the class.
A milliner is someone who makes hats / a hat-maker. She has entrepreneurs in her family, but she never dreamed of starting her own company. Even though she was top 10 of her class, it was hard for her to find a job once she graduated from college since there aren't enough jobs for the influx of students each year. She worked part-time as a freelancer with stylists. She also worked with Dennis Basso where she worked with exotic skins and fur. If you're going to use fur, make sure the animals come from a farm that you know they are treated with the best care possible. The Parsons program is quite intense - similar to law school, MIT or a doctorate. You're expected to pull all-nighters, travel, come in on the weekends, etc, so it really prepares you for the working world. It prepares you for the work-life balance of work taking up most of your time. To work in fashion, you need to know that the time commitment and the financial return might not be in alignment.
How do you make a hat? By hand, which is a technique that is centuries old. It starts with a carved wooden block. A hat has two pieces, a crown (the top part) and a brim. The shape of the hat begins in wood. They work with vintage blocks from the 1890s-1980s. They work with a skilled craftsman who can carve their own blocks. Once they carve the shape, you choose a brim. You place the material over the wood and you mold it with steam. The moisture allows for the material to form around the wood. Then it is baked in an oven. The process is all done with fire - a fire oven that stays on all day long. If it has a welt (a seam around the edge), you'd put a wire in it. You need to put a sweatband inside the hat that can serve as a buffer for your skin.
How many hats are in a collection? She designs with a merchandising background when she designs. When you see her collection in the store or a website, it should look cohesive and transportive. In terms of SKUs, it varies. Without color ways, they will be 28 at minimum and they have gone up to 40 in the past. You can do wide brims, short brims, caps, beanies, etc.
Materials - millinery is a category that has been shrinking, so some of the suppliers they've used have gone out of business. They used to put cotton grosgrain inside the hats, but that facility closed. It is a challenge to find a place to get materials. They get straw from Ecuador and Switzerland. She gets felt from the Czech Republic. Fur comes from Finland.
CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund - she was such a small brand when she went through. She got advice from such an incredible panel of judges, such as, Anna Wintour, Andrew Rosen and Diane von Furstenburg. She was able to absorb everything and tried to apply it to the best of her ability. It helped her feel welcome in the New York City fashion community. She developed a family with the people she worked with - Paul Andrew, Eva Fehren and Ryan Roche.
They show with the main season fashion calendar because of wholesalers. Their client is a buy now, wear now client. She is buying straw through August. She goes to felts around September/October through the wintertime. They show during market and often work with RTW designers. In the past she has worked with Brandon Maxwell, Christian Siriano, Simon Miller, Tanya Taylor, Alice & Olivia and Brother Vellies. With fashion week, if you decide to take on a project, the designer may not end up using the hats. Hats are the last thing stylists add and the first thing they edit out. They host market appointments, invite press/editors to see the new collection to think of upcoming magazine issues and shoot. She goes to Paris Fashion Week and holds market appointments.
Gigi had a partnership with W Hotels and they went on an inspiration trip to Panama.