An Interview with the man behind Maker & Company Derrick Miller

The man at Maker & Co.’s helm discusses his formative years in menswear, a most interesting job interview with Ralph Lauren, and how he hopes his current venture will give modern consumers a new appreciation for traditional craft.

 

How did your interest in menswear develop?

I grew up in an interesting household. My father was a food photographer and his entire wardrobe consisted of suits from Anderson and Sheppard, shirts from Bowring Arundel, Turnbull & Asser, and Dege & Skinner, and shoes from John Lobb. Not only did he wear these things while alone in his studio, he also executed an outfit change in the middle of the day so he would have “more variety” in his daily wardrobe. You have to understand that this was a guy who would receive a new shirt from Dege & Skinner, and it would remain folded on his bedside table for a few months before he’d wear it, in order to really appreciate its newness.

 

Every one of his trips to London began and ended on Savile Row with fittings and swatch selections. He never met a pattern that he didn’t like. I realized later that he was using clothing as another form of self-expression, just as he was using a camera or a paintbrush. This is primarily how I received my education not only in menswear but in using apparel as a form of self-expression and earned my appreciation for quality and craftsmanship.

 

How did you come up in the menswear world?
I had to work through high school at my father’s photography studio in Minneapolis and went to college convinced I was going to be a writer. After a year or two I realized how cool working in the graphic arts is, and I decided to go to school at Parsons in Paris and focus on fashion photography. After returning from Paris, I worked in Miami and then in New York as a photographer’s assistant, then bounced around Europe trying to build my portfolio. When I got back to New York I worked at GQ with Jim Moore and Art Cooper, two legends of the GQ golden age. I enjoyed this time working in magazines, but realized it was not the path to riches (or the bespoke wardrobe I wanted).

 

So, I wrote a letter to Ralph Lauren—the man—that in retrospect is a little crazy. It was inspired by WWII identification “documents” and was printed on onionskin paper and included a box of self-portraits of me wearing vintage Ralph Lauren. He called me a few days later, and we sat down in his office for an hour and a half. I was wearing a suit I had found at the Salvation Army for $29.95 that was completely unlabeled. I took off the jacket and Ralph and I sat together and looked at how it was constructed. That was really one of the highlights of my work life.

 

Ralph thought I would be a great addition to the RRL vintage buying team. A day or so later, the HR director called and let me know that there were no open positions in RRL, but there was a position in tailored clothing. So I went to work there with a heavy-drinking, 65-year-old veteran of the clothing industry for a few years, then went to work in the neckwear department before moving onto concept design in sportswear, which is when I got to fly around the world visiting antique markets to create design concepts.

 

When did you set off on your own?

During this time, a friend introduced me to a gentleman that had just purchased a shoe factory in Northampton and was interested in exporting to the States. He asked If I would fly over and see the selection, which I did and promptly told him that “America has enough mid-range, mediocre shoes,” and not to bother. However, during the visit the production manager gave me a tour and proceeded to tell me that he could make anything that I could give him and challenged me to come up with a luxury shoe. So, I went home and developed the concept that would become Barker Black.

When the collection came out, I sold them to every great store that existed in the world at that time: Colette, Bergdorfs, United Arrows, Isetan, Selfridges, Saks, Neiman Marcus, etc. It was going incredibly well, but the partners I had did not want to grow the business beyond footwear and accessories. So, I co-founded a bespoke tailored clothing company which had locations in New York and Santa Barbra, but my partner and I had different visions of what the company should be. After this, I began freelance creative directing and started going to Pitti Uomo and became interested in all the amazing craftspeople that I’d see selling their wares there.

 

What inspired you to take the reins of Maker & Co.?

I was very inspired by the name, without knowing anything about the prior company. As soon as I heard the name, I knew exactly what it should be. It needed to be a platform supporting artisans and independent makers. When I heard the quote “We celebrate the makers, the tailors and the craftspeople” from the original founder Chris Crowley, it really hit home that I was extending his legacy and vision and adapting it to a more modern business model.

 

Why do you think an online specialty store is needed right now?

I love the idea of amassing an incredible selection of artisanal goods in one place, just like an old specialty store would have. The specialty store is also where I learned an awful lot about men’s fashion, and I’m hoping this site will also help people learn why one product is better than another or what they can buy somewhere else. I think that the world being so brand-focused for the last 25 or 30 years, the expectation that something is well made has diminished and we’re hoping that with Maker & Company we can raise customers’ expectations that things can be well designed and well made without necessarily being bespoke.

 

How do you find the makers that you feature?

I’ve been in the men’s luxury business for over 20 years, so I have a rolodex of people that I’ve worked with in the past whose work I really admire and are just generally the best in the business. Abbeyhorn is one of the oldest horn makers. Ernest Wright is very interesting—I can’t seem to keep those scissors and shears in stock!

 

It also helps that over time in the industry I’ve built relationships with a great number of people, one of them being Douglas Cordeaux from Fox Flannel. I had been buying Fox—the best flannel in the world—for years, starting from my time in design at Ralph Lauren and I knew he was weaving scarves and other things to sell under the Merchant Fox brand. It was one of the perfect brands to originally feature on the site, because it told the story of what I was trying to do very succinctly.

 

What’s the most important factor when it comes to adding new makers?

What’s most important is that the product is extremely well made. The second most important factor is that it is made at the maker’s hands, or entirely within his or her factory.

 

What is your involvement in the design and production of Maker and Co.-labeled products?

I do it all, baby! For the moment our team is very small, so I’m doing all the design and overseeing all the production of our Maker & Company labeled products. This is an area of the business that is going to grow organically because we meet so many new makers and I love to work with artisans on exclusive product.

 

What does the future hold for Maker and Co.?

We are thoughtfully adding new content and makers to try to round out the experience as well as the selection on the website. I consider myself to be the target demographic, so I am adding quirky, interesting things that I find super cool, not only in apparel but also well-made objects and even photography and art. I really want the website to be an experimental platform where people come not only to shop, but to learn about craftsmanship. I hope visitors can feel the same passion I feel when I step into a factory or an artisan’s workshop. 

 

 

Style is synonymus with originality-how you transmute the things you've seen into something you haven't.

Jay Fielden