Lauren Milroy is kind of fantastical not to mention, a savvy Jane of all trades. She is the mechanical engineer turned designer behind California-grown, HIPP & kirk and makes me believe that you truly can switch gears at any point & make your dreams come true. Maybe that sounds cheesy, but so often, people consider doing something different with their careers only to settle on it’s too late. Well, Lauren is here to demonstrate (in all her relaxed & chic glory) that that’s just not true. And hallelujah for that!
NAME Lauren Milroy
LOCATION San Francisco, California
EDUCATIONAL BACKGROUND BS in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Southern California and MS in Product Design from Stanford University
COMPANY HIPP & kirk
Tell me about HIPP & kirk and how you got started. After graduating from design school I worked at two very different start up companies. One was an outdoor camping company that taught me the skills to design and prototype soft good products. And a second where I learned a tremendous amount about the in-and-outs of running a small business. I loved the environment of a small business and I wanted to be the one to set and control that atmosphere. When I left my last job I knew I wanted to start my own company, and that it would be with a sewn good, I just didn’t know exactly what the style/brand/aesthetic would be yet. I spent a lot of time prototyping different bags with a variety of materials and eventually the first collection of products was born.
HIPP & kirk…what is the story behind the name? HIPP comes from a blog I started several years ago called Hippanonymous, which is a simple play on words. And Kirk is my middle name!
Everything about your company is California grown (including you!). What challenges have you come up against keeping things domestic? One of my biggest challenges has been manufacturing. I worked extremely hard from the beginning to have my bags not only made domestically, but specifically in California. And it hasn’t been easy. I searched all over CA but with my high standard of quality I had a hard time finding a place that could make my designs at an affordable cost. A year after launch I am working with a really great manufacturer right here in San Francisco.
How did your graduate studies in product design influence the way you developed your collection? One of the most important skills I took away from my design program was the iterative prototyping process. I always start with a really rough prototype to get a sense of the style, size, etc. And then as the design evolves the resolution of the prototypes gets higher and closer to final production quality.
How has your background in mechanical engineering contributed to your work? Any course(s) or job experience(s), in particular? One of the skills I gained from my work experience as a mechanical engineer was the ability to work well on a team. Sounds cheesy, but it was such a new experience for me and I learned how critical good communication is when working on a big cross-functional team (I worked with a variety of engineers, technicians, analysts, and more). Since I work independently now, I use this skill when working with vendors, manufacturers, retailers, etc.
Your collection has a great “dress up or dress down” appeal to it. When you designed the various bags, what was most important? Certain textures, colors, etc.? When I first started to design the collection, the style and materials was where I first focused my design time. I prototyped a lot of different styles and also use a wide variety of materials across the styles. I wanted to get a sense for what would create a classic style that, as you said, could be dressed up or dressed down. And of course, color is also very important to my design – the bright color pops are part of what make the bags stand out.
Your lookbooks showcase the fun-casual-chic factor of your collection. What goes into creating a lookbook? Each of the two lookbooks I’ve created were done in a slightly different way. The first one was for the launch of my website and I knew I wanted to shoot in LA but I didn’t have a specific concept in mind. I found a lifestyle photographer who I knew I wanted to work with. She and I scouted locations and after seeing the Santa Monica Pier together we knew that was the spot. The vibrant colors and the energy near the beach and in the amusement park fell in line with what I wanted to the brand to look and feel like. After deciding the location, it was all about the details in execution from finding friends who could model and a hair makeup artist, to the styling of their looks and scripting a shot list. The second shoot started with the idea in my head, a very specific concept that I wanted to execute – an explosion of color to celebrate adding new colors to the collection. The day of the shoot was an amazing collaboration with the photographer and hand model – both who integral in helping make the colorful props I’d gotten into the amazing end result.
How did you get the word out about your company when you first launched? Did a particular press opportunity help to jumpstart the marketing effort? When I first launched I really only announced it to my friends and family – and hoped that it would grow an audience naturally. Needless to say I’m still working hard on growing my marketing effort. I’ve had a few articles that highlighted my bags, but have yet to have a press mention that’s brought that wow moment.
Let’s travel back in time a couple years. What advice would you give yourself? I would tell myself to have the confidence to just get started. I spent a lot of time figuring out what I wanted to do and trying to make everything perfect before I released it into the world. What I know now is that most things can and do change so easily, nothing is ever perfect the first time around and you’re better off getting stuff out there quickly so you can get feedback and adjust.
Guilty pleasure? Competition/Elimination Reality TV, like Project Runway, AGT and Biggest Loser
Favorite movie? My Fair Lady
Cake or pie? Cake, especially red velvet or yellow box cake.
Favorite San Francisco eatery? For a fancy occasion – Baker and Banker, and for the best nacho cheese dip and some killer margaritas – Velvet Cantina
Song you can’t help but sing along to? Love Shack by the B52s