James Lillis built a successful label from scraps and here’s how he did it…

The story behind Black Milk is part thriller, part adventure, with a little dash of horror thrown in. It’s pretty intense. Our story starts a long time ago in a little yellow house, outside an unusually loud train station, surrounded by mango trees in Morningside. I was broke and working odd jobs here and there in order to achieve my financial goals, which included grand ambitions such as paying rent. And buying noodles.

Unfortunately for me, I wasn’t particularly good at anything so I just got work wherever I could. Then one day, when I was unusually bored, I decided that I wanted to do something…with my hands. Most people would have bought a guitar, or a bag of golf clubs, but I…I bought a sewing machine. Of course, being broke I couldn’t afford a sewing machine, so I took my CD player to the local pawn shop and got a little cash for it. And that is how I bought my first sewing machine.

Next step – fabric. I could only afford a small bag of scrap fabric. One piece I bought was a shiny pink stretch lycra. I took it home and stared at it…It was then that I fell in love with stretch fabrics.

From that moment, things changed for me. Although I was broke and still working odd jobs, I started saving to buy more printed fabric or packets of needles and, on the weekends, I would go to sewing machine shops to try to get sewing lessons. The shops were full of mothers, grandmothers and…me.

It was around this time I made my very first pair of leggings. I bought a tribal African print, drew up a pattern, cut it out and made a pair of leggings. A friend of a friend agreed to be a model for me. She put them on, and they were terrible. So I cut them again, and sewed them again. I must have recut those things 10 times…and finally, they fit.

Then something remarkable happened. Something unexpected. She asked if she could buy them. I was stunned.

I bought new machines and spent five to six hours a day on the sewing machine trying to figure out how to sew properly. I went door to door, trying to get shops to sell my clothes.

I bought a tent and went to the markets. But something special was happening…online. Girls were finding my leggings, not through shops, not at the markets, but through my blog!

People in the industry told me I was making a big mistake but I went online. And that’s where we have been ever since. We make all our pieces ourselves, right here in Fortitude Valley. And I still love eating mangoes.

Who am I? The guy with the coolest job in the world.

As seen in bmag issue 260