Michelle Smith, co-founder and creative director of fashion label Milly, looked to the next generation for inspiration for her second statement T-shirt collection with Girls Inc. — a nonprofit supporting girls from ages 6 to 18 — in celebration of the label’s 20th anniversary.
To do so properly, Smith mentored a group of girls from the organization during a four-month assignment: to design four items for the “Milly Challenge.” The result was a collection of three tees and one sweatshirt emblazoned with feminist phrases, from “Girls are on fire” to “Grl Pwr,” and 20 percent of the sales will go directly to Girls Inc. of New York City.
The collaboration was a natural fit for Smith, a consistent supporter of feminism through fashion: She’s the designer behind Michelle Obama’s dress in the recently unveiled Smithsonian portrait; she gave away “Steinem AF” tees (an ode to feminist and social political activist Gloria Steinem) during New York Fashion Week after the inauguration of President Trump; and she partnered with Planned Parenthood for its 100th anniversary, designing two exclusive tees for the occasion.
Yahoo Lifestyle spoke with Smith about this latest collaboration, touching on the biggest surprises to come out of working with the girls as well as whether she thinks statement tees are here to stay.
Why was it important for you to collaborate with an organization like Girls Inc.?
It’s important that any collaboration I take part in is meaningful, in line with the Milly brand, and something I can participate in, hands-on. Girls Inc. of New York City’s mission is to inspire girls to be strong, smart, and bold, and that’s exactly how I want the woman wearing Milly to feel. This partnership was such a perfect fit, because our values truly align.
What was the biggest surprise you found while working with these young girls?
I went into this partnership expecting to mentor a group of young girls, and I came out feeling mentored myself! The girls reminded me how important it is to use creativity to speak up. These girls are fearless — and being a bit shy [myself], they have certainly given me courage to continue using my inner voice. We can all have an impact on the world, regardless of age. I know that the future is in good hands with these young leaders.
Can you discuss the power of a political or feminist statement tee?
My favorite part is that a short slogan can say so much, and it can inspire others to start thinking. It shows a little bit of what you believe in and what you stand for without actually saying anything. For so long, many social and cultural issues were discussed behind closed doors, and woman especially were punished for being outspoken … I think these tees help start a conversation that we should be having in a cool and different way — that’s why people really like them!
Are they just a passing trend or here to stay?
They are totally here to stay! People are fearless these days — which is truly amazing. We all want to make a statement in one way or another, and I don’t think that’s going away. This is only the beginning.
Read More from Yahoo Lifestyle:
• Laurie Simmons and Milly design Planned Parenthood tee: ‘I understood progress as something that could not be reversed’
• Meet Girl Up’s 24 new teen advisers who are here to prove ‘the present is female’
• A Saudi Arabian princess behind the wheel of a car on a magazine cover is a huge deal. Here’s why.