Gwen Harris designs and manufactures a colourful explosion of sustainable fashion and homeware from her Prestwich back garden!
A short tram ride away from the city centre and a quick jaunt around the streets of Prestwich, you’ll find Grey Milk HQ.
A fairy-lit portal to a pink-hued universe, full of bold prints and 90s grunge inspired pieces, Grey Milk is independently run by Gwen and her business partner, Poppy.
“I studied Fashion Design at Nottingham Trent University, and that really opened my eyes to the design world,” began Gwen.
“I’ve always had a very strong aesthetic, as well as go to colour combinations and a signature style, so setting up my own business was kind of a no-brainer.
“After uni, I worked for a fashion company based in Manchester doing print design and that’s where I picked up a lot of the skills I use now in Grey Milk.”
After being furloughed from her job back in the first lockdown of 2020, Gwen decided to put pen to paper and start coming up with her own range of unique collections, drawing inspiration from the mini-skirts and bold prints of the 60s, album sleeves and TV shows.
Her first range was born out of the back cover of Nirvana’s In Bloom album. She experimented with using a repetitive floral pattern across dresses, trousers, crop tops and mini-skirts, bringing them to life through print clashes and bright pinks and reds with cartoon-esque florals, something that’s become synonymous with her aesthetic.
“Another place I draw inspiration from is the 60s, especially kids TV of that era. I designed one of my collections around the Pink Panther, after not being able to take my eyes off the pink and yellow flowers in the Pink Posies episode!
“My collections always start from the prints, and then, from there I develop the shape of each piece and think about what I would wear and how comfortable I can make it. Once all of that’s done, I can then take to the sewing machine to create the finished product.”
Before the Summer of 2021, Gwen was doing everything from the spare room of her cosy Prestwich home. The vibe was, and still is, very DIY, but once the business started taking off, she knew she needed a bigger space to work from.
That’s when the Grey Milk HQ spaceship landed in her back garden, a creative retreat purely for the business that has the innocence of a kids creche but the innovation of a high-end fashion brand.
“We originally looked for a space locally, but struggled to find one that I felt would work for the brand. That’s when we decided to build the shed. We design and make everything from here, and it has become our perfect little home ever since!”
As the pandemic began to shift people’s buying habits and focus on sustainability within fashion, there couldn’t have been a better time for the business to begin.
With Instagram becoming not just a platform to post your regular weekend bottle of wine with the girlies, but to discover smaller, independently run brands who are making a conscious effort to develop sustainable practises, Grey Milk took off straight away.
“Sustainability wasn’t even a choice for me, it’s something that I’m already extremely passionate about. All of our garments are made from natural fibres, but I think it’s very important to remember that sustainability goes much further than just the materials.
“We also use a made to order model and will only do small runs of things. Everything is very ethically handmade right here by me and Poppy, I’ve always wanted to be completely honest with the brand.
“I think one of the biggest problems with fast fashion is the lack of transparency within the supply chain, so I was really keen that whatever fabric we use, it can be traced right back to where it was produced, and along the way guarantee that everyone was treated fairly.”
Poppy and Gwen connected through Instagram, as Poppy runs her own inclusive clothing brand, Northern Picnic that’s inspired by her love of soul and traditional British summertime patterns. She helps with the design process at Grey Milk, as well as the physical manufacturing of the clothes, allowing Gwen to develop new designs for future collections.
“Gwen was actually my first ever customer at Northern Picnic! We connected on our design processes, aesthetics and we’ve actually got very similar personality types, too, so the partnership works wonders,” explained Poppy.
As well as her clothing craftsmanship, Gwen opened an online homeware store called Shop Strawberry in the September of 2021.
Inspired by her Grey Milk collections and passion for rare homeware pieces, Shop Strawberry stocks everything from candles, to throws, cushions and prints sure to brighten up any space. The store not only stocks Gwen’s designs, but other local independent businesses, too. “I think it’s so important for us all to support each other!”
Another lockdown success, Grey Milk has become a well respected, inclusive clothing brand that people can’t wait to get their hands on! For Gwen, she wants the business to grow organically and sustainably, keeping its values at the core of everything it does.
“One day I’d also love to have a bigger space where people can come and work with me. I love the collaborative process. And, I think it goes without saying, that one day I’d love to have a physical Grey Milk and Shop Strawberry store! It’d be a dream to meet all of my wonderful customers in real life,” concluded Gwen.
Grey Milk is also hosting a sample sale Friday 28th January at 10am! There’ll be loads of Gwen’s gorgeous creations on offer at a discounted price, so make sure to set your alarms!