In 2009 lululemon opened up an innovative incubator space called the “the lab”. The Lab creates, manufactures, and sells limited edition designs that are versatile, functional, and unique to lab space. The limited-run products are designed to take us from morning to night, streamlining our wardrobes, technical fabrics with on-trend silhouettes. Each lab piece and collaboration is inspired by local and international influences, and shaped by explore ideas from within the local community and global context.
The beautiful warehouse space has 3 designers, 10 retail staff and about 30 on the production side sewing the clothes sold in the store. Its part store, part factory, and part design studio where shoppers browse through racks of clothes next to a designer quietly sketching at a table.
Today we have a special guest from the lab team, a Graphic Designer + Resident Artist Neil McMillian. We caught up with Neil to find out a little more about his role at The Lab, what motivates and inspires him.
CTS: How did you come to work at lululemon lab, what is your role there and what does it entail?
NM: I worked for lululemon as an educator at a location near my house for about two years while i was in school studying graphic design at Emily Carr University of Art and Design. In My fourth year I saw the opportunity for a design internship at the lululemon lab. My two friends and I applied as a group, and before we knew it we had gotten the 3 month contract. After the internship I focused on graduation and work. The lab reached out to me to see if i was interested in pursuing graphic design for them full time while supporting their sales floor and to develop my goals in moving to head office for graphic design. Currently at the lab my role is to design and create applied apparel graphic concepts for garments, products and events. I also create store installations that change the space from time to time with art direction. Creating window displays with professional and amateur artists and also leading the internship program with students from art and design schools in the area. The unique thing is that we all work on the sales floor as well, whether you are a clothing designer a product merchant or graphic artist like myself, it’s a full time gig for the 12 of us that run this unique store.
CTS: What's the most satisfying project you've ever worked on?
NM: As a graphic designer at the lab, one of the most satisfying projects that I have worked on so far was a limited edition clothing capsule collection for a dance company called “the response”. I got to work with the entire design team at the lab and create and produce satin garment labels in the clothing. I also got to design special edition hang tags and create a themed window display for the launch of the line, which also included advertising and campaign graphics. For me it was working on something from beginning to end with a team that was equally excited about every detail as I was. There was a lot of brand touch points that I got to consider, and the fact that it was two companies collaborating with a joint vision was really rewarding.
CTS: How do you see Vancouver's creative scene evolving?
NM: Vancouver is such a young and vibrant city, and I don't think people consider it to be a design hub, however there is really great things happening here. When I was in school I thought I would have to move away for work, to the US. I was very fortunate to have such an amazing opportunity right out of school, and it really opened my eyes to what I want to do in design. I have a love for lifestyle brands, and Vancouver has so many young brands that originate from our city like lululemon. There is also really great design firms scattered throughout the city. I do however think Vancouver could benefit from networking, especially when it comes to art and design – when compared to design meccas like New York and California.
CTS: Its 2014, do you think the term "original" is still relevant – how do you, the designer able to stay true to yourself and created something truly original?
NM: Being original is what every designer wants. I of course want to be original but design is always going to be about appropriation. Inspiration leads to originality for me, whether that inspiration comes from other designers, fashion, music, or travel. I think something I strive for on a daily basis is staying relevant. Watching what is trending in fashion and graphics is important for me. Global trends but more importantly local trends. My team and I are always checking out what is happening in the local yoga scenes and neighborhoods within Vancouver. For example in my latest installation at the lab, I looked at artist Fred Sandback, and combined his illusion aesthetic with Vancouver city maps. The entire process was completed with a combination of wood material and black masking tape and vinyl tape.
CTS: When working on a design or illustrations, what type of music/band(s) do you prefer to listen to?
NM: I absolutely love music; I listen to indy and underground bands like daughter and James Blake. Although lately I have really been in to listening to rap and R&B music – School boy Q, Kendrick Lamar, Frank Ocean and Miguel are some of my faves right now. Sound Cloud is my hero, I think DJ’s are really bringing new elements to the music scene lately and sound cloud gives them the platform to be discovered and shared.
CTS: What is something you've never designed that you would like to design?
NM: Something that I have never designed before that I would love to be a part of would be prints for clothing. I have become so fascinated by this process and want to learn more, eventually designing one that goes in to production.
CTS: Working for lululemon, what is your perspective on the crossover between sportswear and fashion?
NM: It’s so interesting because in Europe sportswear in fashion has been happening for quite some time. I remember seeing it just becoming relevant when I was there about six years ago. Now here it seems like in the last 2 years it is becoming common to see in our everyday wardrobes. Lululemon seems to hybrid this blend quite well, especially with their fantastic material library. Working at the lab though elevates this to a new level. It is our mission to create designs that streamline fitness, work, commute and travel. My perspective on sportswear has changed immensely because of the functionality and I absolutely love mixing my everyday style with my lululemon lab gear.
CTS: How would you describe your own personal style?
NM: My personal style can be summed up as a great pair of jogger pants and a slouchy or oversized fitting white tall tee with some fresh kicks and some minimal black accessories. Some brands that do this look for me are zanerobe sure shot pants, a lululemon lab or alexander wang tee, Nike flyknits and a Nixon watch. I think for me a look really gets pulled together when the brands are not screaming for attention. When someone asks me where I got my top or pant, I know I have successfully put my outfit together.
CTS: What is your favorite quote and why?
NM: My favourite quote is: “for those colours which you wish to be beautiful, always first prepare a pure white ground” – Leonardo Di Vinci
"This quote always reminds me to take the right steps in everything I am doing. It never pays off to cut corners, not just in my work but in my life too."