Discover more from A Continuous Lean
How Much is Enough?
A Q&A With Todd Magill
Todd Magill has done the big brand thing. He has helped to create mass market product and that experience left him wanting more. It actually made him want less. He left to build something deliberately smaller. His desire for restraint has shaped his brand Magill. It's not about introducing huge collections that only last for one season. He can now create clothing that is more considered. He can do something he loves and build a business that’s just the right size for him and for us.
Everything from Magill is sourced and produced in Los Angeles. The line is cohesive but not expansive. The aesthetic feels familiar and still interesting. It’s wearable with an appreciation of the longevity of good clothing. It’s the type of small independent brand that I prefer to support versus some big company that’s churning out product on an industrial scale. It’s very much the vision and execution of one person.
You don't see many brands openly admitting to want to sell less. That the mission is to stay small. Even a brand like Patagonia doesn't seem to put a major emphasis on selling less product. The concept of keeping a company small is one of those things that goes against what everyone seems to want. To me it just makes sense to keep a business manageable and enjoyable to operate. Make a fair living and don’t kill yourself trying to make it huge. I've learned over my career that big is not necessarily better. More does not always equate to a happier life. Having enough (not too much) is generally enough.
Todd has figured all of that out too. I'm interested in his brand and wanted to know more about how it all came together and how he views the world. Our conversation is below. Hope you like it.
Your brand is wonderfully situated between prep, streetwear and some of the basics brands that we all love. What's the design point of view for Magill?
Todd Magill: Thank you, MAGILL is made up of how I like to dress. It's influenced by my past growing up on the East Coast and now my life here in LA. Having design at Tommy Hilfiger, Ralph Lauren and Jack Spade I defiantly tap into that. I like clothing that is familiar and simple. Details are thoughtful and practical but twisted through color and fabric. I like the high and low of a clean pleated chino with a well worn pair of sneakers, A sweatshirt or Rugby in a pop of color. I'm not interested in precious clothing. I like designing things that are casual and I think that has a lot to do with living in LA. I also carry the idea of simplicity in every aspect of the brand from the scale of what I produce to my personal life. One of my favorite quotes is: "simplicity is the ultimate sophistication" by Leonardo da Vinci.
What's your philosophy around the longevity of your clothing and how sourcing plays into that?
Quality is very important to me. I like to repeat the same styles season after season with the occasional update or new style if it feels right. I know myself and I always wear versions of the same garment over and over. We only produce 25-50 units at a time and will recut something if the demand is there. I also stick to this philosophy with sourcing fabrics. I use the same 3-4 base fabrics each season and then fill in with up-cylced / deadstock fabrics I buy from a jobber in downtown LA. My intention is to make a comfortable living for myself so I don't feel the pressure to be a huge company at the moment.
What has it been like to make garments in Los Angeles? Do you think made in the USA will continue to decline or are there signs of life?
I have hit a nice rhythm producing in LA. I work with one agent who manages all the production and I have a great pattern-maker. We have all gotten on the same page and work really well together. They are all young people that have started their own small business so there is that commonality and support of one another. I also have another factory I work directly with on other projects and items who will make any quantity I need. For me to be speaking to and engaging in person the sewers and pattern makers and having that intimacy is priceless. I only see myself growing and producing in LA. Between e-commerce, Wholesale and the shop at Mojave Trading Post I have a good business and am able to hit decent margins spread between the 3 channels.
How did your previous work at big American brands influence what you are doing now?
I have to say the experience I gained was priceless and I am able to juggle a lot easily. But I did hit a wall. For me large corporate fashion companies are outdated and toxic to the environment and their workers. Especially designers. The demand to produce and make a profit for shareholders destroys any real creativity and ability to live a balanced lifestyle. I don't have ambitions to have a huge company. I decided I wanted to make enough to live comfortably, design small, focused collections and work with my friends. I produce everything responsibly and keep the business as simple as possible. I am self funded so I don't have the pressure of making money for anyone else. That may change eventually but I will maintain those core values. I work out of my home and I don't have an in house team or overhead. I call all the shots and it's great. If I want to go hiking on a Tuesday afternoon I do. And Thursday and Friday too. lol
Where do you find inspiration? Anything cool you are reading, watching or listening to?
Every were and nowhere. I am always inspired by art, architecture and tapping into the zeitgeist. The Rose Bowl flea is always fun and inspiring. I do a lot of hiking and listen to podcasts. My favorites are "OnBeing" with Krista Tippit, "Here's the Thing with Alex Baldwin" and How to Fail with Elizabeth Day. They are full of interviews with inspiring people and concepts and it really grounds me. My work has in a way taken a second seat to my own personal health and growth. Books on my nightstand at the moment. "The Best of me" by David Sedaris. When Things Fall Apart" by Pema Chödrön and Blinky Palermo — The Complete Additions. During the past year I started painting again and am currently selling them at my friends shop Lawson Fenning. I just rented a painting studio and that has been an amazing creative outlet as well.
What do you think the future holds for retail?
I recently opened a shop in shop at the Mojave Trading Post in Palm Springs and business is booming. The place reminds me of Fred Segal back in its heyday. They only allow small lesser known brands and I think that is why it's working. There is a sense of newness and discovery. I think retail has gotten so stale and boring. Large corporate brands just feel wrong now. I think people want smaller brands that are responsibly produced and less saturated and feel more intimate. Unfortunately that is harder to find. If everyone just chilled out and could be happy living with less I think that we would all be in a better place. For MAGILL I see a balance of e-commerce / DTC, Small shops or pop-ups and wholesale to a select assortment of smaller shops.