Designer Focus: De Mil

Fashion is one of the purest forms of self-expression, and for Not Just A Label's De Mil, that couldn't be more true. De Mil was established by Conrad De Mol in 1997, but in 2007, the designer began moving into male-inspired gender neutral clothing, crafting pieces that transcend the modes of gender definition one piece at a time. We had the chance to speak with Conrad, and he shared his own insights into the power of design when it comes to breaking the mold.


What was your first fashion moment?

I had the great fortune to have grown up with wonderful creative parents. My mom was a dress maker and there was always fabric and patterns around the house. You could say I grew up under my mom's cutting table. I always knew that creating clothing was going to be my life.

Do you think you have a responsibility as a designer to respond to the social and political issues of our time?

Yes! It’s an absolute must for me. I guess I have always seen my work as a tool to make my voice heard. I feel that it is our responsibility to point out what matters to us in any which way we can.


In your opinion what is the problem with fashion today?

Fashion has become a fast-paced manufacturing machine that keeps on producing fast-fashion and, in the process, is losing its soul and artisans. 

If you had to give one piece of advice to your younger self, what would you say?

Trust in yourself. Take it easy—one step at a time. I promise with passion and hard work you will get there, and while you are at it, don’t take yourself too seriously and don’t be afraid of just being yourself.

Your gender neutral pieces are a true testament to the power of creativity to work beyond definition. Do you think fashion has the ability to transcend gender?

Absolutely. If there is any place where it is possible, it is fashion. We are the creators of dreams and image, and we have the ability to show the alternative to preconceived ideas. At the end of the day, if you are willing to observe what is happening around you, and if you are willing to explore it, you will be part of something amazing. 

Do you find that those in fashion are receptive to this movement towards crafting items that ignore traditional gender roles?

Definitely. We are seeing it quite often in designers’ collections. I have been playing around with this for some time now and have now made it my soul purpose in creating.


How does Fashion empower those who are searching for a way to express their unique identity?

Fashion is one of the most accessible ways of exploring your identity. Here in South Africa, we find that it is booming with self-expression. In the streets of Johannesburg you will find the most amazing individuals expressing themselves freely through clothing. It’s an absolute blessing to be a part of this community. 

What do you hope people will feel when wearing your clothes?

I would love them to feel empowered to be themselves—a sort of sigh of relief that they can be themselves. 


Tell us any anecdotes about the making of your last collection?

I was setting out to do a fully illustrated collection, but somehow I decided to see what would happen if I placed myself in front of the pattern construction table and allowed the patterns to feed from one another. I must say, it was a liberating experience to break the normal process of designing a collection, just to let go and let the work predict what comes next. It was an absolute pleasure.

What inspires you to create?

It’s a absolute privilege to wake up every morning and do what you love. That in itself is a source of inspiration to create and explore the freedom to express ourselves in any way we like. 

De Mil on NJAL