UAE-Based Winifred Mills Is Bringing West African-Inspired Fashion That Caters To Diverse Female Shapes Drawing on founder Winifred Mills-Amui's Ghanaian heritage, the Winifred Mills label creates clothes that not only fit, but also flatter and accentuate strong female silhouettes.
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A chartered accountant who has experience working in the finance and banking realms across Asia, Africa, Europe, and the Middle East may not be the typical profile one would expect from the founder of a fashion label- but then again, that's exactly who Winifred Mills-Amui is.
Having launched her eponymous brand in the UAE in September last year, Mills-Amui likens launching a business in this domain as going through a crash course in an entirely new industry. But she has managed to power through it all, and she continues to do so even today- all of which points to the strength of the factors that drove her to launch Winifred Mills in the first place. "I have, for many years, felt that the clothing available to women like myself -with fuller figures, with professional needs- never fully represented the many facets of our being," Mills-Amui says. "As such, I wanted to launch a label that reflected my tastes and my identity– a desire that, at times, seemed unique, but is actually something shared by so many globally."
Source: Winifred Mills
In fact, Mills-Amui recalls tweaking, adjusting, and altering existing brands in an attempt to create looks that were a better expression of her style- but those efforts never panned out in the way she hoped. "What was missing was authenticity," she recalls. "My friends shared my feelings, so I knew the need was there– I just needed to figure out a way to make it a reality." This idea turned into a business after Mills-Amui heard an ad that was prompting new business registrations in early 2020- the opportunity, quite literally, fell into her lap, and she grasped it with both hands, even while the coronavirus pandemic had begun to inflict its terrible toll on the world. "The biggest challenge was deciding to set up a brand, and to do it properly," Mills-Amui remembers. "I wanted to understand all the stages involved in establishing a brand, from the branding of the business, right through to pattern-making, designing, sketching the pieces, and getting the outfits made."
Note here that Mills-Amui had entered a domain that was quite foreign to her- but she made use of the resources available to her to master the craft she had chosen. "I enrolled in two courses by [online education platform] MasterClass with Dionne Von Furstenberg and Marc Jacobs, amongst others, which gave me a very good insight of what was required," she explains. "Following that, I consulted with professionals in the fashion industry, and it became apparent this was by no means an easy feat. And then, there was social media to contend with- the media landscape I knew had completely changed."
Nevertheless, Mills-Amui persisted. "What kept me going was my passion, and my mother, who has always been my rock," she says. "She is an example of a woman who accomplished all she set out to do– a wife, mother of four, a professional working woman in the medical industry, and an entrepreneur. I felt if she could do it, so could I. Launching the brand in September last year was a huge triumph– an accomplishment that took 18 months to achieve, a true labor of love."
Source: Winifred Mills
The Winifred Mills label draws on Mills-Amui's Ghanaian heritage, with her making use of the rich West African textile traditions of kente, ankara, and aso oke to make clothes that would not only fit, but also flatter and accentuate strong silhouettes. "Designed to empower and celebrate the wearer, each piece expertly balances classic shapes and feminine details with bold uses of print and color," Mills-Amui says. "With versatility at the heart of each design, the wearer is given the tools to experiment and explore their individuality. With a global and cross-cultural mindset, this label is for women who want to confidently showcase their heritage, celebrate their femininity, and harness their power."
And while Mills-Amui may have started on her entrepreneurial journey to fulfil her particular needs in fashion, she has seen her brand be welcomed by other women as well. "We are consistently told, "This was just made for me,' "This is extremely comfortable,' "This brand had me in mind,' "Every outfit fits perfectly,' etc. As an inclusive brand catering to strong silhouettes, and with a growing list of repeat customers, it is evident we are servicing a gap in the market, and we are well positioned on the runway for a steep take-off."
Add to all of this the fact that Winifred Mills is a Black-owned enterprise in the fashion landscape, and that, by itself, makes Mills-Amui a trailblazer in her own right. "With there being very few renowned African female fashion designers to look up to, I hope my journey will inspire others," she says. "As a wife, and a mother to an amazing 12-year-old young man, while working full-time for an international bank, my experience as an entrepreneur in the UAE has been a very interesting one. The pre-launch journey has had its peaks and troughs, ups and downs, wins and losses, but it has been rewarding to build my vision from scratch, prioritizing my needs, and the needs recognized in the market."
Winifred Mills is one of the companies included in the 2022 edition of our annual 10 Great Ideas feature, which celebrates individuals and innovations that impress with their ingenuity. Check out the full list of 10 Great Ideas in our print issue here.