Jeffrey Bowman: Millican

17/10/2017

Jeff looks cool as hell. He wears a big beard, a smattering of ink, and there’s something of a well-dressed outdoorsman about him. We were perched at a small table near the back of The Orange Square in Keswick, eating pizza, drinking beers and talking about Millican ahead of the tone of voice workshop the next morning. It wasn’t long before Jorrit joined us. A few years ago, Jorrit co-founded a sustainable bag company inspired by a local pioneer and adventurer called Millican Dalton. He brought Jeff in to shape the brand. Their shared vision and dedication has quietly turned Millican into something incredible. It’s unusual to come across a company with such a sure sense of direction.

“I’m really interested in what people have to say and how they say it. That’s what makes a great brand. If they have good products, then that’s a bonus.”

Jeffrey Bowman: Millican

Much like their namesake, this is a brand that you have to search for – one that is found far from the worn path. Despite their low profile, they have recently attracted attention from the likes of Radiohead, who collaborated with them on a limited edition roll pack; and explorer turned TV presenter Levison Wood, who hiked around half of the world with his Smith 25L. Jeff previously mentioned that he joined Millican over three years ago. He had recently returned from living in Norway and had published a book called The Outsiders. After stumbling on this book and turning the last page, Jorrit invited him to travel up to the Lake District to explore the idea of him coming on board as a creative director.

“It was just myself in the beginning,” Jeff explained. “I was the whole creative team. It was quite challenging being responsible for everything that was happening. At the same time, I was reviewing the past five years of Millican and what they had built, while also looking ahead to the future. That transition period was really tough. I was being pulled left, right and centre. It’s not always easy to walk into a brand and turn the ship, but there was huge trust in me, and with the help of some great people along the way we are now a team of eight people. It’s great building a team that reflects the brand we are growing into.”

Jeffrey Bowman - Millican

“Some key people along the way have helped me bring the brand to life, you being one of them, Seth. It’s so important that we all speak the same language at Millican. You’ve helped me establish that tone of voice and develop a way in which it’s easy for the team to write content, from blogs to newsletters. Rather than being super prescriptive, you’ve been able to instil confidence in their abilities while working within a framework that sounds true to Millican. Through the tone of voice workshop, we’ve instantly been applying a more defined tone of voice that comes from the confidence we all now have to write. It’s one of the turning points that I think will cement the brand moving forward.”

Jeffrey Bowman - Millican

“The book came about from my time in Norway,” Jeff continued. “I was surrounded by young creative people who were using nature as their playground and their inspiration. I could see this was a wider global trend. Brands like Poler Stuff and Patagonia were using creativity to tell their brand story. There was a real sense of a community growing, a counterculture who used the outdoors as a kickback against everything urban. I just joined the dots and brought it together in The Outsiders. This experience showed me that it was possible to carve out a life where I could bring my love of creativity and the outdoors together. It also set up a deep need to try and connect people to the outdoors, to travel, and to nature in order for us to begin the process of positive change.”

Before Norway, Jeff lived something resembling a regular life. While teaching graphic design at Shillington College in Manchester, he met a student called Mari who invited him to visit her hometown of Hemsedal in Norway. “It’s a small community that comes alive in the winter for snowboarding and skiing, but in the summer it feels like you’re the only person in the world. It stirred something up in me that I couldn’t shake. I felt I had found a missing link in my life.” On the bus back to Oslo, Jeff made up his mind that he was moving back. In January 2013, he stood at the train station in -16 degrees cold with one bag and a snowboard. Mari picked him up, dropped him off at his new house, and he spent the next eighteen months living freely and pursuing a different way of life.

Jeffrey Bowman - Millican

“Living there was an incredible experience, life-changing. It took everything I thought I knew about myself, about nature, creativity and life and just challenged it. There were ups and downs, but there was a constant feeling of just being.”

Jeffrey Bowman - Millican

Jeff is no stranger to the outdoors. He grew up in Cumbria, on the coast in Barrow-in-Furness, but the Lakeland mountain range was always in his periphery. After totally immersing himself in the skate scene for several years, he later searched further afield and turned to nature for that feeling of independence. He told me how his grandad was an avid hiker who lived in the Yorkshire Dales. He would hike up to 30 miles most days and he was well known in the area for his hiking. “He would drag me out when I was younger on the fells. My mum says the mountains are in my bloodstream thanks to him.”

I was interested in what it’s like to work as a creative in the middle of nowhere, and whether he feels living outside of London has helped or hindered his creativity. “It massively helps my creativity, especially for the role I’m in now and for my personal life. I’m surrounded by mountains and I have a flexible work life, a five-minute commute across a field and a good work/life balance. This all fuels my creativity. Sometimes I need to go up a mountain or ride further and harder, and this all creates space for my mind.” We also spoke about his routine – a morning ride or a run around 7am for an hour, or some yoga, then heading across the road to Millican – his afternoon hikes, travelling away for to photo shoots in remote locations and his latest challenge: a little puppy that goes by the name of Loki.

Jeffrey Bowman - Millican

Newlands Valley is one of my favourite places and right on my doorstep. You can ride and run and hike all through this valley. It feels more secluded than most.”

Jeffrey Bowman - Millican

I spent the evening and the following day at Millican, and I wish I could have stayed longer. I worked on their website copy over a year ago, but this was the first time I met everyone in person. Steph and Bex joined us for the workshop. They are both smart and creative people, and they’re already running ahead with the new tone of voice. Along with practical and collaborative exercises, we also spoke about the overall direction of the brand, the delicate balancing act of positioning and the hard decisions that every creative director knows well. Jeff pondered how hard it is to find a unique voice in an oversaturated market that’s in a state of flux, and how this must come from the humans behind the company.

“The feeling at Millican is that we are travellers, not out-and-out outdoors people. Travel is the focus, as you naturally have to go outdoors to travel anywhere. Our home up here in the Lake District inspires that outdoor feeling, so that made it easier for us to follow our own path and do something different to other brands. That really is how we found the story – through living it and feeling the authenticity in the people we work with and the community we build. We are not following the rules or what’s expected from a traditional outdoor brand these days. Brands that strike out in a different direction are the ones who resonate the most.”

IMG_0643

However, the most memorable thing that Jeff said to me was something that I have also been thinking about myself recently: the passing of time and the choices we make, whether it’s building a brand like Millican, travelling to a new part of the world, or both. He told me that the best piece of advice anyone ever gave him was that it ‘takes time’ – a reminder to slow down and to look around us once in a while. Because only then can you appreciate the view.

 


Photo credit: Jim Marsden.

Written by independent copywriter, Seth RowdenEmail hello@sethrowden.com for tone of voice, website writing and marketing copy.

Question for Jeff or Seth? Ask away in the comments below. 

 

Posted by: Seth Rowden

< Back   |