Monday, 3:18pm
28 February 2011

Let’s work together

john ridpath
New media

The Mill Co. Project and the collaborative work ethic

Mill Co. bills itself as a ‘full service creative agency’ – yet the ‘Co.’ doesn’t stand for company, but for co-operation, writes John Ridpath.

Founders Claire Martin and Liz Birkbeck take their core ideals from the co-operative business model, first pioneered in their northern English hometown Rochdale during the 1840s. Their modular, flexible work pattern brings together a growing network of freelancers, drafted in on a project-by-project basis, and powered by remote working (more accessible than ever in the age of Skype).

Their scope has recently widened with the Mill Co. Project, a ‘creative social enterprise space’ on Vyner Street in London’s East End (above) - run by Martin, Laura Middlehurst and Nick Hartwright. The canal-side building currently offers affordable desk space for freelancers, a space for Mill Co. teams to work together in person, and will soon be hosting creative workshops for the community. I spoke to Martin about Mill Co., creativity through collaboration, and her desire to build a ‘creative social utopia’.

Patternity - Lace Lock In

Above: ‘Lace Lock In’ by Patternity, available in the Mill Co. Store

Eye: Lots of agencies get in freelancers on a project-by-project basis – how does your working model differ?

Claire Martin: Most agencies who use freelancers pass them off as their in-house team and that’s fine, but we believe that it’s actually a selling point that a specific person with a certain skill has been sourced. We now have The Mill Co. Project as a space for the team to come together and work from, if need be. Working this way means every client gets a tailor-made team that is modular, flexible and cost effective.

Eye: What kind of people are part of your existing network?

CM: We have over 60 community members at the moment, from established artists such as photographer Kevin Cummins, illustrator Si Scott and film maker Colin O’Toole, to emerging talent such as illustrator Lisa Stannard. We also look after fine artists who haven’t worked with brands before, finding them clients that we can see their style working with.


Above: ‘Oasis were looking for a consumer magazine that would surpass the one they produced in house. We worked with art directors We Are Laura, illustrator Lisa Stannard and one of our sub-editors to create the new O Collections

Below: ‘Bee’ by Si Scott, available in the Mill Co. Store

Si Scott - Bee

Eye: Where are you looking to get to with Mill Co.?

CM: We plan to nurture The Mill Co. Project so it becomes renowned as place where artists and creatives can work together and utilise each others skills and services in a co-operative way. We aim to develop The Mill Co. Store further so that our community have a successful retail outlet where they can sell their work all over the world. It would be nice to create a kind of creative social utopia for independent and freelance artists.


Above: Flatiron invitation, by Mill Co.

Below: ‘We created and produced an entire campaign for Canterbury, the New Zealand Rugby Brand. We worked with NoChintz to create an amazing stand at Bread & Butter, then enlisted creative director Georgina Hodson (Arena, Arena Homme Plus) and photographer Ben McDade for the shoot.


The Mill Co. Project are having an Open Studio this Thursday, 3rd March. See below for details.

open studio

Eye is the world’s most beautiful and collectable graphic design journal, published quarterly for professional designers, students and anyone interested in critical, informed writing about graphic design and visual culture. It’s available from all good design bookshops and online at the Eye shop. For a taste of no. 78, see Eye before you buy on Issuu.