As well as her efforts in keeping the business alive and thriving during lockdown, Mills also credits consumers thinking more carefully about what and how they’re buying. “People have been looking at more sustainable ways of buying and my stuff is all organic – that’s why I thought it was important to go into doing some adult designs. Sales of my reusable products, such as reusable wipes and makeup pads, have also been huge,” she says.
Sustainability is not just an extra selling point for Sprout, it’s something that has earned Mills a loyal community of like-minded customers. While face-to-face interaction has been impossible, Mills has found her brand’s Facebook group to be an essential source of positivity and communication, spotlighting it as one of her favourite aspects of the business. An 800-strong online community share photos of their “Sproutlets”, and buy and sell pre-loved Sprout items. The latter is something Mills is particularly proud of, as it’s proof in action of the longevity of her clothes. “You’ll see this pair of dungarees will be traced back through three or four different children,” she says. “That’s the whole point of my business. They last and they’re not disposable.”
While the online side of the business has been booming and her community has prospered through social media, Mills is looking forward to the social interaction that her shop provides when she reopens. “People really love being able to see and feel the quality of the clothes, and it’s lovely when someone wanders in off the street, discovers my brand and becomes a regular customer,” she says.
Opening with reduced hours at first, Mills believes it will take time for the high street to get back to where it was and is grateful for support from Visa’s shop local campaign. “It’s a real positive for such a huge brand to be supporting small businesses, it’s a bare essential to us,” she says.
Those who venture on to their local high street and into Sprout’s workspace will gain a renewed connection between maker and consumer, as Mills makes each piece right there on the shop floor, an unusual sight when so much of clothing manufacturing happens overseas and behind closed doors. “When parents come in with their children, they’ll sit and watch me sew for a while. I think it’s important for children to know where their clothes are from, to see how it all works,” she says. “It’s been really weird working in here with the blinds down and the door locked. I’m looking forward to opening.”