Founded by Tom Kirkman and Jarred Shirley, Mill Project is a company that creates wristwatches based on a philosophy for honest design. We chatted with Tom and Jarred to find out more about their inspiration, their first watch collection and running a business from two different cities.
Can you introduce yourselves and tell us a little bit about what you did before Mill Project?
We are Tom Kirkman, originally from a small town in Angus, Scotland now based in Edinburgh and Jarred Shirley also from Edinburgh now living in Berlin, Germany. We were both working at the same design agency in Edinburgh and felt unable to express ourselves, mainly frustrated with the lack of passion and creativity we were seeing in our work.
How did you decide to start Mill Project?
It all started from a conversation one night after work – we were in a pub at the Shore in Leith, a neighbourhood in Edinburgh. We would often meet up after work to discuss different possibilities and think of ideas of how we could channel our creativity and passion into something that represented us as designers and as people.
Why did you decide to call your brand Mill Project?
We always feel explaining the origin of the name is a little strange. We guess we wanted to look back to the tradition of making and crafting an object and where that fits into the ongoing process when designing an everyday item.
Can you tell us about your design inspiration?
Honesty is our driver. By adopting this design philosophy we could really focus on what was important in designing a wristwatch. We want to reach people with a product that they feel comes from a genuine place and the way we try to do that is through our choice in details. Hopefully we can stand out by being real with people, you can always tell when a person is on the same wave length to create from an honest place.
Can you tell us a little more about your first watch collection, The Nelson Series?
The Nelson Series, is a tribute to the American industrial designer George Nelson. Aesthetically there is no similarity, we admire how Nelson was able to design at the most humane level connecting the person to the product. We are very strict on ourselves not to wander outside of those principles and that doesn’t just apply to the watch.
Can you tell us about your design process? Where are the watches designed and where are they manufactured?
Every component, apart from the Swiss movement, was designed in our studio in Edinburgh. We put ourselves through an intense process for creating the watch face, with several designs nearing production and then disregarded to go back to the drawing board. It’s hard to say how many iterations we came up with, but this allowed us to be sure of our decision and that’s probably the most satisfying part – when we were able to trust our final design without any regrets or compromise.
We spent a few years researching but the turning point was finding the right manufacturers we could collaborate with and who understood our vision and from there everything started to click into place. We work with a small family-run company out of South East Germany.
You’re based in Edinburgh and Berlin. Can you tell us about your experience running a company from two different cities? Have you faced any challenges?
We never really thought too much of it as we were confident we could make it work – it’s been a positive impact on our work ethic and inspiration to feed off what each city has to offer. It’s allowed us to reach and engage with like-minded individuals for some great collaborations. Moving forward, we feel it can only be an advantage for what we want to achieve.
Do you have plans for a second collection or any other projects that you can share with us?
We’ve just launched our first series, we are excited to be working with some new stockists and other creative individuals that share our passion for good design. We’ve also planned a few collaborations, it’s fun for us to be able to engage with our peers and brands we admire and share ideas on what we can do next. The last 4 years for us have been pretty intense, so we’re trying to enjoy the moment as much as possible and take a step back from the design process to concentrate on seeing the watch out in the world!