Sustainability Challenge ~ Intro

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In many ways, Milli Starr has always embraced a business model that is gentler on the planet than traditional fashion producers. New-old-stock vintage ribbons and trims are incorporated into limited edition designs. All hats are made-to-order in my studio, eliminating inventory overstock. I frequently use material "scraps" for self-fabric trims. I seek out the highest quality materials and make hats that should last a lifetime with proper care and storage. My millinery is a labor of love that I hope is beloved by my customers in turn.


What's changing?

This year I will do my best to only purchase new-old-stock hat bodies and trims for my collection and custom order hats. I have some wonderful resources for duplicates and yardage of vintage stock and will buy from suppliers as well as secondhand from other milliners.


Hat with veil and silk velvet bow

OOAK tilt hat made from 99% vintage and de-stash supplies


Mustard Yellow Beret Milli Starr Hat

Mustard yellow beret made from vintage felt hood and trimmed with self-fabric knots


I will NOT be upcycling finished goods, i.e. taking apart a vintage hat to re-use the trims. However, if you own a Milli Starr hat and want to take advantage of my re-trimming service, please let me know. In 2020, I'll be waiving the first two hours of labor and you'll only be responsible for cost of trims. Re-trimming (or even re-blocking) is a wonderful way to extend the life and wearability of a hat.


When will I make an exception? 

  • I will continue to order regular stock for my students. For example, I ordered hoods yesterday for the upcoming Velour Felt & Puzzle Block class.
  • I will order any materials needed to fulfill orders of collection items from previous years. I've invested too much time and money in photography, design and my online store to hide products. For example, if a customer purchases the "Caitlyn" saucer from SS2018, I'll order any sinamay and trims needed to complete that order.
  • Foundation materials such as millinery wire, buckram, and thread.


Velour Fur Felt Hoods or Cones

A colorful array of felt hoods stocked at Manhatco in NYC



I have three main reasons for assigning myself this challenge, the first most obviously being Sustainability. Sustainable fashion considers the environmental and socio-economic impacts of the manufacturing, marketing and use of all clothing and accessory items.

"The World Bank estimates that the fashion industry is responsible for nearly 20% of all industrial water pollution annually. It releases 10% of the carbon emissions in our air; 1 kg of cloth generates 23 kg of greenhouse gases." (Thomas 6-7)

If you are paying attention, you've heard these buzzwords: over-consumption, pollution, waste, fast fashion, sweatshops... My small business isn't polluting the planet on a large scale, but there is a carbon footprint and environmental impact. While I know many of my suppliers, I don't always get a glimpse into factories where sinamay is woven in the Philippines or where felts are manufactured in the Czech Republic. I'd love more transparency that could be shared with my customers.

The choices we make are important: Quality over quantity, slow over fast, unique over generic. One of my favorite quotes is by fashion designer and activist Vivienne Westwood:

"Buy less, choose well, make it last." 


 Vintage ribbons NYC 

Gorgeous vintage ribbons stocked at East Coast Trimmings in NYC


The second reason I am changing things up this year is Alignment. I feel like Milli Starr isn't always an accurate reflection of who I am or my personal style. My love for millinery grew from a love of vintage and fashion history. I have been collecting and wearing vintage clothing, hats and jewelry for 35 years. It was a means of assembling a high quality, unique wardrobe on a limited budget. And things were made to last! There's really no contest between a 1950s sportswear top and that cheap t-shirt from H&M.

My own lifestyle choices have always been environmentally and socially-conscious. Plant-based diet for 18 years. (I was vegan before it was cool.) Vegetarian for 11 years before that. Lots of recycling. The occasional protest march. When my daughter was young, she had wooden toys and attended a Waldorf preschool. No TV or digital media. At home, we had an 8 ft long craft table and always had a project going.

In adopting this sustainability challenge for 2020, I hope to infuse my business with more Laura. I will decrease the carbon footprint of packages being shipped to me regularly from Europe and Australia. I will be thoughtful in where and how my money is spent. I will use more of the gorgeous supplies I already have on-hand. I have a studio full of hat bodies, sinamay yardage, fabrics and trims purchased over the years for projects that I've never even started. I know I have enough to keep me busy for awhile ~ and hats in my head that have been waiting to be created!


Milliner Laura Del Villaggio

Hat made for myself! Tilt fedora of vintage parasisal straw with 1920s metallic braid and curled feather. 


And finally, the third reason is Creativity. I believe that challenging circumstances foster creativity! I've been making hats for 22 years. With the influx of new milliners and the influence of social media on visual platforms like Instagram, I am seeing a lack of variety and innovation in the hat world (with a few notable exceptions).

Millinery is a niche market and we have a limited number of producers, suppliers, hat block makers, etc. If everyone is buying similar blocks and similar materials, it makes sense that there is unintentional homogeneity and even copycat milliners.

For me, fashion has always been an important means of communicating individuality. I like fashion that is unique. My favorite hats are those that were technically challenging, where I had the luxury of time unconstrained by budget, and that are either avant-garde (like "Theia") or vintage-inspired (like "Yvaine").

I hope this challenge encourages me to dive into the supplies on-hand and work with more of my vintage and custom-made hat blocks. I've collected a lot of rare treasures and will focus on using those first. I'll try to create with my artist eye rather than worrying about who the end client might be.



I am a fashion historian and an educator, in addition to being a milliner. I teach a lot of students each year and know that my business has high visibility within the millinery community. There is currently very little being done within the hat supply chain (from field to finished goods) that addresses sustainability. I hope to lead by example and hopefully raise awareness of the impact of fashion on the environment. Small changes can lead to big changes, right?

Throughout the year, I will be seeking out and experimenting with innovative sustainable materials. I have always been fascinated by techno textiles! One that I am very excited to try is biofabricated leather by Modern Meadow. I will be saving money and hopefully attending the Future Fabrics Expo in London next January.



My concerns are both financial. First, that I may lose some custom orders if I cannot source or dye the materials and colors a client wants. I imagine emailing out a request for "..." to the millinery community and hearing "Go Fish!" But I do have a LOT on hand and am very resourceful. Second fear is that I will owe more on my taxes because I will spend less on my business. I'll watch the numbers and see how that plays out. But success is measured by more than sales and profits.



I will post a quarterly update on my blog to let everyone know how my challenge is progressing.


Want to know more about Fashion and Sustainability?
There are many resources available online and in print. This book and podcast have been two of my favorites:
Fashionopolis: The Price of Fast Fashion and the Future of Clothes by Dana Thomas (2019)
Wardrobe Crisis hosted by Clare Press

And if you want to take action, check out Fashion Revolution. This non-profit has a wonderful media campaign and organizes awareness events globally.




alignment business goals buy less circularity design life fashion revolution innovation inspiration slow fashion small business sustainability

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  • Hi Kate! Thank you so much for commenting on a very important topic! I really wish we had more vegan and sustainable materials for millinery use. Hopefully, that textile technology is in the near future! Currently, the only vegan felts (faux wool) seem to be polyester, which is petroleum based. Some are made from recycled plastic bottles. The vegan felt is not easily hand-blocked, but that process could be contracted out to someone with aluminum blocks and a hat blocking machine.

    There is a growing number of milliners and hatters who are seeking those products for a more conscious consumer base. For now, I think our best option is to offer supply chain and production transparency. This is easiest if you are sourcing locally or have a direct relationship with a factory or weaving collective.

    I’ll send you a DM on IG, as I’d love to discuss this topic further.

    Milli Starr on
  • Hi, really interesting blog post. I’m interested in your thoughts on fur felt and feathers. I’m now only using wool felt , sinamay and straw and am using up my last few feathers. It’s really difficult to find any definitive information about the origins of supplies for these (fur felt and feathers) on the web and “by-product of the food industry”, apart from being a little short on info, is still creating a market for using animal products in millinery. It’s something almost no-one in millinery ever talks about – I even listened to a talk recently where the tutor was saying how “all these marks on the feather means they’ve had a stressful life – you need to consider this when ….. you dye them”!! No mention of animal welfare.
    If you know of any ethical/cruelty -free suppliers I’s be really interested as would my clients.
    Thanks for your time,
    Kind regards,
    Kate Thomas
    (Little Sister Millinery, Yorkshire, UK)

    Kate Thomas on

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