Livin’ Free – An Interview with Bandit Brand’s Jen McMillan

bandit5_c20_16Bandit Brand sells some of the most awesome shirts and vintage tees for rock and roll people. The clothing is heavily inspired by old school bikers, heavy metal, country music and the rock and roll lifestyle. Black Sunday Magazine is a huge fan and was dying to find out a bit about the head honcho Jen McMillan and how she created such an iconic brand for the modern rock and roller.

When Jen was a little girl, what did she want to be? I wanted to be in Kiss (the band).

What would that little girl think of you now?

She would be stoked.

Bikers and music – a big part of the Bandit Brand look, it is quite obvious that the biker image seems to be rather fashionable right now, how do you feel about this?

At first I was a little put off by it since I saw people evolving so fast into it and it made me embarrassed to ride my motorcycle a little. I get it that once you ride a motorcycle you can get addicted to the feeling of it but if you don’t wash your clothes solely because you are trying to look like a biker from the 70’s and you have access to a washer and dryer it seems a little contrived. I have the same problem with the whole Lumberjack theme. There aren’t many trees in Brooklyn… HOWEVER, I think that both trends encourage positive change in peoples lives. Going back to freedom and nature… road trips and manliness… naturalness and womanliness.. and I don’t think that can be a bad thing.

You run your own business, have you always done this or did you have a “normal” job beforehand?

I’ve been working since I was 12. I worked summers and after school at restaurants and an old time portrait studio. I worked at McDonalds when I was 18-19 and worked there til the day before I had my baby (he is 22 now). Being 9 months pregnant and cooking at McDonalds sucks. McDonalds and everything they stand for sucks… then I was a receptionist for about 7 years… then I painted houses and apartments.. then I opened my first shop with a bunch of shit from thrift stores in a garage in Denver and got a taste of freedom and never went back.

From what I can see, you seem to be doing what you want career-wise, not stuck behind a desk or a factory. How would you advise someone who is in a 9-5 job and who wants to follow their dream?

I guess it depends what they want in life and how they want to live and how bad they want it (and if they are good at it). You need balls. I have had to start over several times in my life and I am not afraid to do it again. I can be happy living in my van or owning this crazy western town I have now. If it all went away tomorrow I would just ramble on. You have to generally love whatever it is that you do and it will happen for you if you want it bad enough. I think you also have to learn to live simply and you will probably have to give up a lot of weird habits (like shopping) but then you realize that they are just habits and learned behaviors once you have done without them for a while. I used to think I had to “go” get coffee every day or I would go crazy but it’s not true. I purposely don’t want my business to grow to the point where I am glued to a desk or a phone or a computer. I used to do EVERYTHING including print the shirts. I think it is a good idea to know how to do everything in case something or someone falls through but then my life became less enjoyable because I was always printing shipping labels or running to post office and fedex, I didn’t have time to design or be creative and I realized I was missing out on so much so I partnered up with my factory and gave him half of my company just to buy myself time. I need money and I like money but not enough to spend my entire life chasing it. I make enough to pay my bills and get groceries, that’s it but I don’t care. Instead of buying a bunch of shit with it I bought freedom.

What inspires you the most in life to push Bandit Brand forward?

I’m just inspired so much in general. My Bandit Town is inspiring the shit out of me. It’s unreal. This whole area around here is beautiful. I see a bald eagle family almost every day. Ride Horses, fuck around in the lakes…

You have some great people working around you? (Models and photographer) How did you meet these guys?

For models I find them everywhere. Through friends or I find them walking down the street… one girl worked at the pizza place in town and I just asked her, I ask people at concerts.. anywhere really. We have all become good friends now and I tend to work with the same people and just add a new friend in the mix once in a while. My photographer is Michael Schmidt and he shoots entirely with film. I found him when I saw a photo he took that I liked. I emailed him how much would it cost to shoot for me and he was really expensive so I told him “shit, I can’t afford you” and he wrote back “fuck it” I’ll do it for gas $ and film and we have been inseparable since. He is the only person I KNOW will nail it EVERY TIME. I don’t even pay attention at the shoots anymore because he knows what i want. Our shoots are just big parties at my house or somewhere fun that last 2 or 3 days.

What inspired you to open up Bandit Town? Tell me more about it.

I found it on accident. I was driving up to a Ghost Town with my friend Mitra from Midnight Rider who invited me to come up with her to work/play on a Shooter Jennings video. We stopped off at a bar on the way and I just happened to pick up a little real estate booklet from in front of the place and flipped through it and found the listing for the property. I was freaking out about how cool it was but couldn’t afford it. I carried around the paper in my purse for months and showed it to everyone. Then I hung it on my bulletin board and wished I could make it happen somehow… then I called to go see it and it was WAY cheaper than it said in the magazine so I went and looked at it. I cried when I saw it. I still can’t believe it’s real. I had no idea how I was going to pull it off cause I had like $100 in the bank but I wrote an offer and just found a way. I had to borrow money from several different people for the down payment and talked the owner into carrying half. It was for sale for like 17 years, I can’t understand why no one bought it.. all I can think of is it was waiting for me. I am utterly in love with every square inch of the place. I didn’t really have a plan for it until I saw it in person and now that I have lived there for a while I have come up with a real plan. We will have 8 guest rooms soon, a general store and a music venue. I’m sure it will evolve into even more. Right now we are just having weddings, concerts, horse events in our Arena and camp outs.

What’s coming up for you? Or are you concentrating on Bandit Town?

I have a collection coming out next month with full color art based on all of my favorite tees in my collection or that I have seen along the way and yes Bandit Town…

I like to ask people about their favourite things, so here goes: favourite alcohol, favourite book, favourite record

Always changing but right now it’s Margaritas, Confederacy of Dunces, Delta Swamp Rock Compilation,

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