Toronto·Our Toronto

'Don't tell me to smile': Toronto fashion designer finds new way to speak out on women's rights

A Toronto fashion designer does more than make sure her clothing fits just right. Hilary Macmillan's pieces also send a message.

Hilary Macmillan says she was inspired after attending the Women's March in Washington, DC

Macmillan's designs have been worn by well known Canadians like Kim Cattrall, Elisha Cuthbert and Natasha Negovanlis. (Grant Linton / CBC News)

A Toronto fashion designer is doing more than make sure her clothing fits just right.

Hilary Macmillan's pieces also send a message.

As the MeToo movement and the fight for equal rights grows louder, Macmillan wants women to not only talk about it, but also wear it.

Her recent collection of varsity jackets started with one that had "feminism" emblazoned on it. Another has "equal pay" written on it.

And then there's one with the words "don't tell me to smile" written in capital letters across the shoulders.

Hilary Macmillan's jacket stitched with the phrase 'don't tell me to smile' has been sold across North America. (Grant Linton / CBC News)

Macmillan says that design came to mind after having a conversation with her friends.

"We were talking about how men approach women and tell them to smile," Macmillan told CBC's Our Toronto, airing Saturday and Sunday at noon and Monday at 11 a.m.

"It's not always malicious, but it's only directed at women and it's inappropriate because we aren't props."

Macmillan says she has always been interested in women's rights, but felt especially inspired after attending the Women's March in Washington, D.C. and Toronto.

"I loved the vibe of that community coming together and supporting the women's movement," Macmillan said.

"We saw marches up and down Queen's Park and University. You could feel this energy that people were starting to talk about it more."

Macmillan thought that if feminism was a hot topic, maybe there was a market for feminist clothing.

She started with slogans on accessories like tote bags and pins, and then moved on to the jackets.

Macmillan says when she wears her jackets around Toronto, people stop to give her high fives. (Grant Linton / CBC News)

"I wanted to create something that I would wear to show the world that I was interested in women's rights and getting equal pay," Macmillan said.

"I made these jackets, got some samples done and my friends loved them, so I started to mass produce them."

Macmillan's designs have been worn by well-known Canadians like Kim Cattrall, Elisha Cuthbert and actress, writer and singer Natasha Negovanlis.

Two years ago, she made a commitment to making her brand free of cruelty to animals, no longer using leather, fur, exotic skins, or feathers in any of her garments.

Many of her clothes are made here in the city at her studio on Carlton Street.

Macmillan says she does sometimes face a backlash online, but for the most part, people are very receptive in Toronto.

"Most of the time I get high-fives."

Down the road, the designer hopes to expand the jackets to a men's line, to encourage male allies to spread the message. Macmillan says the industry is always evolving.

"There's a big movement for size inclusivity, more diversity in runway shows and campaigns as well as different body types," she said.

"Change doesn't happen unless the conversation starts happening."

Watch Our Toronto Saturday and Sunday at noon, or Monday at 11 a.m. on CBC Televsion