Meet The Woman Behind Your New Favorite Summer T-Shirt: Chelsea McMillan of Sunshine State Goods

This week I got to have a chat with a friend from home: Chelsea McMillan. Chelsea speaks the language of Florida beautifully. As a fellow native, she knows a thing or two about the romance between a Floridian and sense of place. And style. Florida informs so much of my identity and aesthetic -- as it does for her. 

And she has channeled this orange-filled enthusiasm into her fabulous newly launched clothing line, Sunshine State Goods. Y'all, these clothes do Florida justice well, and will make you want to head South immediately. 

But enough from me. Here's Chelsea speaking directly about Sunshine State. Fair warning: you are going to want all of the things, and to be sitting on a boat somewhere in the Gulf of Mexico ... 

What's your first memory of Florida?

My parents bought a little house on North Clearwater Beach right before I was born. As a family we would walk on the beach to The Palm Pavilion back when it was just a little beach shack and I would always order a corndog and french fries. As a kid my goal was to eat as fast as I could so I could play in the sand while my parents finished their meal on the deck overlooking the Gulf of Mexico. 

You were a producer for the Oprah show. Which, for the record, I attended a taping of around 2006/07 and swore that I would not scream when she came out. I  screamed. Anyhow, how did you go from Oprah to moving back to Clearwater and launching Sunshine State™?

Basically, I’ve managed to jump from one cool opportunity to the next and each experience gave me insight into what I ultimately wanted to do. People always say “do what you love.” When I thought about what I love I always thought about the beaches in Florida. Since I couldn’t figure out how to make a living by going to the beach everyday, I decided to think of another plan. Before I moved back to Florida, I spent time living in Breckenridge, Chicago, Los Angeles and Atlanta. When I would walk around places like Venice Beach and little towns in Colorado, I saw so many people wearing cool apparel that positively portrayed their state. I realized there was a need for a modern apparel brand that represents the way I feel about Florida. I immediately started thinking of names. Almost as a joke I asked a lawyer if Sunshine State was available in apparel and I was thrilled to find out that it actually was. 

After living all over the country, why did you choose to return home?

When you are a “beach kid” you don’t realize until much later how special it was to grow up in Florida. In one day you can hop on a boat, explore an island and encounter 20 different kinds of amazing wildlife. I’ve loved living in different places, but there is something about the salty lifestyle in Florida that draws me back. No matter where I lived, I always called Florida home. I think in the back of my mind I always knew I would end up back in the sunshine state.

Tell me about your aesthetic for the line. What's your inspiration? 

The inspiration is the active Florida lifestyle. It’s sunsets, palm trees, flamingos and being surrounded by water. It’s surfing, boating, biking, fishing, paddle boarding and kayaking…it’s an expression of love for our beaches, surf, coastal waters and barrier islands. My goal is for people to feel a connection to the brand and what it represents.

It was very important for me to create super comfortable apparel that Florida natives (as well as visitors) would actually wear. A lot of the designs are vintage inspired and have a bit of an edge to them. The Sunshine State™ logo is an “s” that also creates a sunset in a retro design. I also wanted to create some fun shirts with sayings that mostly people who have spent time in Florida could relate to. During the summer in high school we would have island parties almost every weekend. I knew one of the first designs would have to be a shirt that just said, “Island Party.” I love how a shirt or hat can set the mood and give off certain energy.

Who did the design work? 

I collaborated with a few different designers who helped bring my vision to life. I sketched ideas and made a ton of vision boards. I found an awesome graphic designer who created my logo and most of the retro inspired designs.

Sunshine State™ will also highlight different designs from Florida artists. My first featured artist is Van Eggers who also happens to be my cool cousin. He is a super talented Cocoa Beach artist, skater and surfer. I asked him to come up with a "Space Coaster" design and he drew this amazing surfboard with intricate planets and waves. You have to see it. He is currently in school at Flagler and I was so lucky he was able to design it in between his crazy class schedule.

The “Florida Sunset” design with the waves and the state of Florida was an idea I initially sketched and my artist friend turned it into something amazing. It then took like 4 people to help me translate the hand drawn artwork into a vector graphic. I also came up with the square Sunshine State, Island Party and Boat Drinks designs… during this process I learned the basics of Adobe Illustrator and was able to create most of them myself which was fun.

Florida can get a bad rap. Is that undeserved? 

ABSOLUTELY. No state is perfect. There are so many amazing people and places in Florida that don’t get talked about enough. I love Florida’s natural landscape and wildlife ... and it makes me so happy to see people enjoying it as well as working together to respect and conserve it. Our state also has a rich history that I’m still learning about. When you think about cowboys most people think of Texas. I was surprised to learn that Florida actually has the longest history of cattle ranching of any state in the US. I love hearing stories about old Florida and every town has a different tale to tell. I celebrate our eccentric characters and unconventional places. 

Also, I was so inspired by the way the people of Orlando and Florida came together after the recent shootings. Don't underestimate Floridians!

A portion of your proceeds benefit The Florida Wildlife Corridor. Why did you pick that organization? 

As a former board member of the Florida Wildlife Corridor,  I was able to really understand the problems Florida’s wildlife face with our state’s growing population. I’m a huge supporter of their goal to connect, protect, and restore corridors of conserved lands and waters essential for the survival of Florida’s diverse wildlife. Their recent documentary, The Forgotten Coast: Return to Wild Florida, is a beautiful must see film. Part of the proceeds from all Sunshine State™ sales will go to support their mission to help #KeepFloridaWild. 

What's your favorite part of FL aside from the Bay Area? Is there a spot you haven't been to you want to check out? 

I would have to say my favorite is the Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge. When I was seven, my dad built a cabin there that you can only get to by boat called “The Swamp.” It is a magical part of wild Florida with springs, rivers and obviously tons of wildlife - manatees, dolphins, deer, bear, panthers, alligators, bald eagles, owls and even flying squirrels.

I just spent time in 30A with some friends and was so impressed with the area. We took a kickbiking tour through Alys & Rosemary Beach. The place is breathtaking. I actually just went to the website and apparently our photos are the featured images for those tours, lol.  Kickbike30a.com.

I think another motivation for starting this brand was so I could travel to all the different parts of Florida for work. There are so many fishing villages and beaches that are on my bucket list.

Favorite way to spend a beachy day:

In the water with a mask and snorkel. I still hunt for shells and critters like I did when I was little. My family calls me the “Scallop Queen” – I get obsessed when diving for scallops during the season. It’s like an underwater Easter egg hunt.

Who are your style influences?

I recently got to spend time with Holly Williams, a brilliant singer/songwriter/musician who also happens to be Hank Williams Jr.’s daughter. She has the coolest boutique in Nashville (White's Mercantile) and I adore her style. She seamlessly mixes country with rock n'. roll. I like to add a little preppy into the mix too. I love looking at old photos of Lilly Pulitzer; she had a great style and an incredible Florida success story. Her husband owned orange groves and Lilly opened a juice stand in Palm Beach. She kept staining her clothes with juice during work and designed a shift dress with a bright colorful pattern that would disguise the juice stains. Her dresses became more popular than the juice and the rest is history.

If you had a dream dinner party with famous Floridians (past or present), who would be at the table?  

This is a tough one. My obvious ones are Ernest Hemingway and Jimmy Buffett – they weren’t born in Florida, but I think if you own a house and spend enough time in Florida you are considered a Floridian…right? Tom Petty, Carl Hiaasen, Captain Tony, Kelly Slater. And let’s bring Lilly to the dinner party too. Add the Florida Highwaymen Painters -- what tales they could tell!

 In my Netflix dream Floridian dinner party I would invite John and Kevin Rayburn. I’m obsessed with the series Bloodline, which is about a family in the Florida Keys. I would want to talk to Kevin about why when John has everything almost under control he has to go and screw it all up again.  ;-)

Chelsea McMillan

Chelsea McMillan

For more on Sunshine State goods -- and to buy -- visit https://sunshinestategoods.com