Hey Good Looking!
Almost an entire year has passed since I got to spend some live action time with my good friend Angie Johnson. She very kindly hosted my roommate and I on our first (and hopefully not last) trip to Montreal, Canada! I met Angie (like I have many of my close friends), through my soul-layering-sister Susie I believe during a party in the FW11 (10?) shows. She's a talented and genuinely beautiful person inside and out, which is reflected in the company she founded and runs, Norwegian Wood.
A true modern woman, she is part of the new breed of internet entrepreneurs who are injecting some sorely needed personality, in an industry lacking it. What I find most admirable is her sense that personality in fashion should not come with an insane price tag (high end designers) whilst still respecting the values of the suppliers and manufacturers who make her dream a reality (unlike ummm... almost everyone?). Her Etsy store has been a well-documented success story, which in a world of corporate fashion and outsourcing is incredibly refreshing. I decided to send her a few questions to dig a little deeper:
Well, I feel like growing up in a small town, from a young age I was surrounded by a lot of small businesses and very few corporations. It just didn't seem that crazy to have your own small business, which in the end was how things were EVERYWHERE 100 or so years ago, right? It's only been in the last 100 years that the idea of working for yourself became "crazy". So I guess I grew up with the idea that it wasn't such a big deal, and it just grew from there. I started my first business at age 16 when my mom said "hey you really have too many clothes, you should start selling some of the clothing you make, you wouldn't have to babysit so much then" and I haven't really stopped since then. I definitely had a stint (8 years I guess) working for larger companies, but that was an incredible and invaluable time, I learned a lot, which enabled me to run my own business in a smart way.
2. How do you hope to impact the world with Norwegian Wood and what are the main values of the line?
Wow, so much pressure! I guess just by offering something special and a little out of the ordinary at a price point that many people can afford I'm hoping to encourage people to have a bit more fun with the way they dress. Keeping the price point affordable is important to me though. It would be very easy to slip into my own little world of super intricate handwork and technique, which would result in some pretty elaborate and fun clothing, but it would be so difficult to produce and make a living off of that it would not be sustainable as a business. The clothing would be so expensive, and then only people with a large disposable income would be able to enjoy it. And that's not really the point of what I'm trying to do. The main point of the line is really to offer slightly off-kilter options to the average person. Mainstream high-street fashion is so homogenized lately...or so it seems to me. The internet has made it easier for people to find new things, but it's also made trends more "worldwide" so we see these big overarching trends across many brands. As a small company I have the freedom to find my own balance of being on trend and being in my own little world.
3. Manufacturing locally in Montreal is a very admirable part of N. W. I love how small designers like yourself are having an impact on the remnants of the manufacturing industry of Montreal (the 3rd largest apparel manufacturing cities in North America?). What are some of the main challenges and what can designers in LA and New York learn from your experience?
The main challenges for me are:- finding consistent, reliable and UNIQUE sources for my supplies (ie fabrics, trims, jewelry supplies, etc) This is an ongoing thing that is just part of the job I think. Sometimes I rest on my laurels too much and don't seek out new sources as much as I should though...that's a lesson for MYSELF!- finding reliable and high quality manufacturing. I do a lot of the work myself in-house, however when I get a large order I definitely need help. I've found that building real relationships with my contractors is the key to success in this area. Treating them with respect, being willing to pay them a fair price for their work and not pushing for unreasonable deadlines. Basically just trying to make the experience a pleasant and professional one for everyone involved.
4. Montreal seems to have a big DIY culture and spirit of independence, I'm sure partly due to Quebec's stance of remaining staunchly francophone. As an English speaking entrepreneur has this culture influenced your line, both in terms of design and business decisions?
I think this is a mindset I already had deeply ingrained in my, again from growing up in a rural setting. I didn't have a lot of cultural/artistic resources available to me, so if I wanted to learn something or create something I had to figure it out myself. So I was on that path early on, and I think that's one of the things that DREW me to Montreal in the first place...a meeting of DIY values.
5. One of the main attractions of Etsy in a world of little transparency is the true and direct impact a buyer has on a seller. It feels so beautifully personal and quaint for the internet age. How do you envision websites like Etsy etc, to keep evolving into more and more personal shopping experiences? What would you like to see more from this medium?
Well, I'm just in love with Etsy, and I think they have done so many amazing things for small business, and as someone whose been selling on the site for over 4 years I really see how much they've evolved and grown over that time. I would love for them to bulk up our "profile" section a bit more (ie. adding blog/instagram/video capabilities), even though they DID just improve that section. I just think unless you're really familiar with Etsy you may not even see that the profile area exists. I wish some of those things were more apparent upon first glance.
6. What keeps you going and what is you're favourite thing about what you do?
What keeps me going is that I can't imagine doing anything else, and have felt that way since I was a kid. I just love creating things, and fabric (and now jewelry) seems to be the easiest path for me to express myself. My favorite thing about what I do now that I have my own company is being able to make all the decisions, from what colour palette I want to work with to what model I use in the shoot. I really hate being told what to do.
7. If you could take an inspiration trip anywhere, where would you go?
Probably Japan, since I've never been before...but only if you come with me Brandon!
Thank you Angie, I love you. I will look forward to our Japanese inspiration trip!
|Images from Norwegian Woods new Spring/Summer 2013 collection|