interview by Laura Hensley
Manitoba born designer Angie Johnson is the founder of design label Norwegian Wood. Her handmade line consists of revamped vintage pieces and original designs all created her in Montreal apartment. When she is not sewing copious amounts of goods and running her own boutique Headquarters with her partner, Tyson (and of course reading Worn), you can find her on her blog hqgalerieboutique.blogspot.com, and her Etsy store I Heart Norwegian Wood.
When did you know you wanted to be a designer?
Since I was about 9 years old. I remember only colouring in the clothing in colouring books, and learning to embroider when I was about 6, and being really into the clothes in my mom’s old Betty & Veronica comics (I used to trace and then draw my own clothes on – I still have them!). I also did the classic “sew some clothes for your Barbies” before moving on altering the clothes I found in my grandparents basement in my early teens. Soon after that I started sewing from patterns, and when I was about 16 I started selling my designs in local boutiques. It’s kind of just always been there, so it was really never a question of NOT doing it, more of “in what WAY am I going to do this..”
Why did you decide to make the move from Manitoba to Montreal? How did that move affect your creative outlook?
I had always told myself that if my BF (at the time) and I broke up, I would move to Montreal, and lo and behold, we did indeed break up. My job in Winnipeg with Silver Jeans was going well and I wasn’t sure what to do. And then I met Tyson. We dated for a few months in Winnipeg, then he suggested that I move to Montreal at the same time as him, and the rest is history. Oh and now we’re engaged, whoa! Who knew that whole thing would work out so well!
It undoubtedly had a huge impact on my creative outlook. Winnipeg is a small city, with limited resources in terms of inspiration. When I moved to Montreal I got a job as an assistant designer right away. I learned a lot, worked with a great team, got to travel to Hong Kong and the States and work on designing from a different perspective than I’d been able to before. From that job I moved into a position at a new company as the head designer where I did a lot of traveling all over the world, as well as learning about the local manufacturing industry and business in general from my boss at the time. In the end, the move helped me reach opportunities that just wouldn’t have been possible in Manitoba.
What is the most challenging aspect of running your own business and design label?
Well, this is a pretty boring business-y answer, but cash flow is probably the most challenging thing! I remember being in entrepreneurship classes and the teacher would always be talking about cash flow, and saying how it was one of the most important things, but I didn’t really GET it until now. Basically if I get an order for 20 skirts or something, and I don’t have the cash flow to buy the fabric, I’m kinda screwed. Juggling everything so that there’s money to re-invest back into the business is a challenge.
What has been the most successful point in your career so far?
Hmm, it’s kind of hard to pin it down to one point… maybe I just get excited really easily, because I feel like I’ve had lots of great little successes over the past few years. But I think I actually feel like right now I’m the most successful I’ve ever been, because I’m finally doing my own line full time, as well as helping Tyson with the store. Some of the highlights so far I guess have been:
- Working with Susie from Style Bubble on a custom dress
- Having a bunch of amazing fashion bloggers from around the world blogging about my stuff and wearing it, it’s the hugest compliment in the world!
- Selling some leggings to Courtney Love (my 14 year old self would have lost it, my 28 year old self was ever so slightly more calm)
- Selling my very first item on Etsy to Todd Oldhams BF. Todd was one of my first favorite designers when I was about 11 so this blew my mind!
- Being at home every day just working on my own designs, it’s really great.
Do you think the age of online technology has significantly helped your company?
I literally say “thank god for the internet” almost every day, and I definitely say “thank god for Etsy” every day! I absolutely could not be running the business the way I am without either. Of the total sales I make each month, I would say only about 1-5% is to Canadians. So instead of limiting my sales to whatever businesses I could reach in person the internet allows me to reach the entire world, which is the “small” detail that allows me to be in business. So instead of having to move to a major city like New York or London and increase my costs, I can stay in Canada, but reach those fashion savvy customers in the bigger cities. Plus I really like reading blogs.
What is your best piece of advice for new upcoming designers that are trying to break into the industry?
Get some experience at an established company, but go in with a good attitude. If you have little to no experience, you’ll probably start off in a really shitty position (don’t worry, it’s normal!) but if you have a good attitude they’ll notice right away, and will give you some fun and interesting jobs and you’ll learn a lot. But if you go in with a shitty attitude, they won’t help you at all. Do that for a few years, and you’ll learn so much you’ll be REALLY prepared to do your own thing, if that’s what you want to do (some people decide they actually really like working for larger companies, which is totally legit too!)
Angie’s Top 10 fashion blogs
1 – Style Bubble
2 – Kingdom of Style
3 – The Coveted
4 – Bits and Bobbins
5 – luluandyourmom
6 – Karla’s Closet
7 – Jak and Jil
8 – childhood flames
9 – Disney Roller Girl
10 – That’s Just My Vibe