Designer Interview Series: Angie Johnson of I Heart Norwegian Wood

Sunday, February 21, 2010

This is part 2 to the designer interview series. Because there a whole new crop of independent designers that are catering the young, hip, fat, fashionable women like me and you I thought it would be a good idea to give you guys a little insight into the person behind the clothes as well as some information on some new spring lines.
29 year old Canadian designer Angie Johnson is best know for her Top Shop line and the cage skirts she sells via her etsy store, I Heart Norwegian Wood. Her designs extend beyond skirts to fringe necklaces and harnesses. The great thing about Angie’s designs is that for an $5 surcharge she will create custom versions of her designs to fit most sizes. I have had the pleasure of working with Angie on two pair of custom leggings and she has been more then helpful and accommodating in the process. I am very excited to see what Angie has planed for the spring/summer seasons. Her etsy shop is currently closed so she can work on new projects but, it should be reopened March 1, 2010.

(Click read more to view my interview with Angie) 

Tiffany - Hello, thank you for agreeing to answer some questions. How are you doing today?

Angie - Quite wonderful, got a lot done in the studio, even had time to mop and eat some cookies!

Tiffany - Can you tell us a little about your background? Did you go to design school or are all of your talents and skills natural?

Angie - I have a degree in Human Ecology (kind of a more PC term for Home Economics) from the University of Manitoba, with a major in Clothing & Textiles, and a minor in Marketing. Before going to university though my sewing skills started at a very young age, taught to me by my mother.  It started with embroidery and handsewing at around 5yrs old, then just developed from there with lots of practice, barbie clothes, altering vintage clothes, etc. I took quite a few sewing classes from age 11-14, then home ec in high school, then I started my first line at age 16 (it was called Depth Bomb, yikes! It was raver clothes...double yikes!) which I sold in a few stores in the closest big city to me, and the rest is kinda history I guess.

Tiffany - What was the “spark” or the “light bulb” that went off and made you want to start your clothing line Norwegian Wood?

Angie - Well, as I mentioned in the last question I started my first line at 16, so I knew this was something I loved to do. I worked in the mainstream fashion industry from 1999-2008 as a summer student, then merchandiser, then asst. designer, then head designer (all the while doing mini collections on the side under my own various brand names) and then in 2008 the brand I worked for shut down, so I thought it was time to REALLY go for it, full time, full attention, full terrifyingness. 

Tiffany - Can you explain why you decided to call your line of clothing and accessories Norwegian Wood?

Angie - I'm a very "classic" Canadian in the sense that I'm a mix of many different ethnicities, but Norwegian is my largest percentage (paternal grandfather) so we've always had a lot of Norwegian foods and decorations around the house, and I really love the Beatles song and the Murakami book of the same it made sense for me, I had a variety of connections to it.  

Tiffany - How did you go about spreading the word about Norwegian Wood? Did Blogs play a roll in that?

Angie - Blogs played a huge role, but it all kind of happened by accident! I began reading fashion and home decor blogs while I was working as a head designer. I found it so much more inspiring to see what REAL people were wearing rather than models in magazines, and I became obsessed with finding bloggers who had a similar style as me, it made me feel like I wasn't crazy in terms of the style ideas I had. At the time I was dealing with sales reps who thought my designs were too crazy (ironically they were very toned down compared to many Norwegian Wood designs!) so finding these fashion bloggers was like finding proof, like "See, I'm NOT the only one who likes to mix patterns or wear a vintage band t-shirt with a super girly skirt!"

So being the big-mouth that I am, I just started participating in the conversations by commenting a lot on all my favorite blogs, and one day Susie Bubble was talking about a dress she'd been dreaming up, and I suggested she put in a request on Alchemy (a custom request element of Etsy) and she replied to me via e-mail suggesting that we work together to make her dress. The rest kind of grew organically from that. The one message I would send out to other designers RE this kind of "spreading the word" is that it MUST be sincere! Don't send out messages to a bunch of random bloggers. You need to take the time and start reading blogs, find out which ones you really relate to and love, learn about the person behind the blog (but not in a stalkerish way of course!) and if the opportunity to connect comes up, awesome. If not, then it's not meant to be, don't push the issue. A lot of designers and brand are now sending tons of stuff to bloggers willy nilly, but in my opinion that's not really the way to go about it, especially as an indie designer. And don't forget about those new/smaller bloggers out there, maybe they're going to be the next Susie or Tavi, who knows, you need to just read and be involved with what you're honestly into. The quality will rise to the top. It's as simple as that!

Tiffany - Why did you decide to sell your clothing on etsy as opposed to places like big cartel and ebay?

Angie - Well, I'd never heard of big cartel until I'd already started my Etsy store, and I have a friend (Supayana) who used to sell on Ebay and advised me against it. She used to sell on it but said that it's really not great for indie designers anymore. She's one of my great inspirations for being self-employed, so I trust her! 

Tiffany - I know that you have collaborated and done a line with Top Shop. Have you been approached to do any other collaborations with other brick and Mortar stores? If so how was that experience? 

Angie - No other brick and mortar stores, however I've now done two collections for online store Shrimpton Couture which have been wonderful. It's allowed me to work on some really elaborate one of a kind pieces using rare vintage elements and time-consuming hand work. Not something that I can do on a regular basis, but a fun project nonetheless!

Tiffany - In your future design collaborations do you think you will consider including pieces to accommodate plus size women?

Angie - When I'm doing collaborations with other businesses they set the parameters and I design within them. So they set the price point, target market, size range, sometimes even the general colour palette (ie. bright/colourful vs. more muted). So if a plus sized brand/store ever approached me then yes, I definitely would!  

Tiffany - When I approached you about creating some of your pieces in plus sizes for me you were extremely willing and helpful. In a world where so many people are unwilling to design clothing in plus sizes what makes you so willing to do so?

Angie - Well, I've had a pretty curvy shape since I was about 13, so I understand what it's like to not fit into certain things. While I'm not considered plus sized, I think that there should just be more options for all people of all sizes. We've gained a lot in terms of affordable clothing by clothing being mass produced, but what we've gained in affordability we've lost in quality of fit and variety of fit. I want to bring a bit of that quality and variety back. If I'm ABLE to do it, then why not, right?

Tiffany - Many designers and clothing companies are already featuring there spring/summer collections via look books. What are you plans for etsy store, I Heart Norwegian Wood, in regards to spring and summer? Can you give a little insight into your inspirations?

Angie - As always, I have big plans! I've added some new jewelry for spring (the wood/leather combo necklaces, named after characters from the Conan comics) as well as adding new colours in leggings, harnesses and fringe necklaces. The REALLY exciting thing though is more clothing! It's my goal for 2010 to really develop the clothing aspects of Norwegian Wood, starting with spring. My muse for spring is a futuristic girl, kind of like if there was some sort of apocalyptic disaster on earth, and humans had to leave for 100s of years, then come back and start all over and happened to find all the ancient ruins of earth, but had kind of forgotten what they are. So it's very modern, but with some ancient/geometric influences (mainly Aztec). I'm also working on purses, which I'm very excited about.

Tiffany - All of your designs are hand made by you. Is designing and creating a long process? How do you come up with ideas for your clothing?

Angie - Yes, it's absolutely a long process! Luckily I've found some small scale manufacturing here in Montreal so I've been getting help with some of my wholesale orders, otherwise I'd be totally swamped, especially with larger orders like what I did for Topshop. The beauty of the manufacturer I've found though is that it's right here in the same building as my studio, and they have all sorts of professional machinery that I can't purchase, so I get the best of both worlds: control over the quality, while freeing up more time for custom orders/Etsy orders and designing new things. 

As far as how I come up with my's a mystery to me even sometimes! They come to me in many different ways: in the middle of the night, through seeing an image of something and not exactly seeing it right (ie thinking it's something else) then realizing I'm wrong but liking what I THOUGHT it was....I'm also inspired by the fabric itself or an individual trimming a lot. 

Tiffany - What are you hopes for the future of Norwegian Wood?

Angie - To finish my own website, keep growing the business and product selection, have a few employees someday maybe, improve my resource list so I have fewer limitations as to what I can design (ie. use any types of fabrics, any type of construction method, any category of product)


Anonymous said...

She is FAB! Ans such a lovely lady. Can't wait to buy some of her stuff :D xx

vc said...

Thanks for sharing Tiffany, I have know of Esty for a while, but didn't really consider it as a source for fashion. Good to know there are great designer out there willing to work with their customers needs.

thefatandskinnyonfashion said...

Love her!