Quality Control: Norwegian Wood’s Angie Johnson
“ISN’T IT GOOD, NORWEGIAN WOOD?”: Angie Johnson
Norwegian Wood feels entirely organic. A lot of it is, in the material sense of the word: designer Angie Johnson tries to use bamboo and organic textiles wherever possible, outsources knit and detailing work to small local suppliers, and recycles existing fabric, vintage and old surplus leather stock in her clothing.
Her business model is equally organic: she finds collaborators and suppliers through personal relationships and shared workspaces, and she sews and assembles each piece herself, only occasionally contracting friends to deal with a particularly large order. Even after releasing collections with Top Shop and Anthropologie, her own flagship boutique is a little joint you might have heard of called Etsy.
After running downtown boutique and gallery Headquarters with husband Tyson Bodnarchuk, she gave up on bricks-and-mortar retail, especially after the city ripped up the sidewalk in front of their store for two consecutive summers. “Nothing’s in your control,” she complains. “I enjoy a lot of parts of working for myself, but the biggest one is just knowing that I can make decisions that I believe in.”
This fierce protectiveness of her vision is paramount in Johnson’s business decisions, and part of why she keeps Etsy as her base, where she has complete control over her brand. “It’s just a really, easy, good way to have a store. They’ve really got it set up. They know what they’re doing. They’ve been doing it for a long time.”
While Johnson was excited about her high-profile collaborations with the big chains — these are, after all, the kinds of moments that define a growing designer’s career — they were not without their difficulties. “It was just relentless,” she admits. “I had to send product every week, and I don’t work on the kinds of margins that they work on. I don’t make my stuff in China.”
Her refusal to produce clothing off-shore stems, as ever, in part from a desire for control over the final product, but also from a recognition of the fundamental shabbiness of mass-produced garments and their consequences.
“You know, you’re not paying dollars for it, but you’re paying for it. You’re paying for it with the environment. You’re paying for it with, like, turning a blind eye to people’s working conditions,” she says. “Like, YOU’RE not physically giving the dollars for it, but the world is paying for it. It can’t last forever.”
While she readily admits to occasionally caving to the allure of the mass-produced fast fashion piece, she says that she usually regrets it, especially since they are notoriously poorly made: “Being someone who makes clothes, I’m always like I SHOULD HAVE JUST MADE IT MYSELF.”
Continuing, she adds, “What really did it for me was having a period when me and my friends were having a lot of clothing swaps, and you’d look at the reject pile that nobody was taking, and almost everything was the cheap stuff, the cheapest hoodies and t-shirts and tops from every whatever store. Like nobody wanted it, it looked so out of date, and it was just super-trendy and cheap quality. And if I needed a more obvious reason not to buy that shit…”
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