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Our Designer

An Interview with our Designer, Angie Johnson:

     

What are your earliest memories of making art, homegoods and fashion? Did you always want to be an entrepreneur? 

I’ve been creative from a very early age, and was very lucky to have many ways to explore it in our household. From a basement full of dress up clothes and boxes for fort building to the more classic art supplies, I had many creative outlets available to me. My sister and I shared a bedroom and had a small table with two chairs with shelves full of art supplies above it. Having an area entirely devoted to arts and crafts, with all the supplies ready for us to grab without the help of an adult allowed us to explore in a no pressure way. 

My mom taught me sewing and embroidery from a very early age as well. Family legend says that my mom apparently thought giving a toddler a pile of pins and a pincushion to stick them into was a great way to keep them occupied. I mean, I never ate any so I guess it all worked out. 

One of my earliest memories is working on some embroidery on the couch before going to a family event. I must have been about 5, and it must have been a fairly special event, because I was wearing an orange hand-crocheted dress with a black velvet sash that had been my moms in the 1950s. I accidentally sewed some of the dress into my embroidery, and instead of cutting my embroidery…I cut the dress. I’m not sure anymore if this is one of my earliest memories of making art or one of my earliest memories of instantly regretting something I had just done. 

How did you come up with the name Norwegian Wood? 

When I was about 5 years old I got one of those kids record players (hot pink Barbie corvette themed) and suddenly had the ability to choose what music I listened to and when. I mostly had kids records, but at some point my parents gave me a few of their old vinyls to listen to, and one of them was by The Monkees. They immediately became my favourite band, and remained so until the sad day my dreams were crushed when I was told they were a made up band, created to profit off the success of the Beatles. My 10yr old response to that was “who the heck are the Beatles?” I then dove deep into my parents 8-track collection, which included the double albums “1962-1966 -The Red Album”  and “1967-1970 - The Blue Album” and Let it Be (all fantastic primers for anyone who wants the cliffs notes of the Beatles hits). I proceeded to listen to both albums religiously, most often laying on the ground beside the family stereo system, hooked up to giant headphones since (unbelievably) everyone else in the house didn’t want to listen to the Beatles for hours on end. 

My family heritage on my paternal grandfathers side is Norwegian (I grew up eating Norwegian food at holidays and having many relatives with names like Obert, Inga and Ole) so when I heard the song Norwegian Wood I was instantly smitten and confused all at once. Such a mysterious song to a 10yr old. For years I analyzed the possible meanings of that song (this was pre-internet days) and the fascination stayed with me. Fast forward to 2006 when I was starting my company and brainstorming a name. Norwegian Wood came to mind and it’s felt right ever since. 

Has your family always been supportive of your design and entrepreneur aspirations? How have your parents helped you in becoming a designer and starting your own company?

They have! I learned how to sew from my mom, and I learned how to reverse engineer objects from my dad (who takes the term DIY to an entirely new level). My mom was actually the person who first suggested I start selling my clothing designs, due to my closet being too full. I was 15 and not yet able to drive, so she took me to my first appointments with shops to show them my designs. 

Did you go to school for art and design? What was your journey to starting Norwegian Wood?

I studied Fashion Design in Manitoba, Canada and received a Bh in Human Ecology from the University of Manitoba. While in school I started working for a denim brand called Silver Jeans in Winnipeg and stayed there for four years doing a variety of jobs. During that time I continued making/selling clothing to indie boutiques around the city (this is how I paid for my degree actually!) A few years later Montreal was calling, and I moved there to work in the fashion industry, which had more job opportunities. I spent a few years there designing for a variety of companies, started a boutique/art gallery in 2005, then started Norwegian Wood in 2007. Norwegian Wood took over completely in 2010

Is Lizzie your first Boston Terrier? How did Lizzie become a part of your life?

Lizzie is my second Boston Terrier! My first Boston was a sweet little girl named Mary that I got as a puppy. There was a regular customer at my old store/gallery in Montreal who often came in with their dog Maggie, a Boston Terrier who we also knew from an old neighbourhood we had just moved from. When we found out Maggie was having puppies we knew we had to have one of them, and my love for Boston Terriers began! 

When Mary passed away in 2019 we were not ready to jump right into getting a new dog yet, so I decided to foster dogs for awhile and joined the Boston Buddies organization here in SoCal. I made a promise to myself that I would help re-home five dogs before adopting any of them....Lizzie was #5.

Have you always been passionate about producing earth friendly products? What do you do in your personal life to be more eco-friendly?

Absolutely. When I first started out in fashion in the 90s I mainly used deadstock fabrics and upcycled vintage clothing. I worked at a thrift store during high school and again in university, so seeing the amount of excess humans produce was sobering. Later on I worked in the mainstream fashion industry and traveled to Hong Kong regularly for work. Seeing manufacturing conditions in countries with less strict environmental regulations was also very eye opening. I try to think of how we manufacture with a constant eye to reducing waste. I often base the proportions of the design on the measurements of the material I’m using, and save scrap material to be used in other designs. I also design from the viewpoint of product longevity. Removable covers on our headboards allow stains to be washed out, but also allow the client to switch the cover up to change the look of the room, without buying an entirely new item. Reducing waste in production is a great way to make an environmental impact, but I think it's also very important to create products that will last. 

Where do you find inspiration?

Literally everywhere! Lately I’ve been finding great inspiration from the colour combos of trucks on the freeway. The cab and container are often mismatched, creating very unique colour combos. Some of the logos are pretty fantastic too, and the natural distressing/fading that happens from years on the road is also perfect. 

Nature is a constant source of inspiration (gardening is one of my favourite hobbies), movies, art, etc...they're the cliched "usual suspects" of inspiration but valid nonetheless.