First up, can you tell me who you are, and a wee bit about your business?
I am Joan Johnson. I formed Bespoke Fabrics in 2016, to offer creative and commercial support to both emerging and established brands. With specialist experience in the global luxury market, I have clients across Scotland and the UK.
Where does your passion for the industry stem from?
My passion for the industry has come from the product and the people. Having worked in the premium end of the textile business for over 25 years, I am passionate about what we make in this country. From Irish linen (Spence Bryson), to English woven silk (Stephen Walters) to Scottish cashmere (Johnstons of Elgin) wonderful produce has been at the centre of my creative journey. Rarely have I had to compromise on quality, even when pushed to meet a given margin.
Fortunate to have worked with numerous talented, inspiring people both as colleagues and customers, the journey from Designer to Manager to Director has been influenced by many along the way. In the last three years, I have worked with a diverse range of people in Scotland, Northern Ireland and England; supporting them on their creative paths. Recognising the value of our resources and developing a more sustainable future, I have also been developing a number of textile products with a Circular Economy approach.
Did you study? Where?
I have a First Class Honours Degree in Textile Design from Loughborough. Whilst I was working in my early 30’s I completed a Post Graduate Diploma in Business Management and more recently completed my MA in Design Management at Northumbria University. Whether through study or experience, I never stop learning.
What are you most proud of in your career so far?
There are many proud moments, but I guess one which always stands out was becoming the first female Board Director of Stephen Walters (a 300 year old company) at the age of 32, in an industry that has been and continues to be male dominated at a senior level.
Who are the influential figures you look up to for inspiration?
Inspiration comes in all shapes and sizes, from people who I have known from my English teacher at school – who transformed my lack of interest in Thomas Hardy to achieving an A in English Literature; to books such as “Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway” by Susan Jeffers (a mantra I use with my kids all the time); to industry creative influences such as the ultimate brand Hermes, who will not launch a product until it is absolutely perfect.
What exciting projects do you have in the pipeline for the near future?
This is a super exciting time right now, as I have developed a new sustainable textile product which will be launched into the market later this year. The last year has been particularly rewarding as the project was supported by Highlands & Islands Enterprise, Climate-Kic out of Edinburgh Centre for Carbon Innovation (ECCI) and more recently through Unlocking Ambition, the new entrepreneurial programme launched by Scottish Government.
What is your favourite thing about your job?
The freedom to operate without restrictions, connecting with people and achieving key milestones as the product has developed.
What does your workspace look like?
My work space is full of bundles of stuff, from fibre to fabric samples, books to prints and recent product development.
What is the biggest mistake you have made in your career so far and how could it be avoided?
One particular occasion I can think of is when I didn’t have the balls to say what I really thought, a learning experience which means next time will be different!
Who is your design inspiration?
My design inspiration comes from a range of sources. I love seeing new textile talent at New Designers. The London Design Festival is a must do for all things design. Visuals on Pinterest and unusual colour combinations found in random places - I take pictures all the time with the “Stop The Car” moments driving my family nuts!
What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
I would say there are three pieces of advice that have stuck with me
1. Read Dale Carnegie’s “How To Win Friends And influence People”.
2. Employ people who are better than you.
3. Leave toxic people behind.
What are you looking for from the textile industry currently?
Continued support in product development, as well as a genuine willingness to address change. Having worked with some truly inspirational Scottish companies in a diverse range of sectors, I’ve seen new ways of working such as “Hey Girls” addressing period poverty in the UK. As a social enterprise, for every pack they sell, they give one pack away. Celia Hodson who set the company up, pays all her staff the same wage, so transparency is at the heart of the business. As the company grows all the staff benefit. Business models such as these could prove to be transformational across not just textiles but industry as a whole!
Any final thoughts?
Across many sectors, Scotland is leading the way in supporting innovation. Inspiring people are emerging and new businesses are being set up disrupting traditional ways of working. It is such an exciting time to be a part of this, particularly in the textile sector and it will be fascinating to see how these innovative ideas and practices cascade into the more traditional sectors.
Find Bespoke Fabrics online:
website / facebook
Watch the interview with Joan Johnston on Unlocking Ambition.