Johanna Howard on Swedish design, Alpaca wool, and pastries | Burrow

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Johanna Howard on Swedish design, Alpaca wool, and pastries

Johanna Howard is the creative force behind her eponymous home textiles company. She’s a Swedish-born designer who, after years of experience in the fashion industry, decided to strike out on her own with a philosophy based on a close relationship to materiality and a reverence for Scandinavian design heritage. Before the release of her collection with Burrow, we sat down with her to learn more about her background, inspiration, and her experience as a Black woman running a business in a historically white and male industry.

Can you tell us a little bit about your background, and how Johanna Howard Home came to be?

My background is actually in fashion. I worked for a lot of fashion companies for many, many years. After we had our daughter, I decided that I wanted to do something that I have a little bit more control over, more creative control, and also wanted to build something that felt sustainable. I also feel that it's nice to be able to work with things and design products for the home, where people can actually enjoy them every day. Things that are sustainable and have long lasting quality.

We read that you were raised in Sweden. Do you think that has an influence on your style?

I grew up in Stockholm, Sweden. And I definitely feel that growing up in Sweden has influenced my design aesthetic. I favor brighter, lighter colors. I like the whole Scandinavian modern, clean textiles and shapes, and lots of graphic patterns. I love stripes. I'm also influenced by the coastline outside Stockholm, which is beautiful. We have a gorgeous archipelago outside, beautiful islands. So anything that has water influences, like colors, I favor as well. And I think that's because growing up in an area surrounded by water was very important to me. I also have a silly love of nautical flags ever since as a child, growing up again, with boats, and I just thought that all these nautical flags were so exotic, and they were very graphic and colorful. So actually, a lot of our pillows and some of our throws have a nod to nautical flags.

But your studio is in New Jersey, right?

Yes, we're very excited. We just moved into our new studio. It's part of this old historic building in East Orange, New Jersey, called Manufacturers' Village. And it dates back to the 1860s when it was the original building for Johnson and Johnson, when they first opened up their first factory here in New Jersey. And now we are part of an artists' collective here, so we are basically surrounded by really cool creative types, which is great and that was the reason we moved in here.

But your studio is in New Jersey, right?

Yes, we're very excited. We just moved into our new studio. It's part of this old historic building in East Orange, New Jersey, called Manufacturers' Village. And it dates back to the 1860s when it was the original building for Johnson and Johnson, when they first opened up their first factory here in New Jersey. And now we are part of an artists' collective here, so we are basically surrounded by really cool creative types, which is great and that was the reason we moved in here.

One of the ways your work is unique, is that you use materials like Alpaca wool in your products. Can you tell us a little about that?

So, alpaca is an amazing fiber. It's sustainable, it's very warm, and it's hypoallergenic. It's also very, very soft. And the good news is that, we feel like it's actually becoming more and more popular. You know, cashmere has been the leading fiber in the luxury industry for so many years. And cashmere is beautiful, of course, but it actually is kind of harmful to nature because like where the Cashmere goats are being raised, in Mongolia, they are almost too big of herds. So they are actually devastating the environment in that part of the world. Alpaca are actually much more sustainable animals. A kind of interesting fact is that they actually have toes on their feet instead of hooves. That means when they are treading on the ground, they don't actually disturb the plants that they eat. So, when you have like thousands of Cashmere goats kind of trampling over the steppes in Mongolia, they're gonna come and destroy whatever plants are growing on the ground. But alpacas are lighter on their feet. So they are actually giving back to nature, in a way. They act like a lawnmower, instead of like, you know, like someone who's digging up the ground.

Johanna Howard Home is a family-run business, with you and your husband and your daughter. But we also wanted to know what it's like to be a Black woman, running a design business, in an industry that's typically both very white and very male?

It's been very interesting. A lot of the times, we are the only company on the floor of a trade show that's actually owned by a Black woman. So I kind of call myself a unicorn, in a way. Especially lately, it definitely has gotten us more attention, which has been interesting. But I think the best part of that is we do stand out in the crowd, and I've always wanted to stand out in the crowd, just because, you know, my designs and everything too. But I think also, you know, we can be a trailblazer. And we're already getting those kind of inquiries from young designers. So, if we can pay it forward to other designers, product designers, I think that would be great.

We're proud to carry a limited selection of Johanna Howard Home designs.

Shop the collection here →