Big name brands tend to have started in big ways. Chanel, for example, got her start by galavanting with the elites who then became her biggest clients. For Dior, his brand created headlines around the world—mostly because of his daring fashion style. These legendary names captured immediate success because of the measures they had to take in order to get their name out there. But what about those who started small? Since the late 1990’s, there have been brands who started small but established strong foundations for their companies. They may not be as big as the Parisian couture houses, but their names already conjure up a fashion identity that can rival any luxury brand. Such is the story of Ulla Johnson.
Brand foundation during contemporary period
New Yorker Ulla Johnson founded her namesake label in 2000, around the same time that the contemporary market was emerging. Although she’s now a known name in fashion, her growth was both humble and steady. Prior to her opening her company, she grew up in Manhattan, born to a family of archaeologists. Through her travels and stories of her mother, she developed a love for textiles, which then led to a love for fashion. However, with her parents being scientists, they initially disapproved of their daughter entering the industry, but that never stopped Ulla. She then studied psychology and women’s studies and college. Upon graduation, she opened her eponymous brand.
She opened her label as part of the contemporary market—one that sells high-quality clothing sold at reasonable prices. With a good friend, she opened a store of women’s ready-to-wear which drew considerable commercial success but wasn’t given the attention a brand needs in order to survive. Eventually, a number of department stores started buying pieces from Johnson, which helped her brand grow exponentially. Although, her practices as a brand was not of the normal kind during the first few years. Instead of holding presentations and fashion shows, Johnson would carry garment bags to buyers’ hotel room so they can choose for themselves what to sell in their stores. It was only around 2014 that she started showing in New York Fashion Week.
Although she’s a contemporary label, Ulla Johnson also has people working for her in various parts of the world, similarly to how big luxury brands operate. Because she specializes in intricate and delicate pieces, she has artisans from countries like Peru, India, and China who manufacture her fashions legally. A lot of her knitwear, for example, are made by knitters in Arequipa, Peru, which is known for their knitted native costumes and fine craftsmanship. In India, the designer got hold of a factory that constructs many of her garments for mass production. All of her overseas operations are legal, having developed a strong relationship with many of the foreign artists.
Similarly to a lot of contemporary brands, Ulla Johnson relies heavily on the female consumer. She designs looks that are versatile yet identifiable, feminine yet with a strong sense of style. Her look is somewhat bohemian, inspired by her travelling background as well as the touches of foreign artisans. She’s become known for her billowy dresses, floral-printed pieces, and comfortable knitwear. With the utmost refinement, she transformed the hippie bohemian, world-traveller look into a Park Avenue favorite. At times, she’s also played with structured shapes and silhouette, making use of strong materials that she may have found through her travels.
Even during its first few years, the brand had already caught the eye of a number of retailers and department stores. Some of the first to hold her pieces were Steven Alan, Louis Bolton, and Barneys New York. With their help, awareness for the brand expanded tenfold, and the fashion crown soon took notice. In 2014, she ventured into e-commerce by opening her first online store, where customers in the entirety of the United States can order a piece from her easily. Other e-commerce sites that also sell Ulla Johnson are the prominent Net-A-Porter and Moda Operandi. Three years later, in 2017, she opened her first official boutique in Bleeker street in New York City.
With Hollywood filled with bright young star today, it’s no wonder that Tinsel Town has become an area where the brand has flourished. Several A-list celebrities have fallen in love with the Ulla Johnson look, and have worn the label from everyday life to highly-publicized events. One of the most famous admirers of Johnson is Oscar-winning actress Jennifer Lawrence, who once confessed at a talk show that her most favorite piece to wear in the world is a Ulla Johnson dress. Other stars to have worn the label are Rachel Bilson, Kate Bosworth, Ashley Greene, and Leighton Meester. Even more mature names like Sandra Bullock have also found pieces of the brand that are fit for them.
One may not be as familiar with Ulla Johnson as Hollywood and that fashion crow are, but soon, many people will come to embrace the brand. Their affordable looks of femininity and youth are some of the most beautiful fashions any label can offer.