No room for divas: Angela Johnson on inclusivity in fashion

By Ashley Naftule, September 2019 issue.

If fashion in

Phoenix was a web, Angela Johnson would be the spider at the center of it.

She’s a born weaver of strands — connecting people together, sharing knowledge,

and stitching together a couture culture with the same care and grace she

applies to her own eco-friendly vintage shirt ballroom gowns.

Johnson is the co-founder of the nonprofit

501-c3 AZ Apparel Foundation and the Fashion and Business Resource Innovation

Center (F.A.B.R.I.C.), a fashion incubator.

Both organizations are devoted to

furthering fashion in the Valley of the Sun by providing up-and-coming

designers with the resources and institutional knowledge they’ll need to

succeed. She’s also founded LabelHorde, Arizona’s fashion industry directory.

In addition to designing clothes, she teaches classes on fashion. She’s also an advocate for reusable materials, gaining attention for designing beautiful dresses and outfits sewn together out of all old thrift store T-shirts.

We got a chance to talk to Johnson about

common misconceptions about her industry, what got her interested in design,

and what hot trends she thinks may hit the fashion world soon.

Echo: Outside of

the fashion world, where do you draw aesthetic inspiration from?

Angela Johnson: I usually pull from music. Pop culture is a big inspiration for me.

So, a lot of times when I’m designing a collection or just tiny pieces, it

almost always stems from hearing a song or a type of music. And I always go

directly to thinking about what a runway show would look like with that music

playing. And it’s always music that’s the complete opposite of what you’d

normally think of show music. 

It’s almost like

you’re having a conversation with pop culture — that fashion is in dialogue

with everything else that’s going on.

F.A.B.R.I.C. Co-Founders Angela Johnson and Sherri Barry.

What you wear is a

statement. It’s starting a dialogue about who you are, what you are, what

you’re putting out there in the world. So, it is like a conversation.

What first sparked

your interest in becoming a designer?

My grandfather was a U.S. district attorney in the Panama Canal Zone in the ’70s. I basically grew up with my grandparents. My grandma would host events: dinner parties and balls, formals, things for governors. She would dress up for all these things and then she held onto her clothes over the years. When I was growing up, I would play in her closet and get dressed up in all that stuff. When I became a teenager, I would take some of her clothes and do things to them: cut off a sleeve or shorten it and wear combat boots with them. I didn’t know how to sew or anything. I just knew that I wanted to use them and turn them into other things.

As someone who’s

worked as both a fashion professional and in education, what’s one of the

biggest misconceptions you’ve seen about the fashion world?

People often don’t understand the difference between making one shirt or dress and making a thousand of them. It takes more of a business brain to manufacture and make multiples of the same thing. Starting a brand of clothing is developing a product and just like developing any product, there’s prototyping involved, there’s technical engineering involved, there’s the sourcing of all of the materials they’re testing. It takes like six months to develop a full collection and then get it ready for manufacturing and then another six things to make the entire collection. It’s a yearlong process that costs hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Angela Johnson’s popular design — T-shirt Ball Gown. Photo by Nicolle Clemetson.

Is it that lack of

knowledge about the business side of fashion one of the reasons why you

developed your non-profit work in the Valley?

Absolutely. When I

was a designer in L.A., I would go to piece out each thing and manage the

production. I’d go to pattern makers and I’d take patterns to somebody who

sizes them called a grader. And then I’d take my graded size patterns to

another company to do the cutting. I’d pick up fabric from different companies

and deliver all the cuttings to the sewing factories. And there were all these

different factories and things to manage in order to produce larger quantities.

But when I moved to Arizona, none of those resources existed here.

That’s why I

created F.A.B.R.I.C. and the nonprofit: so that other designers in town can

find all the resources that they need under one roof. 

Over the last couple of years, we’ve seen a more inclusive spirit start to emerge in fashion — especially with the rise of plus-size clothing lines. Do you think part of the reason why it’s taken so long for new voices to rise in the industry is that it has such a steep price of admission? That the buy-in is so large it’s hard for change to happen?

That’s exactly

it. The industry has been the same since manufacturing was developed. To make a

profit you have to make thousands and thousands of the same thing, and you have

it so cheap in order for it to be affordable. So, you end up using illegal

methods overseas in places where people don’t get paid what they should be so

you can afford to make a $20 H&M shirt. It’s a very unsustainable model and

you can’t be very niche within that model. If I wanted to make a big and tall

men line for people with one arm, something super niche like that, there’s no

way that I’m going to have enough sales to be able to meet that minimum at

giant factories overseas and make it cheap enough for my customers to be able

to afford it.

Do you find that

people in Arizona are supportive of these initiatives?

I think people have

this misconception about fashion being super cutthroat. And that probably comes

from movies and TV shows like Project Runway where they make it seem

like everybody’s a diva. But when I was in Los Angeles, I never experienced

anything like that. When I came to Arizona, I did find a bit of that attitude

from some designers at first, but I chalk that up to a lack of experience. A

lot of designers here don’t have industry experience, so they just think that’s

how you’re supposed to be. 

Are there any upcoming

projects you’d like to tell our readers about?

We’ll be doing a

fundraiser — a plated dinner gala — for our nonprofit on Sept. 28. It’s gonna

be called Fashioning Arizona’s Future and it’s going to be a futuristic-themed

dinner. And on Dec. 7, we have our annual LabelHorde fashion show that I’ve

been doing for 15 years. It features as many local designers as can find in one


We’ve just got one

more question. What are your predictions for upcoming fashion trends? What do

you think is going to pop in the fall and winter?

I haven’t had these

books that are called forecasting books that are there for our industry. So,

people in our industry get a sneak peek into the upcoming trends that you get

to see one year in advance. And these are so important to our industry that they’re

really expensive — they cost like $10,000 a season. So really only the big

brands get access to this information. 

It’s like a

science — these companies do some serious research into why the trends change

and what’s affecting them. They look at the haute-couture runway shows from

Paris, they look at the music festivals, they see what’s going on at every

level of fashion and bring it all together.  All designers use these books

as inspiration. That’s why you go shopping and everybody’s using plaid or camouflage

or whatever it is because they’ve all seen the same forecasting book. 

I’ve been so busy recently that I haven’t had time to pay attention to that. It’s kind of ironic: I have my fingers on the pulse of anything that’s fashion in Arizona for the last 18 years. That’s all I eat, breathe, and sleep. 

WhistlePig + Alfa Romeo F1

SHOREHAM, VT (September 13, 2023) — WhistlePig Whiskey, the leaders in independent craft whiskey, and Alfa Romeo F1 Team Stake are waving the checkered flag on a legend-worthy release that’s taking whiskey to G-Force levels. The Limited Edition PiggyBack Legends Series: Alfa Romeo F1 Team Stake Barrel is a high Rye Whiskey selected by the Alfa Romeo F1 Team Stake drivers, with barrels trialed in their wind tunnel to ensure a thrilling taste in every sip.

The third iteration in WhistlePig’s Single Barrel PiggyBack Legends Series, the Alfa Romeo F1 Team Stake Barrel is bottled at 96.77 proof, a nod to Valtteri Bottas’ racing number, 77, and the precision of racing. Inspired by Zhou Guanyu, the first Chinese F1 driver, this Rye Whiskey is finished with lychee and oolong tea. Herbal and floral notes of the oolong tea complement the herbaceous notes of WhistlePig’s signature PiggyBack 100% Rye, rounded out with a juicy tropical fruit finish and a touch of spice.

Keep readingShow less
by Spectrum Medical Care Center

Nurse Practitioner Ari Kravitz

When I started medical transition at 20 years old, it was very difficult to get the care I needed for hormone replacement therapy because there are very few providers trained in starting hormones for trans people, even though it’s very similar to the hormones that we prescribe to women in menopause or cisgender men with low testosterone.

I hope more providers get trained in LGBTQ+ healthcare, so they can support patients along their individual gender journey, and provide the info needed to make informed decisions about their body. I’ve personally seen my trans patients find hope and experience a better quality of life through hormone replacement therapy.

Keep readingShow less

Descanso Resort swimming pool and lounge area

Descanso Resort, Palm Springs' premier destination for gay men, just received Tripadvisor's highest honor, a Travelers' Choice "Best of the Best" award for 2023. Based on guests' reviews and ratings, fewer than 1% of Tripadvisor's 8 million listings around the world receive the coveted "Best of the Best" designation. Descanso ranked 12th in the top 25 small inns and hotels category in the United States. Quite an accomplishment!

Open less than two years, Descanso Resort offers gay men a relaxing and luxurious boutique hotel experience just minutes away from Palm Springs' buzziest restaurants, nightclubs, and shopping. Descanso has quickly established itself as a top destination for sophisticated gay travelers, earning hundreds of 5-star guest reviews and consistently ranking in Trapadvisor's top positions alongside brother properties Santiago Resort and Twin Palms Resort.

Keep readingShow less