Rebekah Johanson is the founder and proprietor of Lines & Current, a brand that focuses on quality headwear, eyewear and jewellery. I briefly met Rebekah at the Scandinavian Christmas Market hosted at Kaffe O a couple of weeks ago and having dabbled with apparel before, was intrigued to know more about her lifestyle orientated brand. Where it all began, how it has grown, collaboration and the future.
This conversation was recorded in LOFT as Rebekah prepared to ship off the final orders for Christmas. We talked about inspiration, process, ethos and the day to day for Lines & Current.
DB: Where does the name Lines And Current come from?
RJ: Okay, well with the whole business, I know for me, I want to inspire people to do something that's like, " Working hard to keep it simple." That's the tag line, it's not mine or anything but it's brilliant! That really is the essence because I'm so messy, probably a little bit like you on the artistic end where it's not second nature to me to keep life simple but I know, maybe because of my stage in life, when things become cluttered and messy, I'm in a fog. With this brand, I want to inspire people to keep things simple and that's reflected in the word "Lines".
Also at the start, I was doing a bit of typography myself, so the "Lines" was part of that. It has evolved over the year to kind of leave that because I've had to become Mrs. Business head, just to make things work. I have left the more hands on artistic side. "Lines" reflects that inner wanting to do something that's minimal. So establish your lines and then move onto the current. And "Current" reflects that more boho side of me and I think everyone else. Tapping into possibly the spirit or that generous side of people, that's where the giving comes in. It's like the unpredictable aspect of water, the current.
DB: So it's not like fashion lines and the idea of something being current?
RJ: Yeah, it's not about trends, that is unfortunate because it has that connotation within fashion.
DB: That's kind of what I thought, just that it might have a sort of duality to it?
RJ: I guess what I'm doing isn't really about trends, in fact, I'd go as far as saying it's not at all. It's more about finding what works for you, keeping life simple, then that'll release this space. When you de clutter, take that day to completely get rid of the crap, all of a sudden you have this new found energy, this soul energy to just go and play and do what's important. I find when you do that and you're not bombarded with stuff you can access that generous side and that compassionate side.
DB: So did that happen first and then that concept sparked the desire to make the brand?
RJ: Yeah, I have been through the process several times in my life, last Autumn for example, I got rid of all of my clothes and just kept the things I loved. So that was a few months before Lines And Current started. I call it the wardrobe diet.
I think you can live in this tension of thinking, "I don't have enough stuff." I just lived through that and have gradually filled my wardrobe up since the with stuff that I actually wear and like. I found that the space that released for me was powerful space. I would have had to scramble to create the type of creative space that gave me. I know it's a little bit fluffy but you have to have something to start, to go with it. I've found that to be one of the biggest things for 2015, just start and then move and evolve.
DB: Had you done anything fashion related previously or?
RJ: I did arts related stuff so I didn't go to art college like I thought I would. I ended up going to Canada and meeting a guy, who then became my husband. We came back here and I did a degree which combined the role of spirituality and the arts together. I used the role of the arts to facilitate spirituality. That's what I wrote a Masters in. I suppose Lines and Current is like a messed up version of that?!
Whenever my kids both started school, that released some free time to start working with my husband who's a bit of a serial entrepreneur. So he's like dabbling all the time in different things, sometimes they fail and sometimes they don't.
DB: What sort of stuff is he doing then?
RJ: Well he runs a property management company so that's the bread and butter. Then he started DIY property management and I watched him do this. He put all this money into a programme so that people could do it themselves. That's just one example. He's been doing a lot of selling online, for around four years now. I learnt that e-commerce world from watching him and then I became involved with selling products online.
Last year we took a business trip to China together. It was a big deal because we hadn't left our kids before and stuff but something happened on that trip. Something clicked inside me and gave me some kind of intangible confidence. It wasn't like it was a product search or anything
DB: That's what I was going to say, it wasn't sourcing product or anything then?
RJ: I actually missed the fashion part of a big trade show that goes on there every year. I was gutted, that's so stupid because it's what I love. Interestingly, it didn't matter because it was about the other side of it. In terms of the product, that all happened in the new year anyway.
So that trip was last Autumn with John. Then in the New Year I launched Lines And Current with one product, the HETTA hat have you seen it?
DB: Yeah, yeah it's sort of diverse, multiple ways to wear it...
RJ: I found the idea of that whenever I was in China then I guess over the next few weeks after getting home until January, worked on finding a supplier that could make it with the wool content. I got loads of different samples, found one that I loved and launched it with a Paypal button. It was scary just like, oh no you're taking yourself so seriously with your hat. (Laughing) With your weird hat.
And you just do it. However many I had sold straight away, overnight. And then over the next two months, I sold 200.
DB: That's amazing.
RJ: Then I'd be seeing people on the street who I didn't know wearing them.
DB: That's the best thing. Me and Orla from Kaffe O chatted about that, it happened during our conversation a guy she didn't know had a Kaffe O beanie on at the bus stop outside the shop.
RJ: That's cool.
DB: Obviously your husband directly has influence with the business side of things. Are you concerned with following trends?
RJ: My problem with trends is that it's so fast. That's not what I'm about. I'm about slow, because fast fashion is going to have a negative impact on the planet in terms of landfill. On top of that, the items are going to be produced really really fast and the people working on it, the supply chain, who knows how that will effect them? I'm more concerned with high quality. The slow fashion movement.
I feel like I can read trends reasonably well. I feel because I know exactly what I like quite quickly, possibly a little bit before the average person in that sense, that has meant I've been able to present something that people have engaged with and it's resonated with people. That Elska necklace and the Alma choker, sorry you probably don't know what they are?
DB: No, I do actually (laughing)
RJ: Well, H&M have them and I thought I was so ahead of the game, like, here's my designs. Thinking I'm presented something new to the world but I'm not. It's already out there but I have somehow absorbed those images from whatever's going on in this universe and brought it together into my wonderful design. It's already there but I love that because it shows what I'm presenting can just be something people like and want to buy. I don't have to be the coolest.
DB: Yeah, it's more lifestyle orientated in that sense. Well that's interesting, it's probably something we'll touch on at the end about moving forward but just seeing that it's mainly headwear and accessories, do you ever think that it'll evolve into making apparel?
RJ: I would love to, believe me. Whenever I was shaping what I thought Lines & Current would be, I was fascinated by the idea of the lines and the flow that is the current. I was seeing long, tailored, oversized jackets and that's what I was feeling compelled towards. Whenever I started with something that was only about 73p to post so that's how it got into accessories and one thing leads to the next, everyone loves accessories and the return rate is so low. I just moved with that and had to evolve my original idea for apparel from there.
DB: You assume responsibility for all aspects of the business then in terms of processing orders, shipping stuff out, contact?
RJ: Yes, I want it to be so user friendly. I want the customer to have a wonderful experience and come back. You could pay £100 on ASOS for an item but that £4 shipping fee sucks! (Laughing) Its the mindset I know because I'm a normal girl, I understand that. I want to free people of those annoyances in my business.
DB: So what other creative endeavours are you involved in then? Before we hit record, I mentioned the video I came across of you and your sister with the New Portals stuff. Have you always had an inclination towards music as well?
RJ: Always. I grew up with it and my brother as well is a singer songwriter. My sister Ruth and I were always...
DB: What name does your brother perform under?
RJ: he does a little bit. He's Andrew Briggs. He used to a lot but he does stuff here and there now. We've always had that singer songwriter-ish thing going on. We've always had that sort of creative yearning. I know everyone isn't like that because I'm married to someone who isn't that way.
DB: Even if you aren't terribly confident you kind of have an itch to give things a go almost?
RJ: Yeah, yeah...
DB: Would you perform with your sister then?
RJ: If I had time but I don't have any time. Maybe in another life, yes. In the best case scenario I'd probably be song writing. I love writing but it's the time and I can't do everything so I live through her a little bit.
DB: Vicarious musical life...
RJ: Very much. I don't know if that's terrible but I definitely do. There's no competition with us like genuinely I'm so happy with her success. I feel like she's with me too in that so I do live through her.
DB: Yeah, funnily when I got chatting to you in Kaffe O, I thought Lines & Current was you and your sister.
RJ: Oh yeah people think that it is. Well, she is my photographer for a lot of things. My relationship with Ruth is such a treat in that respect, it's wonderful because I could get anyone to take photos but I want a lot of my photography to be faceless, I guess. I don't want it to be about me at all and I'm not being humble, I want the people to look at the pieces and say that's something I could wear everyday. Not, doesn't she look nice? That's not going to help the brand, it's not about that. It's not about the ego.
DB: Yeah, I'd agree and probably say in my experience if I've ever worked with my brother, and from what you're suggesting, there's a connection that's deeper than asking someone you don't know to take photos as an example...
RJ: Yeah and she's totally honest with me and that's not flattering. You know in ways that others won't know she knows me and will know those little intricacies that'll push it to the next level. Someone who doesn't know me won't be able to capture the product in a way that connects me to it in a good way.
DB: That sort of leads into my next question about collaboration pretty well. You've done more than a few and there's a little section on your site you can go through. What have they been like? Is there an online back and forth or is it always someone you know? What's that process like?
RJ: Can I just say as well, Ruth, my sister and her husband, in all their years in the music scene in Belfast, they have always collaborated and I definitely think they've inspired me to do it now that I have my own little creative baby. I've just seen how they've been able to generously give their songs to other musicians who then have success with it or bringing others on board to work on a song. It's just that give and take I really like.
In terms of what I've done collaboratively, people ask you to write for their blog and I've done that. That's a no brainer. It's going to get people to your site so that's brilliant. Ben from Angel & Anchor did photography with us in February. I've worked with Aly Harte. A like minded girl, artist, of course we collabed together and then with Ruth. We just became friends, being at the same step of life, mums, the juggling act, complete chaos and mess. How can we tie all of this together? Let's make a hair ribbon. Ruth, Aly and I got together and we made these ribbon hair ties that I just really love. That product is so everyday, it's so functional and better than the average hair tie.
DB: Yeah it probably feels like should be there, it's not some outlandish accessory. It's simple...
RJ: Yeah, totally. And that community side really excites me. It's something that I never thought would happen but it has. Gaby Llewellyn is a writer who wrote a piece on Lines & Current. Then This Must Be The Place...
DB: Yes, I've seen their stuff...it's a cool site.
RJ: It's a wonderful platform. A lovely little vision they've put together. They're just celebrating other people, it's so kind.
DB: Yeah it's quite selfless. It's something similar to what we're trying to curate by talking to creatives in the city and hopefully pushing that further afield. Off the back of the collaborative side of things, how has Lines & Current developed over it's lifespan, almost a year now?
RJ: I had the little button on Facebook for two months. Every time I got a sale, it went through my husbands Paypal and it was just a nightmare. He would then forward me the email so I wouldn't miss it. So then in March started the online shop. And that's been amazing for me although the template I use can be restrictive but it serves it's purpose.
I try to process orders three times a week so that people are getting it fast enough. I do that when the kids are in bed because it's not creative enough. It's terrible for mess I'm caught now in the stage of wanting things to be personal. So I write thank you notes on every single one but how can I sustain that when it gets to a certain stage? I'm okay with growing. Some people have said don't you just want to stay small because there's integrity there. Yes and no because I'm fine with taking on the world and if you do that, you can give back.
DB: Yeah I suppose that's the idea, you wouldn't have started it if you didn't think it would grow. It's almost a backwards way of looking at it.
RJ: Yeah so that's the processing which is a few hours a few nights a week. But the mornings, because I do the school collections in the early afternoon, is all about strategising and trying to realise ideas. How do I make these ideas happen. It's contacting suppliers, designing...
DB: Would you ever be comfortable handing over the reigns to someone else?
RJ: Well yeah, I mean there are other things that are more important to me but I'm in the process of creating, I hope, a strong brand. What would be the point of handing it over to someone who doesn't really understand the brand. That would be silly. But I'd be happy to work with someone maybe a few years down the line...
DB: Yeah I suppose it's like you said before about having your own little creative baby and maybe you grow that to a certain point and you have to let go, or maybe what I'm trying to say is there is a good time for those things to happen. To leave something. We touched on the giving aspect before. 10% of profits going to a chosen charity...
[Rebekah's phone chimed with a cash register notification at this point indicating a sale]
So 10% of that will be going to charity (Laughing)
RJ: Yeah, these are Friday's sales. These people are living life on the edge right now trying to get things before Christmas.
DB: How important is that ethical approach, having integrity in your brand, doing for others and not just yourself. It's very transparent and it's something not everyone does so it sets you apart a bit, I feel.
RJ: It's part of the miminalism that the brand represents because you only need a certain amount of stuff and then your life becomes cluttered. I don't need so much stuff, that's not what I'm about. I'm about living as minimally as possible so that I can release. I don't know if I should be saying this but I'd love to give way more than I do because once you have enough then why not give to others? That's what the "Current" is, and I think other people want that release too. We experienced that on the Black Friday weekend. Instead of giving our customers discount that weekend, for two days, we gave 30% instead of 10% to charity and sales were incredible!
Peoples actually want a way to give but they don't know how to sometimes. I have found it really hard to choose charities as well...
DB: Who is your current charity?
Storehouse. I kept it local for Christmas and it was a bit of a risk because I want to extend into the UK market and how would that UK customer feel about giving to a local Belfast charity? I just went with it and they're having this night where they give hampers out to local families living on the poverty line. They're like normal families in normal houses and you wouldn't even think it would be their situation so it's really cool to be involved with.
DB: Yeah that is really cool seeing the more unseen side of it and helping that way. And what's that process like, choosing charities?
RJ: It's just that part of business where you go with your gut and one conversation leads to another and then all of a sudden, you've got a day to decide. I like to put something in every order, whether it's stickers or a small pamphlet that connects the customer to the charity. I'd like to be a lot more responsible with it in terms of delivering the highest impact. I don't know yet. I'm just finding my way as a go with that.
DB: I suppose that vaguely leads into immediate and long terms goals for Lines & Current? Do you have the next charity you have lined up?
RJ: I would love to know because January is very soon and I don't know. I have a lot of ideas with working with anti trafficking campaigns overseas, at home and possibly something to do with the Syrian crisis. I partnered with No More Traffik in March and April and that was really cool. I really think that's important.
I have a product idea to work with an Indian tailoring centre. I'm going to produce a design for them to make this product for me and then sell it here and it funds their women. So with me buying a piece from them, it gives them work and then if I can make it work, release some of the profit? We'll see.
DB: In terms of product, are there new lines on the way?
RJ: I 'd love to but I know that the collection I have really works here. It's a strong collection so because the rest of the U.K. is still untapped, it probably makes more sense from a business perspective to just bring what I have to the unreached in the U.K. and Europe. I can't help but want to produce more because I'm creative and I have so many ideas. I really want to do a bag, I really want to do t shirts but I know that the brand is still in its infancy so it'd be wiser to go that way.
I definitely am bringing out a new jewellery collection. I have around 4 or 5 designs underway. What I do is wear the samples myself and make changes after I've worn them for a few months so there's a few going on. I'm not going to have a hugely cluttered store so once other items have sold through that will make way for new stuff.
DB: So where the best place to interact with the brand?
RJ: Instagram is where I'm at. I appreciate Facebook has been good to me but if you want to get me, it's Instagram.
DB: Cool, well I think we've covered everything, thank you!
RJ: Thank you!
The time has passed to pick up a piece of Lines & Current for Christmas but you can treat yourself by clicking through here for the New Year. Cheers for reading.