EcoWalk. Interview with Designer Julionne Johnson of RIP Designs (Recycled Integrated Possibilities)
“I always try to think in a way that most people wouldn’t, while also keeping in mind that it needs to be wearable.”
Tell us a little bit about your background that lead you to where (who) you are today? Well I think the main thing is my yearning to want to stand out. I was born with Tar Syndrome which is a disability that makes one of my arms shorter than the other. A lot of times I was teased and made fun of by other children. As I grew up I started getting involved in different activities such as acting and directing and I did a little bit of modeling as well. For me what really gave me the idea to design was when some photographers did not want to shoot with me because of my appearance. It came at a shock to me and I was determined to do something to make me stand out. So I tried creating with fabrics and doing out of the box outfits. Then one day my sister was creating different shapes with paper and I got the idea to try making recyclable outfits. I did a tutu skirt and posted it on Facebook. The response was overwhelming and from there everything fell into place.
What is your favorite part of being involved in the fashion industry as a designer? I would say my favorite part is definitely the fashion shows. I love watching Project Runway and at the very last episode when they have the huge show I just watch and go that is going to be me one day. I was always get this incredibly feeling watching my designs on the runway and the audience’s reaction is incredible. Not to mention the dressing up and meeting all of the other talented designers as well.
How would you describe Recycled Integrated Possibilities (RIP) Design’s signature in one line? Out of the Box. I fuse so many unconventional designs together that most people just go wow. I always try to think in a way that most people wouldn’t, while also keeping in mind that it needs to be wearable.
Where did the idea to produce fashion made of recycled materials come from and when was the moment you knew that you want to do that? I would say my sister Nachele really sparked the idea for me to make materials out of recyclable materials. I took a Home Economics class in high school so I took a few sewing classes. My grandmother got me a sewing machine for Christmas and I tried to make a few designs, but it didn’t work out to well. Seeing my sister create the origami designs, I just thought it would be so cool to attempt an outfit out of paper. I think the moment I knew this was something I wanted to do was when I created that first tutu skirt. It was kind of a figure it out as I go design and once I finished it; I realized that it looked really good. So I thought why not try and do more.
What’s something that most people just don’t understand about your field? A lot of people think that designing with recyclable material is easy and honestly it is not. There is a lot of factors you have to take into consideration, like chemicals reacting to certain material, if I do this will the newspaper rip. I also think you have to be a lot more creative in the fact that the designs do not look like an arts and craft project, but actual fashion.
What are your most commonly used materials and why do you prefer them? How do you select the materials you use? Where do you get them? I have three materials I use in almost every outfit: tablecloth, tarp and trash bags. The reason for these is the tablecloth works very well under the sewing machine and allows me to manipulate it easily. The tarp I use a lot when I want to make structured designs and it is also very durable. The trash bags I love using when making gowns because it acts as tulle and really gives a nice fullness to my garments. The tablecloth and tarp I get from any store or dollar place. The tarp my dad actually gets it for me and it is actually used for turkey feed so it is a long process to get it fashion ready.
In your opinion, what are the advantages and disadvantages to work with recycled materials? Okay so the advantages to working with recyclable materials are when you have the unfortunate fashion snafus. The zipper on the dress pops off or an outfit gets too close to something sharp and rips. I can easily glue that zipper in or staple the hole closed. The disadvantages though is there is a lot of materials you cannot sew, therefore you have to figure out not only how to keep it together, but the best way to keep it together so the materials do not get messed up.
How do you want wearers to feel when they put on your clothes? For any of my clients, whether it is models on the runway or models for a photo shoot; I want them to feel like they can show off that outfit and not have to worry about it falling apart. Anytime I do a design I always go for that wow factor, something that makes it stand out apart from the fact that it is recyclable. My designs are mainly for the younger generation. I can do more mature outfits but my current clientele are those who are younger and want that outgoing kind of fashion.
How durable are your products; is it possible to increase their longevity? Do you offer an upgrading and/or a repair service to your customer? The durability of my outfit depends mainly on the material I am using. Anytime I make an outfit completely out of newspaper or magazine, it does not last that long due to the fact that temperature can affect it. Some of my other outfits like ones I make out of plastic or my tarp designs last a while. It honestly just depends on how well you take care of it. I have a newspaper boa that I made probably at least a year and a half ago and it hangs in my room and is still in very good condition. I currently do not offer an upgrading service just because most of my customers right now want designs for photo shoots, but that is definitely an idea I will keep in mind.
Can you explain a bit about your process of design, how does the process usually go? Do you come up with concepts for designs first or is it more of an unplanned thing? Do you have any fashion rules when putting an outfit together? The process can be a very long one and each timeframe differs depending on the design. If I am using tarp that is my longest process because I have to cut the material and then rinse it off outside. Then I let it dry and then bring it inside to go into my tub with bleach to clean off anything else that maybe on the material. For about 75% of my designs I sketch the idea first. Sometimes along the way I may change it up because I like a certain way that material looks. Then of course there are always those times when I am staring at the mannequin and do not know what do; then an idea hits me and I go with it. As far as fashion rules, the biggest thing for me is to always try new things. I always try when creating an outfit to add a new material to the design. I feel that is what keeps me growing.
Where do you draw inspiration from for the items you create? When you create something, what goes through your mind? A lot of times inspiration comes from the materials that I have in front of me. Designs that I do with a certain material I cannot necessarily do with another material. I also think of a design that I would like to have for myself or see on the runway and then imagine it in a recyclable design. Whenever I am creating something I am always thinking is this something that someone has seen before and if so how do I make it different.
What was the first project you remember making/crafting? What is your personal favorite garment that you have designed? The first garment I created was a paper tutu skirt. I do not think I have ever created a skirt that size it was really big. I feel that my personal favorite garment has to be my Hunger Games gown. I created it for Charlotte Fashion Week and it was definitely a lot of work, but it looked amazing. I used a total of about 17 books for the bottom of the gown and then used book covers for the top corset. It actually opened up and showed another garment so it was basically two dresses in one.
If RIP Design could have any celebrity spokes model, who would it be? Why? If I had to pick a celebrity spokes model I think I would select Alicia Keys. Just knowing about her different foundations and the music that she does I feel my garments would work well with it. One of her albums is called the Element of Freedom. The different music videos she is standing around in nature and is surrounded by a variety elements; so with me being a Eco fashion designer I feel she would be able to understand my label and speak on behalf of RIP Designs.
Who are some of your personal favorite fashion icons? Why? Some of my personal favorite icons would include Diane Von Furstenburg, Andre Leon Talley, Alexa Chung and Alexander McQueen. The one thing these four fashion icons have in common is their elegant class in fashion. Alexander McQueen comes closest to the avant garde fashion, but all of them have regal approach when it comes to fashion and it is something I strive for when creating my designs.
What helps you to keep going and doing what you do? Is there are anyone who supports you in your creativity? There are a lot of times when I am designing that I get frustrated or do not want to keep going. I always try to think of the end goal when that happens. I try to think how the collection will look when it is all done, or how my models will feel when wearing it and the reaction from the audience. My entire family supports me in the creativity. Whether it is coming up with new ideas or just taking a step back and looking at things from a different angle.
What is the most important lesson you have learned in your professional life? The most important lesson I have learned is that nobody feels as strong about my work like myself and my family. I have done a lot of shows where this took a while to realize. Of course I have had those who have helped me. For this particular shoot I was fortunate to have a lady names Vanessa Abernathy allow me to use her venue The Stage – Fairmont Art& Culture Center. When models do shoots, yes they are excited to wear my designs, but ultimately they are there for them. I used to think that everyone would want me to succeed; however that is not always the case. I am grateful that I have my family to help me succeed and get to where I want to be.
What tasks turned out to be most unexpected or interesting during your business establishment? Anytime I use a new material I feel it is interesting because I never know how it will turn out until I am about half way done. My most interesting tasks are the designs I use flower petals on. They take a form of their own and it is actually very wearable and has its own flair.
What is the most important thing every young designer needs to know? Never give up. There is times when you get that famous “designer block” and do not know where to go or what to do. You have to stay persistent. There have been plenty of moments when I just want to stop; but if I did I wouldn’t be where I am now. Advice I would give is to follow your gut feeling. Not everyone will have the vision you have, so if you have a feeling about something go with it. You never know, that design could be the very one to jumpstart your career.
Where can our readers find more information about you and your designs? Those who wish to keep up with me can follow me on my Facebook and Instagram page along with my website. www.facebook.com/ripdesigns Instagram: rip_designs www.ripdesign.weebly.com
What can we expect from RIP Designs in the future? I actually have a few shows coming up. I will be showcasing my designs at Columbia Fashion Week in June, I have a show July 2nd in Fayetteville, North Carolina, July 8th I will be competing in a competition in Asheville, North Carolina and then on September 17th I will be debuting my Disney Collection at FTM Fashion Week in Jacksonville, North Carolina. I am very excited about these shows as they will be my finale shows this year before I start school at the Art Institute of Charlotte for fashion design in November.
When you are not designing what can we find you doing? When I am not designing I enjoy acting or directing. I went to school for acting and have done a few acting projects as well as directed two dinner theaters called Paradox of Tales.
What is your wild wish? I think something that I have wanted was not only to show at New York Fashion week, but to have celebrity models wearing my designs. I am always posting pictures of my designs on different pages hoping someone will see it.
Tell us something about yourself that people don’t know and may find surprising. So most people who are fashion designers have either always wanted to be one or started when they were young. For me when I was younger I wanted to be a doctor. I think with my Tar Syndrome and having a lot of doctor visits that is what I wanted to do. Then when telling my parents about it; they explained to me that it would be about 8 years of school. I started thinking about other careers, so I definitely commend those who are in that field.