For the first chat in our Expert Talk series, we spoke with Anisa Johnny- lecturer, business owner, sustainability expert and all-around Fashion industry veteran!
From training in the buying department of Marks & Spencers Head Office, to launching her fashion brand, to working her way up to a consultant for TopShop and now a Senior Lecturer of Fashion Marketing & Management at Raffles College, Singapore, Anisa has seen it all when it comes to the industry.
What does Fashion mean to you?
That's a question you should never ask a Fashion Marketing Lecturer. Fashion is democratic, it's whatever the majority says is fashion - be it clothing, food, lifestyle. But we all know fashion is used as a term to describe the clothing we wear. For me fashion is about personal expression, choosing garments, accessories and other adornments is a great way for anyone no matter what budget you have or where you live to communicate who you are, your values and in some ways how you want the world to see you.
What would you consider to be the highlight (s) of your career?
I have had several distinct careers so to keep it short. When running my own business we showed at LFW off schedule. I had a business partner at the time. At the fashion presentation, the Vogue fashion team covered the event and gushed over the collection. We were the first to show African wax cotton (bright colourful prints) at fashion week. The presentation/launch party was held at Momos in London. My Mother and I stayed up till 3 am making headbands that could be worn as belts for the door gift. Momo's was an institution in those days and it was impossible to get into; and all the great and good of London were crammed into a tiny basement nightclub (musicians, artists, writer, even a Hollywood celeb) with great Afrobeat music. We were on a mission to change the perception of Africa. To show it could be cool and chic. It was the 90s and people don't think as they do now. It was a fashion moment I will never forget. Years later one of my all-time favourite fashion academics told me he'd heard about our brand due to that event. I could retire happy after that.
During my event marketing days, I hosted events in a beautiful 500-year-old building that was and still is a working church. A highlight was a concert for Motorola Red, for the Global Fund to raise money for AIDS. We got so much flak from the neighbours but we worked tirelessly to get the event hosted in the space. And did our bit for raising attention/money for the cause. Bands included Mika, The Feeling, I think even Sophie Elis Bexter if I recall correctly.
As a lecturer, I have had so many proud moments with my students. One that springs to mind is Fashion Revolution Singapore 2019. We collaborated with the organization and students helped them design social media content, including the official poster, organized the fashion show, from doing the hair, makeup to ushering guests and designing backdrops. Another group created interactive artwork to draw attention to the issue of fashion sustainability.
Considering we are living in a socially distanced world, are brick and mortar stores dying/dead?
Covid is contributing to the demise of brick and mortar and online shopping has increased by double digits, but the majority of what people buy is in physical retail. If you look at the pre-covid figures 60-70% of what we buy is bought in physical stores, so don't believe the hype. Stores will always play a part because we are social creatures that want to see and be seen. Old fashioned stores with nothing to say will die sadly. But new stores using the space as media will take their place albeit with social distancing rules in some markets.
Sustainability is a widely misunderstood topic. Why is that? How do brands and consumers educate themselves?
Misunderstood because it is such a complex topic so I will try to be brief. Sustainability is 'avoiding the depletion of natural resources in order to maintain an ecological balance.' Everything we do impacts the planet. In fashion, making textiles from petro chemicals as we know fossil fuels are finite, for natural fibres growing crops to make textiles uses up land needed for agriculture, uses up water and may lead to chemicals being put into the environment. Producing and transporting goods needs fuel which leads to C02 emissions.
Sustainability looks at alternative ways to ensure we can maintain ecological balance for future generations. Creating products that don't harm the environment, use up water, leach chemicals into the water system or exploit people. The 3 Ps is an easy way to understand it, organizations have to think about people, the planet and not just profit. People and brands need to educate themselves and fast. Start with the UN Sustainable Development Goals or if you are keen on fashion then head to ww.fashionrevolution.org or watch The True Cost.
Any advice to new entrepreneurs on how they can survive even in these not-so-easy times?
My advice is no different to any other time; put the customer at the heart of what you do. Everything you do should be about the customer and the profit will follow. If you have a product that is not relevant whilst people are stuck at home - I'm sure you are tired of hearing it but pivot into something people need or can enhance their lives. Whether it's craft that can help them with mental health, products or services for the home or entertainment.
About Anisa Johnny
Anisa has spent over 15 years doing a variety of roles in the fashion industry in the UK and more recently Singapore. From training in the buying office at Marks & Spencers Head Office, launching her own fashion brand with clients across Europe, to working her way up to a consultant for TopShop. Anisa cut her teeth on design thinking and branding whilst establishing one of London's best heritage buildings into a unique venue as part of her postgraduate research. She then transitioned to academia, spending the last 7 years as a Senior Lecturer in Fashion Marketing & Management. Her area of expertise is in sustainability, branding and entrepreneurship. In 2013 she co-founded a social enterprise which became Style Nomads, training single Mums to make jewellery so they can look after their children.