Em John Accessories
Michelle Santiago Cortés, Staff Writer
CGS freshman Emma Johnson sits down with OTC to discuss her thriving accessory line
The summer before her junior year of high school, Emma Johnson locked herself in her bedroom and shredded a pile of her grandfather’s old ties and dress shirts. By the end of the day, she posted a photo on Instagram of her wrist stacked with a covetable collection of fabric and charm bracelets. Within a week, a store in her Upper West Side of New York City asked to carry three dozen. Two years after launching her accessories brand, Em John, Johnson’s key chains were among Oprah’s Favorite Things. Now, she is in her first year at CGS with her sights set on a Public Relations degree from the College of Communication here at BU.
What sets Em John apart?
I think the fact that I started this in high school. A lot of people just think of it as a hobby. A lot of people in my high school really just didn’t take me seriously. I haven’t been doing this for 25 years; I’m not a businesswoman who went to business school and then started a business and now has a team of 300 people. I also think telling the customers and stores that I work with that it's really all me and that at the age of 18, I’ve accomplished a six-figure business and done it all by myself. There really is no magic team of 30, and I’m just the face of it all. A lot of times people don’t take you seriously just because you are young.
Where did the idea to start your own business come from?
My family. They’re basically all entrepreneurs, so I come from an entrepreneurial background. My mom has a business that helps small business owners grow their business, mostly women-owned businesses. Recently, she has a segment on Good Morning America every week where she promotes five products at exclusive deals. That’s basically where my idea of Em John came from, because I would recommend brands to her and months after the segment would air I’d ask her “How’d the company do?” and she’d say “They made 800,000, 500,000, a million dollars.” I’d ask her for my cut for recommending the brand and told her that I’d love to have a business... and she said, “Start one.”
I was just a junior in high school. I was totally about school and there was no time for that, but then I set a goal for myself to pay for college through the business. I said to myself, “If I’m going to set a goal, I’m going to hit the goal.” That was a way for me to stay motivated.
Em John has a wide range of accessories but you started with just bracelets. How did the rest of it come to be?
So, first I started out with bracelets that were just fabric and pieces of strings. Then I thought that someone needs to be able to take it on and off easily; they need to wear it in the shower. If you’re wearing a lot of bracelets you don’t normally just take them all off. That’s where my rubber, beaded bracelets came in. It was nearing summer, when people are going to camp or are spending a lot of time in pools and at beaches. We needed something that’s durable for them to stack their arms with for the summer. I stalk Instagram all of the time and I like cheeky quotes. I thought, “These are so funny! They need to be put on something!” But they were too big for a bracelet charm, so I made pouches with all the funny sayings on them. It was about keeping it new and fresh, because after a couple of months of my first set of bracelets, it was like, “Who’s buying that anymore? We’ve seen that already.” It needed to be something new.
How much time do you put into the development of your ideas and products?
So, A lot of people plan for like, six months in advance, for what’s to come for fall or for winter. I think of an idea and do it the next day. When I have a good idea I make it come to life on the spot, and hopefully it works out well.
Where do you find inspiration?
A lot of it just comes from walking down the streets of New York City. I see things in windows, I see colors, and I see patterns that people are wearing, shirts with funny designs and sayings on them. I ask friends all the time what they’re into at the moment. I read so many blogs and browse Instagram all the time.
What about Instagram accounts?
I follow a company called Emi-Jay, which is a hair tie company started by two teens based in Los Angeles. They just make different patterns and colored hair ties. They took a simple hair tie and made it fun, which is what I want to do with bracelets!
What about TV?
It’s really bad, but I’m obsessed with reality television. I just think it’s hilarious and fun and people seem to want to be just like celebrities and whatever they like, we like.
Are you an artist or a businesswoman?
Both. It’s funny because a lot of people email me and ask to be connected to my marketing team or PR team and all these teams and I’m like, “Her name’s Emma, and I’m Emma.” I think of all the designs and what new products are going to come and which ones are leaving. But I also manage the back end of the website and customer service. It’s really all me.
What has been the biggest surprise since you’ve launched Em John?
The biggest surprise is getting emails from people saying, “ I was in a store the other day and I saw your products and I want to buy ten or fifteen of them.” I sell in over four dozen stores, which isn’t really a lot; I know companies that sell in thousands of stores. But for me, getting an email from a customer saying, “I love your brand” or “I saw your products, they’re so cute,” that’s really rewarding, knowing that people are actually out there, seeing your product.
Do you ever get any ideas you wish you could make happen but they don’t seem to be the best fit for the Em John brand?
I’m obsessed with hoodies and sweatshirts and crewnecks. But we’re a jewelry company, so are we now apparel? Sizing also gets pretty hard, and with bracelets one fits most. So, a lot of the times I come up with ideas of creating an apparel line or shoes but I say to myself, “we’re more of an accessories company, so that may be fun as an exclusive Valentine’s Day idea.”
Any other products or ideas you’d like to be able to explore in the future?
I’d totally love to move into gold and metal and do an Em John luxe edition so it’s more fine jewelry. I think it would be so cool to launch one that’s more fine jewelry at a higher price point. That way it doesn’t really stray away from the idea that this a fun brand, but it's also a sophisticated brand that doesn’t just tailor to tweens and teens.
Check out the rest of EmJohn's products at http://emjohnjewelry.com/