The first thought that comes to my mind when meeting fashion designer Johanna Riplinger in Stuttgart: Joie de vie! She is all smiles and reminds me so much of Paris and French elegance. Johanna has been living in Paris for years and has founded her fashion label “Johanna Riplinger” there. After a detour to Portugal, she now brings a little bit of Paris into the Stuttgart shopping mall “Gerber”. In collaboration with other creatives and as one of the founding partners, she presents her fashion in the concept store FYRA Collective. She embraces the opportunity of living as a nomad, she says. For her one-of-a-kind garments, she hand-dyes fabrics with plant-based dyes. Nature and natural cycles are not only shaping her fashion but as well her approach to work. We have met in the store first and later again for some dyeing in the garden. Both elements are intrinsically tied together, she says.
The COVID-crisis is making life for fashion designers difficult... How are you getting on, Johanna?
I stick to making the best out of every situation. Just now, our concept of the collective at FYRA Collective has proven its worth. Especially due to our holistic approach to sharing economy. Currently, I`m staying in Tübingen, dyeing my fabrics surrounded by nature. But of course, I`m also looking forward to going to Paris again soon.
Your love for nature have had a distinct impact on your career path as a fashion designer…
As a student, I have already worked with plant-based dyes. I’ve always wanted to work in sustainability and fair trade. Meanwhile, a lot of what had been met with lack of understanding 20 years ago, I don`t even have to explain anymore. It`s become common knowledge. I love being creative in harmony with nature. The design has always been my focus, yet nature shouldn’t suffer. Nature for me isn`t just the exterior nature, the plants, but as well the human nature, the human biodiversity. Therefore, I value the harmony in our FYRA team, our mutual appreciation in our collective. Everyone collaborates on a level playing field, yet each of us is independent. To me, that`s also nature.
What characterizes your fashion?
My work starts with high-quality organic and sustainable material. I love to create themed collections and recently I started to do more custom-made items such as the kimono collection. Characteristics are the Parisian feminine style, simplicity, and the patterns on the fabrics. The ladder result from an unconventional implementation of the Japanese folding and dying technique Shibori, which I apply when dyeing with plants.
Also the cut of your garments reminds of Japanese fashion…
I have always been fascinated with Japan. As a child, my parents had a visitor from Japan who prepared a tea ceremony in the garden for us. That wowed me. As a student, I spent three terms in Tokyo. Lately, I`m very much coming back to the kimono. The kimono is very versatile and thus is a rather nomadic item. It can be worn as a coat, or with a belt as a dress. My collection needs to match my lifestyle as a nomad. I could fit my entire collection in that suitcase that you brought to transport your studio lights. Traditional Japanese would probably say that this is not a kimono. However, I do maintain essential elements of the Japanese style: An abundance of creativity united with a distinct, simple shape. The kimono is comfy, smart, feminine, and it suits each shape – tiny, chubby, tall, short. I want to remind women of the power they have.
Before founding your own label, you have been working for well-known brands in Paris. Guy Laroche for example, or Ethos Paris. Then you have taken a chance and became self-employed. Many creatives are afraid to do that, even though it`s their dream. After all, being self-employed means you don`t have to just design but also do the marketing.
I have always thought, why not try and do it my way. And now, ten years later, I`m still here. There`s been a year when I haven’t posted on Instagram at all. I don`t force myself. Marketing experts would most likely criticize me. But I really do almost everything from a place of intrinsic motivation. This implies taking the courage to do what feels right for me. When I was ten years old, I decided to become a fashion designer. I am still enthusiastic about it – three times as much as when I started! Of course, there are ups and downs, but that`s life. However, I have been very lucky in life, too.
Surely you have learned a lot as well?
About 15 years ago, I wouldn`t have thought of myself as any good in sales. Until I have learned what selling actually means: human exchange. From then on, I started to love it. Because I see the value in it. I have stopped looking at it in a negative way but started to appreciate it as valuable. I`m happy when a customer walks into the shop and values our items – both of our happiness multiplies.
Sales of all things seems to be a problem for many self-employed fashion designers – and tied to this are the finances… a lot as well?
We could earn much more with our abilities if we worked for big companies. But for us, intrinsic motivation, creative freedom, is more important. We love what we do. Society forces us, to make commercial things. It`s the challenge of the system, to evolve in a way that simplifies fulfilled work and makes it more accessible. There is a saying ‘Success without fulfillment is the ultimate failure’. Achieving to live fulfilled is the greatest success. Yesterday, we had a little photoshoot. That was such an energy boost for all of us. We have celebrated the joy in what we`re doing. Our society needs both: big, static corporations and small creative businesses.
What`s important for self-employed creatives in the future?
There are many platforms for creatives. However, they aren`t run by the creatives themselves. I would find it more beneficial if a platform wasn`t just enabling creatives to introduce themselves. But if it allowed these creatives to run the platform itself. That would make more sense to me. Our FYRA collective is kind of a prototype of such a platform. I`ve never seen myself as a pioneer, yet I seem to have become exactly that. At FYRA, we are multiplying our talents by offering them to each other. This way, we are marketing our products much more effectively. We are collaborating as equals. The customer is still king, but we are also all bosses. Our customers are invited to share our passion for our beautiful, timeless items. We are taking turns in being present in the store, which allows for the conversation with our customers. This is very inspiring. Suggestions can be implemented in the collection much faster as I see first-hand what people need and want. In the long run, we want to become more international. Especially the Stuttgart-Paris-Connection is promising.