Joanna Buchanan’s line of gem infused tableware and home accessories has just arrived at Amara. Full of quirky design details and pieces covering covetable coasters to cocktail picks, this is a brand with a difference. Mixing her love of travel, global design experience and penchant for bold, dynamic colour Joanna Buchanan launched her eponymous line in 2014.
A 20 year career in fashion and a childhood spent in Hong Kong helped shape Joanna’s vision for luxury, colour, texture and pattern. These passions and her unique eye for style have been further cemented by her adult years in Europe and extensive travel throughout India. She now shares her time between homes in New York City and Connecticut, along with her husband and two children. Talking to The LuxPad, Joanna shares her home interior style, full of treasures picked up during her years of travelling, and talks career goals and lessons learnt…
What were you doing before you created your eponymous brand, and how did its inception come about?
I had spent 20 years in large corporations… Marks and Spencer, Saks Fifth Avenue, Banana Republic, Ann Taylor inc. and always said I would never start my own brand- I liked the security of having big teams with all their infrastructure and experts.
But in the WAAAAY back of my mind, I wanted to launch a line of Christmas decorations… and had made some half-hearted attempts to get some samples made….but was so busy with the day job that it never came to anything… it was just an idea. And that Idea of Christmas had come from my mother- she always had these beautiful decorations that she pulled down from the attic every year- things that had been collected by her grandmother travelling across Europe- and there was such excitement finding the favourites and recalling the memories of past Christmases.
Then the company I was with restructured and I was let go… and it all happened in a very organic way…I started very small, working with factories that I had known for many years- nothing too ambitious, and one by one I found new customers or they found me, and everyone was just super excited about the product. When you realise that you have found a space in the market that is not really being serviced, it’s quite a thrill and when sales support that, it’s even more thrilling!
What was the hardest lesson you learnt when creating your brand?
That I knew nothing about so much! I had been cocooned as a ‘designer’ in previous jobs but now I was the CEO and CTO and COO and the data inputter and the UPS guy!
The hardest thing for me to learn is to not sweat every SINGLE mishap (I call them failures) but my husband says in the scheme of things they are not! The first big order for a department store, the goods got stuck somewhere in shipping and I had to ask for a delivery extension… this all happened just as I was getting on a plane with no Wi-Fi… and I cried the entire three hours- thinking I had just tanked the business I had not even really started yet!
So I am learning to roll with things a little better- and not take every bump to heart- but try to focus on the fix and move on. Business is not a smooth road and as a small start-up, there are so many things we need to figure out. But as long as we keep things in perspective and keep our priorities focused on our customers, I think we will be OK.
What is the best advice any one has ever given you?
I find a lot of inspiration from reading about women’s entrepreneurs… broadly speaking its “do what you love and success will come”.
I just finished reading Maureen Chiquet’s book- she was the President at Banana Republic when I first started there- so I only saw her address the team once or twice….but she made a real impression on me. And her book speaks to exactly how I feel about running your life and your business- stay true to yourself and be who you are- there is no right and wrong way.
I believe that coming to this journey later in life will help me keep those things close as the business grows and changes.
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Can you tell us about the design process, and how it goes from your design to finished product?
I start at a very conceptual level about what a season feels like to me right now….Spring 17 was very much about the garden, the fresh palette that comes to mind and the creatures that appear once winter is over. So I ponder that for a while at the back of my brain- what stories do I want to tell, what mood I would like to evoke and what am I responding to right now.
Then begins the process of actual design- colour palettes, materials, trims, stone and bead colours and sketching….we make prototypes of everything and that is when I get to experiment with new techniques and brand new ideas of execution. Sometimes it takes several seasons to get things right but if an idea is a good one, it’s worth taking the time to figure it out.
What does a typical day look like for you?
The strangest thing about running your own business is there is no schedule and no day is the same… I was so used to having set “Monday meetings” etc. and that all went out the window! I am in charge on the calendar now- making sure we plan photography and sales trips on time…but it is super flexible- as everyone’s needs are constantly changing. I like that balance of proactive/ reactive…but you have to be ready for anything.. you never know what a customer is going to need when you wake up in in the morning!
I travel to India four times a year as I also do some design consultancy for a textile firm there and usually swing by London to see my customers on the way back… so when I am away it’s non-stop meetings with the creative and merchant teams, catching up on my laptop and research….but very little true design work. I also go to PV in Paris twice a year to see what is happening in the world of fashion and fabric and I always get some shopping in too… just being away from my studio is invigorating as I am looking at new things that aren’t my own and seeing what the world is offering in all areas of fashion and home. It’s a really good perspective.
When I am at home I get the children ready for school/ shoot some hoops with them! /deal with that madness and then the work day begins.
Emails with my vendors who are all over the world, customer meetings, photo shoots in Manhattan, meeting with the team and that pretty much fills the day. I love it when I have a clear day to design and conceptualise a new concept or season…. Those are the best.
The only thing I like to break for is meeting with my gardeners who keep the things looking the way they should. It’s the ultimate in self-control for me not to be out there every single moment weeding and trimming- I love the garden but I cannot give up the day job.
I try to wind down when the children and my husband come home and we do homework and dinner together and then after their bedtime I am back on email again, as I can be ‘real time’ with China and that speeds things up no end!
My husband usually comes into my office around 10 with a cup of tea for me and reminds me to go to bed… I just lose time when I am on the laptop…
I like to have something to flip my mind right before I go to sleep- either a flick through Instagram or half an episode of “House of Cards”… anything to stop me dreaming about UPCs and sample requests!!
What is the secret to a work / life balance?
I am not sure I have found it! I work from home and because I do what I love… it’s not work when I go into my office at the weekend. It’s just what I do! The children come in and help with writing invoices and checking in samples- and they think its brilliant being part of the company. My son calls himself “manager of paperwork” and my daughter is the ‘social media strategist’- her main responsibility is to make sure I post on Instagram regularly!
You’ve just found a time machine that can take you to the future or the past, what year do you go to and why?
I am definitely all about the future….On a personal level, my husband and I are getting so much joy from watching our children grow up into their own people, so I am curious to see what choices they make in their lives. I guess in about 10 years we will know what they are loving in life….
And for the brand and business I have limitless expectations…and I think in 10 years we will have a pretty good idea of where we are heading.
What is your most treasured possession?
My husband buys me the most beautiful jewellery and I remember every single moment when he has given me something…. So a very materialistic answer but the pieces are so thoughtfully chosen and I wear them all the time… so I really do treasure them.
How would you describe your home style and what is your favourite room in your home and why?
Dramatic and joyful! I am a believer in the layered look but with some cleaner moments. I also like a room to look ‘curated’ and not as if you went into one store and bought the whole look from one brand. I think a home should be a true expression of who you are (although that sounds like a cliché…) ours is perfectly imperfect! With children, it simply cannot be a show house all the time, but I do like to be able to clean up and have it look fabulous.
My husband likes to pick up things form the streets of Manhattan- we have some amazing ‘junk’ finds and I collect a lot of textiles when I travel- so the things we surround ourselves mean something to us and hold a memory. We bought some rocking chairs when we first got married and I will never forget walking home on 9th avenue , each of us with an upside down rocking chair on our head. We now have those chairs outside on our porch and it is my husband’s favourite place to sit and look at the garden.
My favourite room is room is probably the TV room- we picked a giant floral Cole and Son wallpaper as a starting point and it all flows from there… bold prints, colour and texture. We use the striped velvet ottoman for everything from family scrabble to the base of the pillow mountain fort!
The room also has large windows into the garden and I loved the idea of bringing the outside in- with the floral and trellis patterning and some ‘outside’ pieces.
What does the rest of 2017 hold for you and your brand?
We have set up some really strong operational pillars so far in 2017- things we have been working on for the last six months- bringing on a DC, implementing EDI, re-designing and relaunching our own website. And lots of new interested customers….! So I feel the back half of the year is going to be very exciting as we see all the new functions settle in and we can focus on new product and spreading the word about the brand.