Podcast – Rosie Coxshaw, Words – Nancy Larman
Joanna Goad is a stylist-turned-entrepreneur who imports fairtrade hats from Colombia and sells them around the globe. She tells us about her biggest business – and philanthropic – dreams
When Joanna Goad was three, her family traded London – her native city – for Cali, Colombia’s third largest city, and her mother’s motherland. They stayed for five years, before returning and subsequently ricocheting between the two disparate worlds throughout her teenage years. The exposure to these dichotomous urban landscapes proved formative and while Goad now remains rooted to Essex, her work is almost entirely informed by the traditions of Colombia.
Bridging the gap
After graduating in fashion and marketing – with an onus on the ethical side of retail – Goad consciously decided to spread herself thin in an effort to divine where her passion lay. As such, she interned at glossy magazines, was a sales assistant in a high-end boutique and began work as a stylist. Though she loved all three strands, it was the latter that stuck and she spent years working to make celebrities and actors look at their best. But all the while, she clung on to a dream that had been simmering away on the backburner for years. “I always found myself wanting to bring my own products into the boutique,” she laughs. “And it would always be something from Colombia that I fantastised about. So that got me thinking about designing my own products. I love working with people and getting to meet as many brands as possible. What I’m doing now is all my passions rolled into one. But if I hadn’t done everything I’d done, I wouldn’t be doing this now.”
The manifestation of that dream is Joyis (after Goad’s childhood nickname), her online and pop-up (next stop, Wanstead, 6th May) retail business, whose products are also stocked in resort wear shops in St Bart’s, Barbados and the south of France. Right now the main thrust of the business is hats, on which Goad works with traditional Colombian communities to design, create and import, bringing a slice of the country whose colours, music and fashion she sees as the most joyful in the world.
“I saw a gap in the market for products that kept their authenticity,” she explains. “I’ve always been inspired by people making things byhand. I think I picked it up as a child when we would travel about Colombia and meet traditional Indians. I was interested in indiginous communities and seeing that they make things as amazing as what you find in Harrods. I wanted to bridge that gap.”
The challenges are, she says, mostly in balancing quality consistency with celebrating the idiosyncratic nature of the handmade. “You have to keep a level of standards,” she advises. “And working with local communities, that’s always going to be the big issue. Nothing is ever going to be exactly the same. But I think even big brands are beginning to realise that you can work with artisans beyond Paris and Italy. I’m really conscious of things being perfect but sometimes I have to relax and realise that often the beauty is in things not being flawless.”
At present, she works with two traditional Colombian communities, of which there are six across the country. Her aspiration is to eventually collaborate with all of them – and other artisans from across the world. To her undying credit, Goad’s biggest dreams is to ape the philanthropic model so successfully carved out by Blake Mycoskie who set up the unstoppable TOMS Shoes. “He’s amazing!” she enthuses. “He travelled around South America, he spotted a pair of shoes, saw the potential in them and made his little dream a reality. He’s now stocked globally and the most important thing is his message: you buy a pair of shoes and he gives another pair away. He gives away free eye tests, he helps people with their education. And he travels around America to tell kids what he does and inspire them. That’s what I would like eventually – to be able to give back to the Colombian artisans I work with.”
Made with love
Her USP lies, she believes, in her experience as a stylist. “Coming from a styling background, I would never put something on someone else that I wouldn’t wear myself. If you buy a hat, it’s been designed by me and created with care. You’re buying from the communities that make them but also from someone who has created this thing with love and added to it to make it even more special.” Though she doesn’t discount the idea of one day opening her own shop, for now, her ambition is to sell at pop-up mecca, Box Park in Shoreditch, and eventually to be stocked at Selfridges and Net A Porter. She’s learned the hard way that to make it in business, you have to “be hard on yourself”, perhaps countering your natural tendencies (in Goad’s case, towards being very laid back). And she warns against any temptation to be friends in commerce, noting with the weight of hard-won experience that, “when you’re too nice, people can take advantage. It can be hard to get to the point that you’re strong,and perhaps not as friendly. There are boundaries.” For now, she lives and dreams little but Joyis, which she hopes will expand beyond hats to the full complement of accessories and garments. One day, she dreams of getting back to Colombia, where her mother still lives and where her heart lies. “In Colombia I feel at my most creative. I wish I had the guts to live there but I haven’t reached that point yet.” Joanna Goad and Joyis have far too much to do on this side of the pond just yet.