Jessica Bratich Johnson is a former karate champion turned handbag designer. She recently debuted her ‘Desert Skies’ collection at Perth Fashion Week to rave reviews. Oh, and she also happens to be married to cricketer Mitchell Johnson. I took five to have a chat about her exciting new venture.
Being a former karate champion, what inspired you to make the transition from sport to fashion?
Being in a sport that is not “professional” you don’t get paid and have to fund yourself to travel overseas so while competing in karate I still completed school, then a Bachelor in Communications and Marketing whilst also having various part-time jobs plus teaching karate over the years.
My interest in fashion actually started to develop when I worked at Sportsgirl. I was there for several years as a casual employee and then later in a management role. Once I completed university I decided to go to Tafe and did Cert III in Design and then Cert IV in Fashion.
After studying at Tafe I met my husband and after making what was going to be one last attempt at the karate world championships (where I got a bronze) I decided to move to Brisbane to be with him. During this time I worked at an accessory wholesaler. I spent 2 years in Brisbane then we moved back to Perth where I picked up with karate again, teaching 5 days a week and competing. Unfortunately I think I got back into it too quickly and tried to pick up where I left off and tore my hip muscle. I underwent surgery which appeared to be unsuccessful and I could not regain my form. I made one last attempt at the world championships, which was unsuccessful and I had also tore my hip again, and had to undergo another surgery. I knew that was it for me in karate – I physically couldn’t do what I used to and it was time to let that part of my life go. Being really goal driven I was already thinking about what challenge I could take on next.
My handbag label came about when one year I was away for Christmas with a group of friends. All of us girls wanted new handbags, and had been searching everywhere with no luck. It was at this point I thought this is something I could do myself! I began researching manufacturers and drawing and then I went from there. It took me just under a year to launch my first collection and have just shown my second one at Perth Fashion week.
There must have been a lot of preparation to produce your collection ‘Desert Skies’. Talk us through the design process:
I think the first collection I did was the hardest because you have to figure out what works and what doesn’t. This collection flowed a little easier, however there is still a lot of work that goes with it!
Firstly I began sketching my designs then I converted them to trade sketches. I then selected the appropriate colours, textures and hardware. After that I sent the information off to my manufacturer to begin sampling. Once they were complete I took a trip to my manufacturer to see the samples and look at quality control. At this stage I made minor changes to the bags where needed. While my samples where being completed I started organising the look book and campaign shoot for the collection. This involved working with a photographer, model, stylist, makeup and hair artist and of course finding the perfect location! Luckily I had a brilliant team of people who made the shoot run smoothly and I have been extremely happy with the shots.
Then there is the preparation to actually launch the collection, which I did at Perth Fashion Week in April. With the help of a stylist for a few ideas, I sourced clothing and shoes and organised fittings with the models. Music was chosen and mixed by a DJ and then working out the order for the show for maximum impact! I was lucky to have a friend of mine Claire Jorgensen who helped me out on the day because while the shows usually look easy from out the front there is always a little mayhem out the back!
You and your husband lead a very glamorous and busy life, how do you find time to work on your collections?
Although it has been particularly busy I wouldn’t say we have a very glamorous life at all.
Before Mitch injured himself we hadn’t really had much time together at all – he would travel with the team 8 months a year and when I would go to see him my time would consist of watching him play, going to the gym and seeing him in between training and appearances. It’s a life of living out of a suitcase and eating a lot of room service which I don’t find particularly exciting, it gets very repetitive after a while!
Doing what I do with my label means I can design anywhere and the majority of my correspondence is done by email. Recently, the time we have had off cricket due to his injury enabled me to completely focus on my label and made it easier for me to launch at Perth Fashion Week. It was so nice to have him there at my show to support me. He has been really great during this time and I think he got used to being neglected a bit during the process haha. It was a bit of a role reversal however I am looking forward to him getting back into cricket and doing what he loves. Over the last few months we have certainly been to a lot more events than we ever have before (we never really went to many) but that is part of what you have to do when your in the industry as it is about networking and getting your label out there.
Where do you find inspiration and who are your ultimate style icons?
My inspiration comes from many things – lots of what I see around me. For the ‘Desert Skies’ collection my inspiration was actually taken from a passing comment from my friend saying she likes lots of zippers in bags. I know she meant internal ones, but it sparked me off in the direction of using zippers as an external embellishment rather than as something practical. I also like looking at different hardware and placement of it which sparks my design process, as well as looking at leather swatches to help me create ideas. I don’t like to look much at what other designers do in regards to bags because I find thats when your designs start to look like other people’s designs rather than your own. I don’t really follow style icons specifically however I do think Blake Lively always looks stunning and knows what works for her.
With the popularity of shows like WAG Nation, would you ever consider being on one of these programmes?
Sadly I think a show like that unfortunately adds to the stereotype of a “WAG” and doesn’t do the rest of us any favours. I am not sure I could handle that invasion into my privacy and I think most times the editing does little to reveal the truth, rather playing into the directors perfect story line.
So many of us girls that have ended up with professional sportsmen cringe at the term “WAG” and I think if it was a show that showed what we are REALLY like it would be a different story (and probably a boring one!) but shows like that don’t do any of the girls I know any justice. The women I know, the wives and girlfriends, are all accomplished in their own right, irrespective of who their husbands are. They have their own careers and/or are amazing mothers who have to make sacrifices for their family, and shows like that annoy me because the rest of us don’t deserve the stereotype.
I think there needs to be a show about what life is really like for us – behind what seems like a glamourous life is really long times apart from our husbands and added pressure that comes with being somewhat in the public eye – but I guess that probably wouldn’t get the ratings. People need to remember when watching reality shows that they have cast certain people to create drama to get the ratings – it’s not real life for most of us.
To find out more about the Jessica Bratich collection, check out the website here.