Johanna Nilsson has worked with non-profits since she was 16, with a focus on fair trade and sustainability. But she never dreamed she would be a jewellery designer.
"It just sort of happened," Nilsson told The Local with a laugh.
"In 2007 I was living at a youth exchange outside of Bangkok for a couple of months, and I got this idea to do something with the fashion industry and my contacts in Thailand."
Having worked with non-profits addressing problems and working conditions in the textile industry, Nilsson wanted to prove that it was possible to have a company with transparent production. With a friend in Thailand who is an educated jewellery designer, she started JohannaN – sustainable jewellery fusing Nordic design and Thai handicraft.
"I wanted to create beautiful stuff with a beautiful story. I create the ideas and concepts, and my friend in Thailand does the actual sketches and casting, since I don't have that education," Nilsson told The Local. "We work very closely together."
Nilsson grew up in northern Sweden, and until recently lived in Umeå, nicknamed Björknarnas stad – the city of birches. When she started designing jewellery, she took a piece of inspiration from home – literally.
Shop JohannaN jewellery at The Local Brands
"The birch bracelet
is a real birch branch," Johanna explained. "I sent it to Thailand and they cast it in brass, and then I made some changes to the design and we sent it back and forth."
"I was out walking and found a real reindeer horn in the mountains," she recalled. "So I took it home, minimized it, and made it a small necklace. And now it's a whole collection
What started as a hobby while Nilsson studied to be a teacher quickly put down roots, and for over two years now she has driven the company full-time, thanks to good old-fashioned hard work.
"I don't really believe in luck," Nilsson remarked. "I think you work to get what you get. I feel quite granted to be able to do this full-time – but I made that chance for myself, I guess."
And it's certainly paid off.
Rings, bracelets, earrings, and necklaces by JohannaN
have become increasingly popular, sneaking onto the limbs of Swedish celebrities and even making an apperance
in the sitcom Welcome to Sweden
. Nilsson's designs are now sold in 10 countries around the world.
The collections are grounded not just in Swedish design, but in Swedish values, as well. JohannaN jewellery is not only sustainable, but also unisex, and many of the designs
are popular among men.
Nilsson also pointed out that all of the jewellery is one-size and can be easily altered to fit, as brass is a very soft metal which can be gently formed after being warmed with body heat. And if it should break? JohannaN offers a one-year warranty on all items.
"I really believe that things should be worn for a long time," Nilsson said. "It's a waste to just put something away in a drawer because it's broken. So if it breaks, we will fix it."
The designer said the Nordic feel of her collections, filled with nature, are a reminder of home for many northerners. But it's also a subtle souvenir for anyone looking to bring home a piece of Sweden – without being touristy.
"Most people don't actually enjoy having a souvenir t-shirt," Nilsson hinted with a grin. "This is something where you can still see the traditional elements, but it's fashion forward, something you can actually wear."