Joanna Williams

Joanna Williams
Inspiration — what does that word mean in 2017? In our contemporary, image-saturated vernacular, the very concept of “sourcing inspiration” can seem overused, blurry, and vague. Yet for Los Angeles-based creative consultant Joanna Williams, it is a life’s work; a constant search for the unknown. Williams makes her living by sourcing vintage and antique textiles for brands all over the world, and she’s built a career upon the joy of discovery, rooted in tangible experience: travel, exploration, and connection. We spoke with her about a wide-reaching range of topics, from the magic powers of travel to the challenges of the self-made career to combatting the current political climate with compassion and curiosity.
Photos by Jeana Sohn / Interview by Leigh Patterson

How do you define inspiration in your own life? Are there any objects or physical things that represent this to you?
For me, it’s an all-consuming feeling. When I’m out sourcing for clients, I usually try to let experiences guide me; when I have an open mind and no expectations, that’s when the inspiration finds me. I get so overwhelmed looking at digital images, especially when I see the same image over and over. It’s important to pay attention to some of it but what’s more valuable is to get out and have an actual experience. Nothing will ever replace travel. In my opinion, it’s the best education. Seeing how other people live is eye-opening. Meeting and talking with different cultures makes you think about life in an entirely different way. That’s when you truly get to know yourself. 
As far as objects — I love being surrounded by beauty and meaning. It’s essential. Aesthetics are important to me in my creative world, and I have accumulated many precious things throughout my life. Many are small things that I’ve found on my travels or even old used books or notes that I wrote in a journal. On my most recent trip to India, I went to a palm reader who had me write down everything he proclaimed about my life. I will save that piece of paper forever. But it was the experience that I will never forget - what I was wearing, the unexpected predictions he made about my future, the balmy and exotic weather, and even the lipstick I had on. So while I do enjoy being surrounded by beautiful objects and things that are inspiring and remind me of certain places or people, I also worship and treasure my stories. They are the fuel.


You’ve built a very unique, specific career — but how do you manage how intertwined your life and work are?
While my personal and professional life are very much intertwined, creating a balance is crucial. I love to work, so it can be difficult for me to shut off - but the one thing that has helped me to create a balance is meditation. I’m not an expert, but 10 to 15 minutes every morning has certainly helped me to relax and feel a sense of self that has nothing to do with work. I have a lot of friends who work in creative fields, but I also think it’s important to have friends who you don’t have anything in common with when it comes to work. I don’t always want to talk about fashion or about running a business; I want to hear about what other people are doing and learn new things - even if it’s something I don’t have a particular interest in. I sometimes have to work on the weekend before a big trip or if I’m working a project for a client, but if neither of those are on the agenda I take the weekend off and try not to respond to work emails until Monday.  
Was there a turning point where you realized, ‘Yes I can actually just go for it in running a business based off my passions?’ Or did you just take the plunge? 
It was a little of both.  I definitely took the plunge! I had $400 and an idea and I went for it, but I was very passionate about vintage and about being able to build a business focused on finding inspiration. I had been working freelance for a little over two years and nothing was fulfilling me, but when I got the idea to launch my business I could really picture it in my head and see how it might be successful. The first three years were the most difficult - just learning what worked and what didn't and trying to define the brand - but then things started to click and I realized it was the best decision I had ever made. It is so true what they say in the business world — It takes five years to know if your business will succeed. You have an idea around year three or four, but you really know at year five. My business is very niche, so I truly had to learn a lot on my own and figure things out along the way. That doesn’t stop, of course, but you get better and better at it and you become more confident in your capabilities and in your decision making.



What is currently inspiring to you? / What is always inspiring to you? 
Currently inspiring: There is not a feeling that comes close to meeting and working with someone you have admired and respected and looked up to throughout your life. I try to hold onto those moments. I am currently very inspired by the designer Christopher Kane. Every time I see one of his collections, it feels fresh and thoughtful and very personal. It’s not dictated by trends - it has its own special personality and it’s always completely different from his previous collection. I like the feeling of calculated experimentation it exudes. As much as I adore fashion, I have found myself gravitating more toward interiors the past few years. Gert Voorjans is a favorite interior designer and he has just released a new book on his various projects. He’s well known for designing the interiors of Dries Van Noten stores, and his books are always a visual feast full of color and texture and opulent grandeur. Aside from the design world, I’ve been incredibly inspired by the women’s movement that is taking over the world. All the movers and the shakers and the doers who are ready to fight hard for our rights!
Always Inspiring: India, my favorite place in the world; listening to and discovering music; engaging in long conversations and sharing ideas; and those living authentic lives to the absolute fullest. 


Given the current state of politics and the world beyond our day to day life…I feel like so many many women are asking questions about “how do I contribute?” What are your thoughts on how we can come from a respectful, informed, impactful way to affect the world outside our own bubbles? 
There are so many layers to this current state of politics and it sometimes seems incredibly overwhelming when thinking about where to start or how to get involved, but I have always felt that I am really great at giving guidance to others. It’s interesting, because I have been feeling the same way on a professional level. What matters the most to me about how I run my business? How am I contributing creatively? What is my definition of success? I think it’s important to check in every once in a while and ask yourself these kinds of questions, because that’s how you really figure out if you’re still interested and passionate about what it is your doing. 
I really think that we all choose to deal with political and social catastrophes the best way we can, individually. There has been a lot of talk about those who don’t support the results of the election becoming complacent, and while I agree in some ways I also think that we each have our own way of processing and figuring out how we want to contribute and what we are capable of doing. I think it’s irresponsible to do absolutely nothing at all, but contributing in positive ways can mean anything from sharing your creativity with others to calling senators to protesting, or even just taking the time to share ideas or have a conversation with someone who might not be engaged politically. Living in California, I do feel like I sometimes live in a bubble - and it becomes very real when I travel to a conservative state (like Texas, where I grew up). Since the election, that bubble has become very apparent - but I’ve chosen to step outside of it and volunteer my time in the best way I know how, working with underprivileged children or children with disabilities - mostly because that’s where I feel like I can have the most influence. I’ve always been good at talking to people and empowering people, and those are the ones that need the empowerment. [The issues that stem from] poverty and lack of resources are incredibly real and tragic, and in my opinion the best way to help is to start with the youth who don’t have the privileges and resources that many of us do. I will talk to anyone and everyone - even if I don’t know them, because I think you can always find common ground somewhere. I should also add that my creativity is important to me and I want to share that with others, whether it’s friends or clients or strangers. Inspiration is key. You have to feel ambitious or inspired to want to do something meaningful with your life. As long as I keep feeling inspired and creative, I want to share it with others.


Above: Joanna wears the SUENOS RUG ART COAT. Email or call 646 455 0346 to order

To end things on a light note…Physical traveling. You travel a lot! What have you learned about taking care of yourself while on the road? 
Two things that are crucial to my well-being are acupuncture and exercise. I don’t always have time to exercise when I’m traveling, but I do exercise regularly when I’m at home and it gives me a great amount of energy that I need to make it through very long days of meetings, and just travel in general. When I’m home I see my acupuncturist once a week as well as my homeopathic chiropractor. I eat pretty healthy, but I also listen to my body when it feels depleted and is craving a bowl of pasta or a glass of wine.  Those comforts are essential to my well-being. Plus, trying food in other countries is one of the great pleasures in life!