Greenville designer Sarah Johnson unleashes her looks at Fashion Week

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Sarah Johnson. Photo by Will Crooks

Sarah Johnson made a splash designing her own dress for the J. L Mann prom – a ’50s vintage style with layers of baby blue chiffon. Four years later, she’s making much bigger waves in the fashion industry, showing her looks at Fashion Week in New York City and Paris as one of seven finalists in the Supima Design Competition.

“It’s been a whirlwind,” said Johnson, who earned a BFA in fashion design this spring from Kent State University in Ohio. Though she didn’t take the top prize, “It was a really good experience and it pushed me in a new direction.”

Johnson got her start sketching at school and sewing small projects with her mom, and soon began taking classes with Eileen Bunch at Sew Creative on Laurens Road. “For Sarah, there has never been a fabric too difficult to sew or a skill too demanding to conquer,” Bunch said. “She’s always been up for the challenge.”

After graduating from high school, she headed off to Kent State, one of the top schools in the nation for fashion design. During her time there, she was able to do internships in Paris and New York, and by her senior year, she decided to submit a sketchbook for the prestigious Supima Design Competition at N.Y. Fashion Week.

“Each of the top seven design schools in the country choose one graduating senior to compete in this competition over the summer,” Johnson said. “All of spring semester I wasn’t sure it would be me, but they announced it at our final runway show of the year.”

In the competition, designers use the Supima brand of fine cotton to create a line of evening wear. The contest promotes the product while giving young designers an opportunity to experience Fashion Week and make contacts in the industry.

Johnson spent all summer on her five looks, developing color schemes, making sketches, and traveling to New York to do fittings. The show was held in September at Pier 59 Studios, a popular location for many top designers. “It was a pretty big show, and we were able to bring our family and friends,” Johnson said.

In late September, she headed to Paris for another show featuring two looks from her collection. One of her looks was featured in Vogue Italia online, and pieces from the show are gaining notice from several trade publications.

Johnson said participating as Kent State’s representative was an honor, and the experience helped her push herself during the creative and construction phases. Her collection, “Fortitude,” was originally inspired by a Buddha statue that was scanned and found to contain a mummified skeleton. She built on that to create a collection inspired by Japanese costume, flight suits, and wrapping. She incorporated her love of color – evident in her pink hair – as well as cording, pleating, and embroidery.

Sarah Johnson sketchbook

After spending most of September in the two fashion capitals of the world, she is recharging in Greenville with her parents, Sharon and David Johnson, and polishing up her portfolio before heading back to New York.

“I’m looking for a smaller company, so I can have my hands on more,” she said. “I like the really creative, raw energy part of designing, and then the construction and engineering stage that I also really like. It’s like two separate halves of the same thing, and I want to do both.”

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