AGE: 43. LIVES IN: Gold Coast. CLAIM TO FAME: Founder of Neval (Nevalstyle.com), a local e-commerce fashion brand, which unveiled its first collection in June. GLOBE TROTTER: Born in Bangladesh, Johnson lived in London, Tehran and Stockholm before settling in Chicago with a job in finance. By the time she hit 40, though, she was looking for a change. “Even though I loved the corporate environment, I needed to express myself in a more creative way,” she says. So she signed up for design classes at the School of the Art Institute, and the idea for Neval was born. Jumping into a new industry came with its share of challenges. “I’ll admit I had a huge learning curve on the job, not only [with] garment construction, but also sourcing zippers, lining. … [But] I found being passionate about what you do and believing in the mission is critical to overcoming obstacles.” THE LINE: The name means “new village,” and features ’70s-inspired skinny scarves ($195) and reversible bomber jackets (pictured on Johnson, starting at $695), crafted from Jamdani fabric sourced from Bangladesh. The textile is made using ancient techniques from the third century B.C., and the pieces are assembled in a Ravenswood factory. “In order to make it sustainably, the weavers [collaborate] with the factory in Chicago to lay out the patterns in a way where there’s minimal fabric waste,” Johnson says. “By taking this extra step, we empowered the weavers with new skill sets that open up their craft to a larger international market.” HOME GROWN: “In the past, there’s been a tendency for designers in the Midwest to relocate their businesses to New York or LA in order to keep growing, but that’s no longer necessary given today’s digital connectivity,” she says. “By sourcing custom textiles globally, we’re also helping sustain the livelihoods of artisans in other countries.” UP NEXT: Sheer kimono-style robes — what Johnson calls the perfect layering piece over jeans — will roll out this fall.
Photo by Ramzi Dreessen