Representing the creative future

Why is everyone in fashion so stressed?

From the press and communication departments of Saint Laurent and MCQ to building a mindfulness farm, Clara Johansson takes us through her journey

What would you do if you weren’t working in fashion? The question is usually reserved for late-night rants in badly lit smoking areas and our dreamy answers (“open a pastry shop”, “go live in the forest and grow my own vegetables”) rarely transform into concrete plans.

That wasn’t the case for Clara Johansson, however. During her 11 years in the industry, Clara had observed a lot of stress-inducing drama and immediately noticed who handled the pressure with grace, versus those who turned sour.

She started taking notes and researching the effects of chronic stress on the body. Could there be a way to deal with it better? The answer was a resounding yes, and so it was time to realise her second big dream: move from London to Ibiza and open a company in employment health. The farm will soon be open for visits, but until then, Clara is teaching her workshops online to creative companies globally.

A Q&A with the most positive person we ever met in fashion and how she plans to spread it through her new company, Can Tieta.

What first attracted you to fashion and which aspect of your personality made you a good fit for it? 

I actually wanted to study psychology and philosophy originally but my dad was worried that it would make me sad [laughs] so I thought, “Okay, I’ll do fashion then, that’s fun!”

My interest in fashion didn’t come from this deep desire for expression like I saw with many of my colleagues, I just knew I wanted to work hard and I thought might as well work hard for something I enjoy and I have always loved clothes.

I am from a small town in Sweden called Lidköping. It’s a beautiful place and ideal to grow up in but as I got older there were not that many adventures left for me. I like adventure, not knowing what will happen tomorrow…

You get that in the fashion industry I find, the adventures… I got to see the whole world thanks to my job and meet the most incredible people. I’ve also always been a bit of a dreamer and fashion is all about dreaming, isn’t it? My childhood friends always used to say “Clara on her pink clouds” when I would talk about my dreams for the future; moving to London, having my own apartment…. but I believe that we do create our own reality and that you can dream things into being.

“The importance of a healthy work environment was something I learned more by observing people around me who didn’t have it.”

As for my personality [laughs], I was born with this very strange certainty about myself and my existence, my friends and family have always found it hilarious. I’ve always kind of accepted myself for who I was without any specific reason and I realised when I got older that’s sadly quite abnormal, especially when we are young. There is a lot of pressure on how to be and look and because of that people don’t realise that they are perfect just as they are. You look externally for confirmation instead of internally.

I accepted the mind and body I was born with from a very young age and this definitely helped me worry less and manage the pressure of an industry that is appearance-focused. In fashion, one can easily become worried about not being “good enough”.

I landed my first job because of that certainty, for sure. I stomped up to my best friend Melinda’s older sister Emelie during her graduation party when I was 17. She was based in NYC at the time and worked in fashion PR. I said something like, “There you are! I’m Clara, I have some questions for you!” She thought I was weird and hilarious, and two years later, when I was 19, she gave me a summer internship. At 20 she offered me a position at Saint Laurent and I dropped out of school to work for her. Today she and her family are my family too.

Could you tell me about some of the people who inspired you in fashion, and taught you the importance of a healthy work environment?

The importance of a healthy work environment was something I learned more by observing people around me who didn’t have it, rather than being taught, to be honest. I got into the industry quite young and I had people around me who had been working hard for many years. I saw a big difference between those who had some kind of routine in place that kept them balanced and those who didn’t. Those who did have a routine managed challenging times a lot better since they had created their own healthy environment independently of their physical surrounding. So I adopted that. Of course, I have had my moments of imbalance too but as a whole, I managed to stay happy and healthy throughout my 11 years in the industry.

That’s a big part of why I wanted to create this workshop, to share what I have learned over the past few years. I want to show that anyone can easily create their own routine and a healthy work-life balance no matter the environment they are in. Fashion is a very desirable industry to work in, hence it comes with a lot of pressure and long hours. That’s inevitable. If you learn how to stay balanced in between those moments it will make your life a lot easier and you will not suffer from stress and anxiety.

I do feel very lucky to always have had bosses whom I respect a lot and who I felt had my back. I think that can be quite rare. My first boss, Emelie Åkerbrant Gintzburger, is probably the one person, after my parents, who has shaped me the most. She raised me from being a teenager into a grownup. I love her. She is very clever. Before she started working in fashion she was a  professional tennis player and an activist, hard work and dedication mixed with never giving up and always challenging the way things are. She would put a lot of pressure on me to deliver but back me up when I needed it, and would invite me for a beer after an extra long week at work.

“What if being kind and inclusive is the answer to abundance and accessibility for all, wouldn’t that be lovely?”

After Emelie, Gaelle Collet was my boss, she is so cool and can move mountains. Francesca Bellettini became the CEO of Saint Laurent a year or so after I had joined and to be able to just watch her from afar as a young woman and work for her team was very inspiring. Between Saint Laurent and MCQ/Alexander McQueen, I worked for the spectacular Bella Freud for 5 months and then my last boss was Emmanuel Gintzburger, an incredible CEO who manages to do it all; deliver the business results while listening to and caring about the employees, as well as being a dedicated family man. He is amazing, a role model for the next generation of CEO’s.

I started working in fashion when I was 19 and was lucky to grow up in the industry at the same time as some incredible friends of mine, navigating ”success” and ” failure” together rather than alone is important, I think. Some friends in the industry that I look up to and who have stayed kind and thoughtful throughout the years are Melinda Åkerbrant, Alexa Bondi de Antoni, Paola Bertini, Georgina Scholtens Day, Natalie Hazzout, Lara Mullen, Louis Ghewy, Sang Woo Kim, Rose Forde, Hollie Silius and Harry Lambert.

Harry Lambert, I am particularly inspired by because I truly believe that the incredibly kind and inclusive person he is has been a direct result of the huge success he has had. What if being kind and inclusive is the answer to abundance and accessibility for all, wouldn’t that be lovely?

How did a family trip back home during  COVID inspire your career change?

I was back home during Covid when my parents asked me to clean out my childhood bedroom. I found this book we made at school when we were 17. We all made a DPS and wrote about ”Where will I be in 10 years”. I don’t even remember doing that book but as I started reading, I was thrown back to my 17-year-old self. I remembered exactly how I felt ‒ “Anything is possible.” I realised every single thing on that page was no longer a future dream, but facts about my life. That was cool to me and I thought, “If I can create my own future one time, I can do it two times.” It made me realise that we all have the power to shape the life we want for ourselves.

I had just turned 30 years old and I wanted different things than I did when I was 17. Now I want to be surrounded by nature and have a more quiet life. I also hope to contribute in some way. I have always had people close to me that I love a lot: friends, family, boyfriends… who have had to suffer a lot from feeling unhappy. I don’t like that, I want people to be happy. I wanted to understand the root cause of that and if I could contribute to people being happier in any way. That’s why I started educating myself and it resulted in these employment health group workshops that cater to a larger audience and focus on improving people’s mind-body balance via a daily routine and working through emotional blocks.

Covid for me was the first time in a long time when I could take a moment to reflect, I still liked my job but I was in a place in my career where I felt like I had achieved the goals I wanted to.

How did you first come up with the concept of Cantieta? 

Like most ideas, it started with experiencing a big issue and then wanting to find a solution for it. In this case, seeing firsthand how many people in the Western world are not very happy although on paper we “have it all”.

Since I myself was born with this contentment side and a certain level of discipline, I started understanding how that had unconsciously been a big factor in my managing stress and staying relatively healthy and happy during some pretty challenging and stressful years. I started thinking about my personal combination, and what works well for me, then backed it up with science and studies and realised to my big relief that its actually not as hard as one might think to keep yourself in balance. It doesn’t have to be expensive and it’s knowledge that could easily be shared and practised by everyone. The information simply needs to reach people!

I’ve always had my daily routine down but it wasn’t until I was 30 that I started processing my emotions. It was amazing for me, but I also realised was that I was one of the lucky few, thanks to my job and having a good salary, who could afford this support and information. That’s why I wanted to create this employment health workshop. My hope is that companies offer this course to their employees no matter their age or title. The companies are obviously also benefitting because in return they get improved employee engagement, decreased sick leave and burnout, improved communication and collaboration between teams, improved longevity in the company, etc.

The name Can Tieta is the original name of my farm in Ibiza, it means “Aunties house” in Ibicenc. Auntie is such an endearing word to me. To me, “Aunties house” is a place or a person where everyone is welcome and taken care of but they are not being told to be in a certain way. So I thought it was the perfect name to keep and call everything, my work is very much about making people understand that the way they are and the way they look is PERFECT!

How did you develop your workshops, and what is your main goal for them?

It took me about 3 years from start to finish to develop this workshop. I started by studying, mainly with Deepak Chopra, then various kinds of research, focus groups, and practical work.

The main goal is to offer a solution where I can share everything I have studied, learned, and practised the past few years with as many people as possible so that everyone has the knowledge and the tools to come back into balance and feel good.

Stress has been named the “Health epidemic of the 21st century” by WHO and is the root cause of over 80% of all diseases we know today. If we know how to keep ourselves balanced we will not suffer from stress and as a direct result, we also will not suffer from mental and physical illnesses.

Currently your workshops are online only, but you also aim to open a physical location soon?

Yes! I can’t wait. I’m working on various retreats and working from abroad packages… This online workshop is the first step. It’s a base program that everyone needs, it suits everyone no matter age, sex, location, or personal need. It brings people back into balance and builds resilience. The physical ones will be more tailored to the specific needs of the organisation.

Why is it important to you to always remain positive?

The mindset of “glass half full“ vs “glass half empty” is a family feud that’s been going on since I was born. My father and I are two eternal optimists, while the rest of the family thinks that being a pessimist is a much better option since you don’t risk “becoming disappointed”.

“The result of living under high levels of stress for a longer period of time shows up different for everyone but in one way or another their fight, flight, or freeze response kicks in which, depending on your unique personality type, can lead to arguments, divide, rapid breathing, feeling disconnected, escapism, anxiety, difficulty to stay calm, raising thoughts etc.”

We receive these amazing holiday cards at home from various family members saying things like “it’s been raining for 3 days wish we never went” and “only 2 days until we can go back home, finally, the food here is horrible”, I find it hilarious and very endearing. I love all members of my family but I will stand my ground that remaining positive no matter what is a key factor to a fun life and getting to where you want to be. It is a lot easier not to give up when you are presented with a challenge and you think “there is always a way” instead of “this will never work”. It’s just two sides of the same coin. In my opinion, if you don’t believe that something is possible or solvable, you reduce your chances massively. I also believe that we all are much more capable and powerful than we realise.

How does your experience in fashion influence and inspire the work you do now?

Many of my clients work in the fashion industry, so my experience helps me understand them and the challenges they need to overcome.

I saw a clear pattern in the industry: after a few years, most people started to experience high levels of stress. The result of living under high levels of stress for a longer period of time shows up different for everyone but in one way or another their fight, flight, or freeze response kicks in which, depending on your unique personality type, can lead to arguments, divide, rapid breathing, feeling disconnected, escapism, anxiety, difficulty to stay calm, raising thoughts etc.

If left untreated it will create severe mental and physical illnesses. It’s our human stress response kicking in, it’s normal and was very useful back in the days when we lived in caves but it doesn’t serve a purpose in the modern world. That’s why we need to balance it and eliminate it.

This is obviously not just an issue in the fashion industry, but as I’ve said before it’s one of the industries that are considered a very desirable place to work in, and the more desirable the more people want to be in it which normally results in extra pressure, competitiveness and stress compared to other industries. It’s also an influential, trendsetting industry so it inspired me to target this industry. It’s a wonderful opportunity for these companies to set an example and influence other industries to make it the new normal to offer an all-encompassing solution for their employees’ wellbeing.

And at the end of the day, the industry inspires me all the time because of the people I work with. I had this incredible team at my last job of young very pure, kind, talented people (shout out Shannan Hill, Bior Elliot, Luke Innes, Rory Smith, Sheyi Adebayo, Molly Parsons, Ella Kenny etc). I don’t know if it was my maternal side kicking in as I was approaching 30, but it was something about me that wanted to protect them and enable them to be creative and work in a space where they felt really good.

I don’t know if I managed, or if they needed me to try and do that for them in the first place, [laughs] but that realisation of wanting them to be able to work and create without fear and stress was a starting point for me to create this workshop.

I noticed that I feel the same about the groups I work with now during the first company workshop with Ports 1961. There are so many incredibly talented people in the fashion industry and sometimes you sacrifice your own health and wellbeing for your work because you think there is no other way. I just do not believe it has to be like that. I think if the companies start to offer a workshop like this, show that they care and nurture their employees and the people put a consistent routine in place and take their health seriously everyone wins. And I think the time is now.

If anyone who reads this is interested in improving the health and work-life balance of their team or organisation they can email me and I will explain more about the setup, packages, and cost: