Exclusive Interview: Juliet Johnstone, Artist, And Entrepreneur, Is Painting Her Way To The Top

July 20, 2022

Meet trendsetter Juliet Johnstone, the creator of painted pants and one-of-a-kind high-quality products that are all hand-dyed, hand-painted, and made sustainably in Los Angeles. Her clothes have been purchased by customers from all over the world and have been worn by popular celebrities such as Kendall Jenner, Dua Lipa, and Bella Hadid. With impressive one-of-one designs and exciting new drops on the way, it’s no surprise that her clothes are selling out in seconds. Rain caught up with the young entrepreneur to learn more about her creative approach to the fashion business.

Interview by Maddy Maier
Photography by Emma Berson

Juliet Johnstone portrait
Juliet Johnstone

California roots

Maddy Maier: You have lived in both New York and California. What is it about the city of LA that keeps you here? 

Juliet Johnstone: I was born in California but moved to New York to go to school and pursue art. California has always been my home, and I always knew I would want to come back because of the access to nature and the beach; I am a California girl and a nature person at heart. I was always ready to come back, and I knew I would end up here, and for what I do: clothing design and running a brand, I can't think of a better place than LA. I have access to exceptional manufacturers, and I love it. It's my home. My family is here. Nature is here. I love it.

Do you think these places have influenced your work?

I think my surroundings influence me. I draw a lot of inspiration from nature. Much of my work is floral, and the colors come from natural elements like rocks and dirt. So, I think living in California has influenced my work a ton. Also, just the general style of California, like laid-back and bright, I love color, and I think California welcomes color, so yes, definitely inspired by my surroundings. 

How it all started

You sell painted clothing, which is all your original designs. Where did your interest begin? When did you realize this would be your full-time job?

I've always been a painter. I grew up a painter and have painted my whole life. I've always been into art and come from a very creative family. I went to art school for fine art and then worked as a studio assistant for artists doing painting, sculpture, and art handling; you name it, I was doing it. 

I was stuck at home before COVID when I accidentally started my brand. One day, I was wearing my pair of Dickies Carpenter pants. They are a staple of my wardrobe because I'm always working, painting, and doing something, so I always wear them for the functionality of the pants. Then, I painted some flowers and didn't think much of it to spice them up. 

I wore them around Los Angeles, shopping, doing whatever, and going out with my friends. I just wore them casually, and people were stopping me in the street asking where they could get these pants, and I was like, really, you want these? They're my work pants with some painted flowers, so that's where the painted pants were born, which is like the first thing I ever did.

Every piece is unique.

How long does it take to make each piece? Do you have any help paintingor do you paint them all yourself?

Every piece is unique. The painted pieces depend on how much is painted on them. We do custom pants, which are covered, so they are the most expensive item. And then we do drops of painted pants that vary in price depending on how much is painted on them. I introduced that so you didn't have to pay $600 for a pair of pants because that's how much customs are at this point and as the demand has grown, they've gotten more expensive just because everything is hand-painted and hand dyed and made in LA. 

For tank tops and baby tees, we offer one-of-one clothing pieces as well, and every graphic is different, which is a little psychotic, but it's my thing. I started doing that as a way to kind of delve into not hand-painted pieces but still keep them special and unique to my brand. So that's what I came up with, making baby tees and tank tops, but every graphic is different, and they're all hand numbered inside, and it takes quite a bit of work. It takes a couple of months to get a drop of the baby tees and tank top graphics together, so yeah, it's all time, but you know, people are inspired by it and drawn to it, so it makes it worth it.

Juliet Johnstone

Starting a business

Was starting a small business challenging? Was there ever a point where it was too much?

Starting a small business is very challenging. I had a unique journey to where I am now. I did not set out to create a small business. It just happened. I didn't see myself as an entrepreneur, a business person, or even working in fashion, so this business naturally fell into my lap. There was never a time when I was like, 'I want to start this brand, and these are my goals, and this is how I'm going to do it.' 

Everything just fell into its proper place, and I'm very much the type of person who runs with it, and I've been running with it ever since. Everyone asks what my goals for the brand are, and it's tough to think of goals when you didn't set out to start a brand at all. I'm enjoying every moment and trying to live in this moment and make as many cool things as possible.

I think running a business is challenging. I'm two years in now, two and a half, so you know, I have a small team now, and I have an office. I have bills to pay and many manufacturing bills and production. I have to run all these different things, so I think running a business for me is hard because even though I have a small team, I have my hands in just about everything. I manage every aspect of the business. Sometimes, if I think about everything that I'm doing, it becomes too much. 

If I zoom out too far, I'll freak out because there's a lot on my plate, but you know, it's all fun, and I could never go back to not working for myself. But to answer your question, starting it was not challenging for me because I didn't intend to create a brand, so I was painting and happy that people wanted to be involved with what I was painting. That was it for me. I was so shocked and grateful that anyone wanted something that I painted. That was what was special to me. Right now, it's probably the most challenging point because I'm getting to where things are growing, and I need to bring in more help and have more responsibilities. I'm in this growing period right now, and I think this is the challenging part. 

Global trend-setting pop-ups

Your company has pop-up shops but primarily sells online. Do you plan on opening a store? If so, do you think you will also expand to other cities? 

I've done a couple of pop-ups so far. My first one was in West Hollywood at my friend Jessie Andrews' gallery. It's called Tase Gallery. I did ComplexCon last year, and they invited me to come and be a part of their Brands to Watch program. One pop-up was in New York at the Susan Alexandra store, and I recently did one in Paris for Fashion Week. I'm trying to plan my next one. I enjoy doing pop-ups. I think it's so much fun to go and meet my community and customers, so I'm going to try and do a new city every few months, which is crazy, but I enjoy it so much. 

But yes, my products only sell on my website. I don't plan on opening a store one day, but I love pop-ups, meeting different people, and showing other cities what I can do, so I don't plan on opening a retail store anytime soon. I don't think a store is necessary when I can do temporary pop-ups worldwide. My goal is to do one in Japan. 

The DIY touch

From celebrities wearing your clothes to your clothes selling out in minutes, that must be surreal. How does this make you feel to have received so much positive feedback?

It's so surreal to see everything sell out. That's what is crazy to me. Celebrities wearing my clothes is exciting and a fantastic marketing tool. I'm so grateful to all the stars that have worn my clothes and continue to wear them. I received so much support from stylists and stuff; it's just amazing. Still, the most exciting thing for me is seeing kids I don't know, girls, boys, whoever, wearing my clothes, and posting on Instagram from cities I've never been to and random places with people I don't know. 

That's what's the most exciting to me and the most surreal because it's like, 'wow, this person liked my stuff enough to find me, and they bought this and posted a picture of it.' It's just surreal. My customers are incredible and show me so much love online. I try to repost everything people tag me in because I'll never get over seeing people wearing my stuff. It's so cool. I've never seen it in person, but I love seeing it on Instagram. I am so grateful for all the positive feedback. It's so exciting, and I have to stop and think how lucky I am that people want to buy my art and want to wear it on their bodies. We all wake up every day and choose an outfit to express ourselves, and I can't believe somebody wants to express themselves through the vessel of something I've designed. It's just so cool.

Juliet Johnstone

On sustainability

Sustainability is more important than ever, and I know you create high-quality, sustainable products. Why was it important to you to develop sustainable clothing?

As of now, I make everything in Los Angeles. I run all my production myself. I do tiny drops. Most of everything is one-of-one. Nothing is mass-produced. Yeah, this is just the way I want to run my business. It's important to me to stay as responsible as possible. I think so many fast fashion brands are just ruining the world in the fashion industry and our environment. I think it's essential to make things responsibly and not flood landfills.

How do you decide what you paint on your clothes? What would you say is your biggest inspiration for your art?

I get inspiration everywhere: vintage botanical books, butterfly books, old botanical drawings, reptiles, you name it. I can get inspiration from everywhere. My biggest inspiration is flowers and nature, 100 percent. I've become known for butterflies, love hearts, lilies, and some old English text mixed in there. I like that there are texts with the florals to make things not gender specific and have a juxtaposed stereotypical masculine versus feminine symbolism if that makes sense.

Future drops!

Do you have any exciting new drops planned? 

I have some exhilarating drops planned. I have long mesh sleeves, long mesh dresses, more bikinis, new bikinis, new styles of bikinis, new colors, more dresses, and really fun stuff coming up for the holidays, so there's a lot of things coming at the end of the year and next year. 

The mesh dresses are what I'm most excited about, and those will hopefully be coming in the next few weeks, so I'm seriously so excited! As a small business, and because I run my production essentially, I've had some interesting manufacturing issues this year, and I've been working hard to iron everything out. It's hard dealing with supply chain issues, but I have some exciting new drops planned, and I'm so excited for people to get this stuff.

Are there any collaborations in the works?

Yes! You'll have to be surprised! I haven't done many collaborations so far, I get reached out to do collaborations often, but I didn't want to burn out too quickly and do too many things at once right in the beginning. Still, I'm ready to delve into that world now, so there's stuff in the works, but I can't say what it is.

What is one word you would use to describe your journey in starting a business?

A whirlwind, 100%.

I have also been there. Small businesses are not easy. What would you say to small business owners who are just starting and are losing hope?

Don't give up. I mean, so cliche, but be true to yourself, don't give up. If you have a product that you love, why wouldn't someone else love it too?