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In this interview series, I talk to ecommerce experts, industry professionals, and thought leaders with in-depth knowledge and experience in online shopping trends. As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Angel Johnson.

Angel Johnson

Angel Johnson

Angel Johnson is the CEO and Founder of ICONI, a motivational activewear line for women and men that donates 10% of profits to nonprofit organizations. Through her business, she empowers others with her philanthropy and her messaging of power, strength, and versatility. Angel’s business, ICONI, was selected by Oprah Winfrey to be featured on Oprah’s Favorite Things 2020 in her first year of business and named one of the Most Charitable Women’s Activewear Brands by Women’s Health Magazine. Angel is an Air Force veteran and one of the first 100 Black Women to graduate from The Citadel, the Military College of South Carolina.

Can you tell us a bit about your backstory and how you grew up?

I’m originally from Charleston, South Carolina, was raised in Hanahan, South Carolina, and grew up surrounded by family. I was raised by my mom and my entire family as an extension. I eventually made my way to The Citadel after high school and then into the Air Force. 

What led you to this specific career path?

I decided to start ICONI after experiencing an embarrassing moment in the gym while doing squats. I knew that if I was dealing with the problem of see-through activewear, then other people were definitely experiencing it. I decided to create a solution of squat-proof activewear. 

Can you share the most exciting story that has happened to you since you began at your company?

In the first full year of my business and during the start of the pandemic in the U.S. (2020), ICONI was featured in Oprah’s Favorite Things 2020. This was definitely great validation to continue with my business.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people? 

The most exciting project I’m working on now is a new collection that incorporates technical fabric to improve the wearability and comfortability of activewear and eliminate all unnecessary seaming in activewear.

What are three traits about yourself that you feel helped fuel your success?

  1. Focus: When I set specific focus areas, I’m more able to execute tasks effectively and efficiently. 
  2. Organization: By staying organized, I can stay on top of my business tasks while balancing everything in my personal life. 
  3. Delegation: When I learned how to delegate tasks and trust those around me to accomplish those tasks, I was able to get more done and alleviate stress. 

What was the original vision for your ecommerce business? What pain point(s) were you trying to solve for your customers?

My vision for my ecommerce business was to reach as many people as I could to ensure I provided them with an inclusive and motivational community by way of activewear. I’m trying to solve the pain points of unsupportive, see-through, non-size-inclusive, and lackluster activewear. 

How do you see the ecommerce industry evolving in the coming years? 

I see ecommerce becoming more interactive and providing customers more of an in-store feeling online, from AI allowing virtual try-ons and sizing to more stores incorporating 24/7 chat functions to answer customer questions in real-time. 

image of iconi Angel Johnson

How do you balance the need for innovation and experimentation with maintaining a stable, reliable ecommerce infrastructure?

By keeping your customers and team at the forefront. You should always ask yourself how a particular innovation or experimentation helps alleviate your customers’ pain points when shopping online or how they help your team do their jobs. If innovation or experimentation does neither of these, you should take a step back and ask yourself if it is necessary.

What five emerging trends do you believe will have the biggest impact on the future of online shopping? 

1. AI: The use of AI to make a more personable online shopping experience, such as virtual try-ons and sizing tools.

2. Push for sustainability by Gen Z: Brands will have more responsibility and accountability to answer questions about their sustainability practices in all aspects of their business.

3. Personalization: Customers will want a more personalized shopping experience online, so we will see more apps and tools roll out for ecommerce brands that can change the front page of a website based on the perceived demographics of the person visiting the website.

4. Push for more authenticity from brands: Customers are asking brands to be more authentic, so this will lead to changes to online clothing stores, such as non-edited model images, use of non-standard models, rawer images, and/or user-generated content on websites, etc.

5. Increased digital connectivity allowing more worldwide fashion trends: Due to our ability to connect more through social media and other digital means, we are starting to see fashion trends that can share globally. This means online shop owners will need to stay abreast of how other audiences outside their country will perceive their online store and their brand.

Is there a past trend that’s now common practice in ecommerce that you would have spent 50% more time focusing on? Which one and why?

I would have spent more time on influencer marketing at the beginning of my business, and I’m glad that I’m incorporating it now. Influencers are the new “it” people and can drive lots of traffic to an ecommerce brand.

Looking ahead, what are the biggest opportunities and challenges facing the ecommerce industry, and how do you plan to address them in the coming years?

Continued ad changes and regulations: It seems that ad requirements and regulations on various platforms change often. As soon as ecommerce brands start to understand these requirements and regulations, they seem to change again. My solution is to outsource my marketing and work with a team of professionals in the PR, paid media, and social media realms to ensure my brand stays abreast of changes. 

Increased monetary demand from platforms: Gone are a lot of the days of going viral as a brand without paying the platform you are using. Platforms want brands to spend money so they can make money as well. My solution is to work with my marketing company to find unique ways to stretch our ad budget and create captivating content that encourages community and connection. 

If you could start a movement that would bring the most good to the most people, what would that be?

Besides fashion, I have always loved helping people. One of the ways I did this before was by being a volunteer teacher in Eguafo, Ghana. I lived in the same village as my students and went through a small portion of their lives with them. My answer would be to give people access to a quality education.

I think by educating people in the United States, and worldwide, we can help break cycles of poverty and drive social and economic change. Quality education is also one of our society's tools that allows people to reach their full potential, regardless of their background or other circumstances. 

I think education is a lifelong process, and we should find ways to continue to educate our society to allow people to adapt to our rapidly changing world and to help lessen the fraction caused by biases and preconceived notions rooted in a lack of quality education. 

How can our readers further follow your work online?

They can follow me personally on Instagram or via LinkedIn

They can always stay updated on ICONI news by following us on all platforms @iconileggings and checking out our website

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Francois Marchand
By Francois Marchand

Francois Marchand is passionate about helping and educating business leaders, ecommerce professionals, and digital marketers grow their skill sets to stay ahead of the competition. Francois holds a BA Specialization in Communication Studies & Journalism from Concordia University (Montreal, QC) and 20+ years of experience in ecommerce, marketing, traditional and digital media, and public relations, including The Vancouver Sun, National Post, CBC/Radio-Canada, Unbounce, and Vancouver Film School.