A life of travel is something that many people dream about, but for Michelle Lynn Johnson, owner of The Fairies Pyjamas, it’s part of her job.
“I went to Australia in 2005/06 and sold my jewelry at festivals there,” said Johnson. “I saved up money with my boyfriend at the time and then we travelled through Asia, through China, into Tibet and into Nepal where we discovered all these talented tailors ready and willing to work. We made about 50 pieces and brought them back to Canada for the summer of 2006 and it sold.”
Before diving into the world of clothing design and manufacturing, Johnson was making wire jewelry out of recycled materials and selling it at music festivals.
“I feel inside me that I am a creator whether I do it with my hands or whether I do it with my eyes and then commission others to do it, I like to create,” she said.
Johnson has been selling her clothing and jewelry at the Shambhala Music Festival for seven years, and in 2010 she decided to open a store in Nelson on Victoria Street.
“As it became apparent that I needed more inventory instead of renting a warehouse I decided to open up a store in May 2007,” she said. “Since we’ve opened up our store in BC we’ve used this as our western headquarters in order to access the coast, because previously, coming from Toronto it was unrealistic to be able to come all the way out.”
Being closer to the Pacific coast allowed The Fairies Pyjamas to travel to west coast music festivals like Vancouver Folk Fest, Vancouver Island Music Fest and Bass Coast, for the first time.
The Nelson location was a second store for Johnson, she also has a boutique in Toronto, where she grew up.
“I’m from Toronto, my store is in Kensington Market. We have a lovely boutique right on clothing street,” she said.
Despite some obvious differences in the markets in Toronto and Nelson, Johnson said the customers are more similar than they seem.
“They are similar in that Toronto does have a huge crowd of open and conscious minded people. Some may not think that they’re there but they are. There is a huge party scene going on in Toronto too, with outdoor and indoor music festivals and events which we’re a huge promoter of, we sell tickets at that location for all the events that we can think of,” said Johnson.
All the clothing is designed by Johnson and made in Nepal, where she has developed a community.
“I go there and I have an apartment that I rent, and I buy coffee from a guy who knows me now,” she said.
Having developed a community in the places she’s travelled to, Johnson feels it’s important to invest in fair trade.
“In 2006, I finished by bachelors of fine arts at the Ontario College of Art and Design, which my mom thought I wasn’t going to do that but I did,” she said. “That fall, I went back to Nepal by myself, because my boyfriend at the time and I had different ideas about the direction the business should take. I invested into a company that’s part of the Fair Trade Federation because I felt like it was really important to make sure and guarantee who and how people were making my designs and clothing.”
Johnson is also trying to lead by example showing that if she can go fair trade, others can too, and the next step for The Fairies Pyjamas is organic fabrics.
“We’re working towards working with certified organic materials,” she said “Right now all of our cottons are sourced from small-based farms that are near Nepal and India that use low footprint processing. But introducing organic materials means my price points will go up, but I want to keep it affordable for everybody.”
In addition to Johnson’s designs, there is also jewelry by local artists, jewelry displays that she picked up in Bali, and even indoor flower lights made by a village in Thailand.
Since opening her store in 2010 in Nelson near El Taco, Johnson has seen a lot of interest and eventually had to look at moving her store to a bigger location.
This Friday, The Fairies Pyjamas will be celebrating the grand opening of their new store on Baker Street.
“We moved to Baker Street, because Baker Street is Nelson,” said Johnson.
Since moving, The Fairies Pyjamas has seen 10 times the traffic they saw at their previous location.
The grand opening gets going at 10 a.m. and will run with music by local DJs until the early evening. For more information on The Fairies Pyjamas visit their website at thefairiespyjamas.com.