Workspace: Joanna Williams of Kneeland Co.

When Joanna Williams and I first met it felt as though we had known each other for years. I’ve been following her for a long time getting inspired through her beautiful instagrams and travels adventures. We first met for coffee right after the new year. As we sat there chatting, we kept finding more and more things that we had in common. We both love to travel, go flea market hunting and we both have family living in Mexico City. She also knew two friends of mine that I grew up with that have their own jewelry line – what a small, small world.

I knew photographing Joanna’s workspace would be inspiring, but it was even better than that, it was breathtaking. Every corner had something new that make my jaw would drop to the ground. Joanna has one of those amazing jobs that you want. Kneeland Co. is a division of her business where she sources vintage textiles from around the world to be sold to clients in order for them to use for product development. How awesome is that! She also started Kneeland Mercado where she sells beautiful items sourced from around the world (mainly Mexico). She carries beautiful treasures. Enjoy this beautifully inspiring workspace and interview!

Where do you get your sense of style?

My sense of style was instilled in me at a very young age when I started to idolize my older cousin and older brother.  Both of them had a fearless approach to style, both in fashion and music, and that really had a huge impact on me and taught me to go with my instinct and to have fun getting dressed.  My cousin, Cassie, would often travel with her family to Europe and bring back beautiful things by Krizia, Louis Vuitton, and other designers who were having a moment and then put them together in a way that was very cool and approachable.  We would play Violent Femmes records in her room and play with her clothes and it was the most satisfying experience for a young girl like myself.  My brother was a skateboarder and was very into new-wave music, and I really latched on to that as well. I would borrow his skate t-shirts and baggy jeans and wear them to school and be in my own little world.  Those two people had the biggest impact on my life when it comes to style, and also going to my first concert to see Morrissey in 6th grade.  It was outdoors in Houston, Texas, and I remember the lights on the stage coming on and everyone standing up with excitement, wearing the most amazing outfits.  I thought to myself, “This is IT, and this is the life I want to live.”  My style is still influenced by music as well as other things including art, travel, and those rebellious renegade women both past and present who love(d) to get dressed.  I enjoy picking things up on trips, whether it’s from specialty boutiques or markets and incorporating them into my wardrobe.  I also love people watching in whatever city or country I’m in and absorbing different elements of style; I think that probably influences my style subconsciously.
Explain the two divisions of your business – Kneeland Co. + Mercado.

With Kneeland Co., I source vintage textiles from around the world to be sold to clients in fashion, home, and beauty.  Essentially I am selling inspiration, as the designers I work with use the textiles for product development ideas.  I also design a line of embellishments that are hand made in India and sold to designers as well.  I travel around the world and work with different vendors both here and abroad, so it made sense to develop a second business that was available to everyone instead of just the trade.  I was already traveling and doing the work, so I started to source objects and accessories that I thought were special and interesting and opened an online store, Kneeland Mercado.  In addition to sourcing for the store, I also work with artisans to create products including rugs, baskets, and various goods.

Where do you find inspiration for Kneeland?

I find inspiration everywhere, from books to conversations to art to nature to vintage clothing – it’s endless!  Travel is definitely inspiring to me and I like discovering something new or seeing something totally unexpected that can spawn an idea for something else.  I truly believe that traveling provides the best education and can really help to train both your mind and your eye creatively.
When did you decide to start your online shop Mercado?

I decided to start Kneeland Mercado when I was on a sourcing trip in Mexico City last May.  I had such an incredible response to all the photos I was taking, and people were starting to inquire about products.  I happened to be doing a side project where I was sourcing for an online shop and thought it would be a good idea to start one myself.

Whats your latest obsession?

I have a few, one of which includes the new Dries Van Noten perfume for Frederic Malle.  I also have a soft spot for the perfect pink lipstick from the Dries Spring ’13 show – Chanel Rouge Allure Velvet Lipstick in L’Exuberante.  I’m obsessed with the Spring ’13 Dolce & Gabbana collection and I want to wear all of it this summer, preferably in an exotic beach location.  A girl can fantasize!   I’m also obsessed with the painter Laura Owens whose show I just saw here in LA at Ooga Booga #2.  I look at her paintings and see endless possibilities.  And then there’s India, a heavy obsession.  I have yet to go but am planning a trip for early fall and am beside myself with excitement.
You and I have something in common, we both have family living in Mexico City. Has this influenced your style?

Having family in Mexico City has definitely influenced my style.  Locals in Mexico are very stylish, but they also have a very natural beauty about them that has more to do with their spirit than with fashion.  In Mexico, there isn’t that sense of frantic urgency that we have in the states, so people are more relaxed, happy and carefree and you can really sense that in their way of dressing.  Lunches are 3 hours long, not 30 minutes.  There’s something to be said for that kind of lifestyle, and I think about that often.  My mother’s side of the family lived and continue to live an artful, bohemian lifestyle and there are many decisions and choices that are made that I believe in, like being open to new ideas and experiences and just going with the flow and acting out of love.  It’s hard to do, yes, especially when you’re running a business but I believe those are good words to live by.  I named my business Kneeland Co., as that is my mother’s maiden name.  My grandfather, Russell Kneeland, was a true adventurer and built an 86-foot schooner named Princess Kaiulani and sailed her all over the world.  I think about his hard work, his free spirit and his passion and that definitely is a major influence on every aspect of my style.

Is there anywhere in the world – a city or market – that brings you the most inspiration?

That’s a hard question!  Each city and market is totally different from the next, so it’s hard to say which is a favorite.  I just know that the markets in India are going to blow my mind into a million little pieces, so I’m certain that will become a favorite!  I do love visiting and shopping in Istanbul as well as the little Turkish villages on the Mediterranean.  My brother-in-law and his wife live there, so when we visit them they’re always turning us onto new and off the beaten path spots where I have found some real treasures.  I also adore the Clignancourt Flea Market in Paris and could spend my entire income there.  Mostly, I love exploring and meeting people in different countries because that’s what usually leads you to the gold.  I’ll talk to anyone, language barrier or not!

Where do you see Kneeland or Mercado in five years?

I would love for my dream clients to be real clients, and I’d like to continue to collaborate with brands that I believe in and with people whom I admire.  I would also like to write a book about my travels, my family and my business.  And, a brick-and-mortar location (or two) would make me very happy.

A huge thank you to Joanna for letting us get a glimpse inside her lovely and inspiring workspace!

Photos by Caitlin Flemming

7 Comments

  1. Julie

    A true inspiration and so authentic! Thanks for sharing such a stimulating example of how one can chose to live.

  2. FripperyVintage

    Wonderful interview, very interesting and love all the photos, very inspiring.

  3. Justina

    I’ve been a fan on Kneeland Co. for a while and it was so lovely to get a more in-depth view into her life, aspirations, and to see her stunning studio. Thanks for a really insightful interview with this rad chica! Major buena onda!

  4. Simone LeBlanc

    Love this! Joanna is as inspiring as her space. xx

  5. Becca

    Such a great interview! I love hearing about all of Joanna’s travels! I have been to India (and loved it!), but have not been to so many of the places she has been. It’s making me want to plan a trip!

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