|Interview with Johanna Ho - How it all began at School|
Sipping coffee at Starbucks on a Saturday morning, Audrey Chen met with her classmate and long-time friend, Johanna Ho.
A renowned local designer with her international collection spanning from London , New York to Tokyo, Johanna tells the story of her career path after she left DGS at the end of Form Three. After finishing her GCSEs and A-Levels at Queenswood School in England, Johanna went on to study an art foundation course at the Wimbledon School of Art. Thereafter she was admitted to Central St. Martin’s School of Art & Design where she gained her B.A. Honors in Fashion Design. She then further pursued her knowledge in the subject for two more years by attaining her Masters Degree in Fashion Design. Graduating in 1997, Johanna decided to return to Hong Kong.
In 1998 Johanna started her own label, ‘Johanna Ho’. While she was tremendously excited, it didn’t take long to find out that there wasn’t much market in Hong Kong for local designers as most of the crowd looked towards Western designer labels when it came to fashion.
Johanna recalls those days in the beginning when she worked only with a Shanghainese tailor, putting together samples piece by piece, stitch by stitch. When her collection was finally ready, Johanna put them in a suitcase and set off to New York, where she made phone calls to buyers who may be interested to view her collection. It was quite an experience to share an exhibition venue with other designers at The London Fashion Week during the buying season. And it was there where she got her first order - Barney’s New York bought her first collection!
Then came the next challenge. The order came in such small quantities which meant it was extremely difficult if not impossible to find factories that were willing to take the production order. And it was those unforgettable, painstaking moments that Johanna had to go through to finish her first order by hand-making every single piece of garment.
Eventually Japanese buyers began to notice her collection at Barney’s New York and time was right to enter the Japanese market. Johanna’s business expanded and hiring increased to meet the needs of the growing company. However in 2003 business went on the downside and orders were cut into half with overhead still weighing down. Johanna was at the lowest downturn of her career in 2004 with the contemplation of closing down the business when she received what she described as a ‘phone call from God’. Some Japanese investors were looking to invest in a Hong Kong designer for the Asian and Japanese markets and consequently Johanna successfully signed a license contract with them. There are now around nine shops in Japan with one main shop in Roppongi Hills Tokyo and one in Shanghai. Her collection is also selling through DMOP in Hong Kong.
Looking back into her days at DGS, Johanna had everything to be grateful for with her career success. DGS had taught her not to give up easily, to believe in team spirit, to overcome challenges and had shaped her to be the perfectionist she is today. Back in Junior school, it was her art teacher Mrs. Watt who strongly encouraged her to pursue and develop her interest and talent in art. Without her encouragement and support, Johanna may not have ended up in fashion and become who she is today.
Johanna is also thankful to Mrs. Blomfield, headmistress then, for giving her an important lesson at a young age. While Johanna was a Junior Prefect when she was in Primary Six, Johanna had never been an ‘A’ student and she had always felt a lot of pressure not meeting expectations of the ‘norm’. Mrs. Blomfield sat down to have a good chat with her and took the time to discuss which areas Johanna could try to improve. It was much an appreciation for Johanna to have a headmistress who was understanding, someone who didn’t look down on students that didn’t outperform academically. For Johanna, the Primary school was a place where students were given space to grow and learn, little by little, and it was not just all about having high grades. It was there that she developed self-confidence and it was there where she found her talent, and incessantly, followed her dreams.
Johanna also recalls some fun and laughter from childhood days at DGS when she was in Primary Five and Six. Johanna would always forget to bring her Chinese textbooks to school. Petrified (especially by Mrs. Fong, who was then our Chinese teacher), she would borrow books from her friend, Karen, and when the books were returned, the pages would be covered by drawings and sketches all over!! Not to mention that Karen was not the happiest camper then when she got her books back with pages “graffiti-ed” over---!!
Undoubtedly, one of the most memorable events was the making of the musical production ‘West Side Story’ by her class. Johanna vividly remembers that she was very much upset when she found out that there would be no large production for that last year that she was supposed to leave after Form Three. With much persistence the musical was finally approved for production. However, the class had to do everything from scratch, including putting the program together, learning all the songs, making all the costumes and designing the props for the stage. In the end, the entire production turned out to be very emotional for all who were involved and really got the class together throughout the process.
Being in various sports team at DGS, Johanna is a strong advocate for team spirit. She remembers looking forward to various Interschool events every season. As Johanna puts it, nowhere can you find such strong school spirit than DGS. Johanna encourages all students to take time to look outside of academics and to participate in extra-curricular activities. There is an arena of space for personal growth if we make good use of it.
To current DGS girls, Johanna reminds them all to be thankful for everything that they have and to be grateful that they are at DGS. Johanna hopes that all of our girls will learn to realize how fortunate they are to have good education, family support and lifelong friends. DGS students are indeed very privileged and being a bit modest might just be the right touch to add sometimes. In Johanna’s words, ‘Be confident but not too proud; take a step back and realize how fortunate you are.’ It is always important to strike a balance and remember to focus on emotion and inner self. Strive to develop individual personality and character.