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#LEADINGLADIESSERIES: Beverley Johnson

Beverley Johnson was inspired to start her limited edition art bag label Consequence of Change, after a challenging year where she lost some of the most important people in her life. However, Beverley’s journey to creative independence started long before that, during her career in advertising working with some of Australia and the UK’s biggest high street fashion labels. Beverley spoke to us about the long road of false starts, career adventures, mistakes, and company politics that have given her the wisdom and resilience to strike out on her own and create a unique label of wearable art.

I got into advertising through a happy accident. I applied for a job as a secretary in what I thought was an accounting firm but turned out to be an advertising agency. Advertising became my career of choice and I quickly moved up the ranks to become an Account Director working on the Myer account. After 5-6 years, an opportunity came up to work at JAG and reposition the brand. I was tasked with pitching for a new ad agency and repositioning the brand.  With DDB, we created a campaign that was so successful that ad shells were being stolen because the images were so amazing. It was a great time to be in that company because they really wanted change and that meant there was room for me to be creative.

I was there for five years and then my husband and I decided to move to London where I became Head of Marketing at Warehouse. After 2.5 years overseas I returned to Australia and got a job at Jeanswest as Head of Marketing. I had the most amazing seven years there. We really did change that brand from bottom of the range jeans and tees to a desirable brand with attitude.

Then an opportunity came up to work at a big name Australian consumer products company. Whilst I loved being at Jeanswest I felt that I had achieved a lot and it was time for a change.  I had been headhunted by this company for many years. I met the Boss who said we love you, we want you, just come over. I told them they had to offer me a job first. For a while they would ring me with jobs that just weren’t right.

Eventually they came through with what I thought was going to be a dream role in Group Marketing working with huge brands. That was appealing. That was what brought me in.

With hindsight, I realise it was not a great career move. I didn’t do my due diligence. There was no job description for my role because it was so new, and there was no support either. There was no clear mandate. Every single day in that job was a battle.

After I left that role, it took me some time to get my confidence back. I did learn some invaluable lessons specifically about how to deal with difficult personalities and change difficult relationships  into productive ones. I learnt a lot about resilience, not taking things too personally, and managing up. However, I don’t think you need to go through such a horrible experience to learn those things. I left after one year as I was extremely unhappy. It was not a great time to be without a job as the GFC had just hit. So, I thought I would create my own job.

I believed  I had the skills to run a brick and mortar fashion business, but it was a struggle. I had a store in St Kilda and while I enjoyed the visual merchandising and buying, I didn’t manage my budget terribly well. I had all this stock left over and I thought it was a good idea to open up another store in Seddon. This helped me manage my stock levels and move styles around from store to store, but ultimately it just doubled up expenses.

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Then I thought maybe I’d get a part time job to put money back into the business. One of Australia’s biggest supermarket chains was looking for someone to launch their mixed apparel range. It was great. The job was two days per week and they offered a great package which really helped me put money back into the business. Then I asked them what they wanted to achieve and they said they intended to open 52 standalone stores within their existing supermarkets in 6 months. That wasn’t going to happen with me working two days a week, so I began to work full time and closed down one of my stores. I really enjoyed working there, I travelled to NYC and was involved in every aspect of the roll out.

The downside of working for large supermarkets is that you need to be a certain type of personality to thrive. As I came from a fashion background, I wasn’t that type of person. When I started, they asked me to go on a five day training program to learn how to fit into their idea of what makes a good employee. I definitely learned a lot about myself during that time butt the end of the day trying to fit into someone else’s idea of a good employee does take a toll and after a couple of years it was time to move on.

I was out in the wilderness again and didn’t really know what I was going to do at that point. I worked in a GM role for a few years which was a great experience in a small advertising agency. After losing a couple of key accounts, it was time for me to move on. I went to work for a big overseas furniture company. They wanted someone three days a week to do their marketing and social. I loved the product and the brand so I was excited about the opportunity.  However it was the first time that I had to report to someone overseas.  They said they wanted me to take their brand positioning from overseas and reposition it for the Melbourne market.  After a while I realised they were never going to let me be creative and what they really wanted was for me to follow their lead which is not really my thing! So I decided to move again. At that point I felt I was in career flux and questioned whether I could actually work for someone else again. I did some contract work for a while and then I tragically lost my Mum, Dad and my best friend.

That’s when I decided to do what makes me happy, because none of us know what’s going to happen tomorrow, or next week or the week after. I decided I was going to give it a bloody good go.

I’ve learnt a lot from my mistakes. Starting a business this time around is very different. I have created something that doesn’t really exist and finding out whether people want it or not is going to be the big test. The research I did before launch leads me to believe there is a market for what I am offering. My son inspired me to start Consequence of Change. He is an artist and I always wanted to do something with his work. That was the embryo of the idea and it grew from there.

I believe art should be enjoyed by everyone and I also believe artists should be paid for their work.

Many companies that create merchandise with art prints don’t pay the artists fairly. I think that’s unethical and so I pay the artists for their work. It squeezes my margins, but when I say you’re buying a piece of art, I mean it. I paid for that art and there is only 20 of those available. It feels very exclusive. If you can’t afford to buy a canvas to put on your wall, you can buy one of my bags and take it with you. It’s wearable art.

It’s only been a month since Consequence of Change launched. The last 6-7 months have been extremely busy setting everything up and it feels so rewarding to know that I did it all myself. I feel I’ve created a great foundation. It’s not going to be easy, but I’m learning all the time.