UP CLOSE: How this local fashion designer came back from down under to the centre of Frome

  Posted: 07.09.20 at 16:39 by The Editor

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It is quite the story - someone who has had a portfolio career - found success in Australia and New Zealand - and is now starting his own business in the middle of a pandemic, in the middle of Frome.

His product line is all British-made, from the threads of the designs to the tie bags which he sends them off in, and it is all organic, and where possible, recycled.

Johnny Szymanski, who originates from Mells, pivoted from a successful career in London, to a totally new life in New Zealand and then over to Australia where he started the profitable Shearer fashion brand.

His story is now one of return, as he has just opened the doors on his new venture, a menswear designer shop on the High Pavement in Frome.

In addition to designing the clothes he has now diversified into making bespoke totes, "Gentleman Totes" with a unique logo. So you can come into the shop and create your own design.

Unique is the word that Johnny seems to wear with some pride, but is mostly earned through his own talent, now waiting to be discovered.

He is now in the central Frome location creating patterns

Frome Nub News caught up with him in his shop as he awaited delivery of his first full collection from machinists in Leicester.

His monochrome designer wear is as sustainable and ethical as it can be, with even the tags recycled, and the supply chain as short as possible, with a carbon footprint as small as possible.

So first of all ... opening a shop in a pandemic?

" Some people have said it was foolish, " admits Johnny, " but others have said it is a good time to do it. If I can make it work now, I can make it work anytime."

Johnny who went to school in Frome and Bath, chose, as his first career after university in Reading, to be a highly sought after public relations professional working in London. He did that for two years - for clients such as Warner Brothers and Toshiba - and then the 2008 global financial hit. " So I quit my job, bought a one way ticket to New Zealand where I learnt to ride horses and play polo."

For the gentleman bags he creates, he can take orders to make them as you want

A dramatic switch in careers won with pure chutzpah. " I put an advert out on a New Zealand polo association web site which said, I can't ride and I can't play, but I work very hard and I want to learn. Can someone give me a job?"

It is that kind of panache that led Johnny from there to a successful career with horses, back to London, back to Australia and for a while he was headhunted back to his original company to set up their Hong Kong office. He did that for a year, and by the end of his time, he decided it was a career in fashion he wanted to pursue.

Record breaking sheep sheared ... it still holds

He came up with a label 'Shearer' inspired by the legendary shepherd Jackie Howe who still holds the record for shearing the most number of sheep in a day with the old original hand blades - 321 in seven hours and 40 minutes, back in 1841.

He worked and studied for six years in Melbourne and put together the highly regarded line of menswear. One fashion blogger wrote: "Johnny Szymanski... have you met the ever so charming English Gentleman that has been rocking the Melbourne fashion scene for the past few years?"

But now he is back on UK shores - he has turned his attention to a new brand.

The collection is incredible

" I didn't think that a brand about Australian sheep shearing, even though it wasn't about that, would translate very well. So all the remaining stock I donated to the bush fire victims and then while I was trying to find a job in design back in the UK, this shop and the opportunity for my own brand came up."

Another chance alignment of planets?

" I have always had a passion for design, interiors, art.. my mum has always said I am 98 per cent creative, one per cent admin and one per cent I don't know where I am looking."

The shop is not going to be just for sales; Johnny is already making samples in there, and designing and sewing those gentleman totes.

Designer yes, but also able to turn out a fashionable tote

Johnny said: " More than just a shop, it is a studio. I don't make the clothes myself, I design them and make the patterns. During the pandemic I needed something to do, so I learnt how to make bags and they seemed quite popular. I sold about 14 of them during lockdown."

Johnny has had three careers, all successful but now he is doing what he truly loves

Each of the totes is individual, some with camouflage, all water-proof and while they are masculine in nature they work across all genders.

The motif is three stitches across a seam. "My mum, my dad and my sister and they hold me together, " explains Johnny. " Part of my masters was in graphic design, so I am big that behind everything there should be a story, because the better the story, the more people buy into it."

The full line of his product range will be on the rails in about a month.

Johnny says that is where the buzz lies :" There is no other feeling like it when you see someone wearing something you have designed. They don't know you have designed it. But when you see that first random person in the street wearing your item, it is unbelievable. It is amazing."

You can follow Johnny Szymanski on Instagram @johnny_szymanskI or see his website HERE: the Johnny Szymanski site

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