Although Stacy Johnson started her fashion career as a teen model for Seventeen magazine, she knew early on it was designing that interested her most. She grew a successful company, Stacia, that started in Brooklyn in 1998, and now she’s turned her talent to a children’s book, “Mabel the Fashion Muse.”
In the book’s dedication, the Highlands resident writes: “The book is dedicated to my daughter, Kaiulani. I hope this book reminds you to follow your dreams and never give up what you love.”
Johnson, who has lived here since 2010, not only wrote the book, she did the illustrations.
She told Circling the News, “The story is very personal to me. It was inspired by my own experiences as a fashion designer in NYC and starting my own fashion business.”
The story is about Mabel, a chatty dress form that belongs to a budding fashion designer, and her furry companion, a little Yorkie named Brooklyn. The book goes from the sample room to runway – and details their adventures.
“I wanted to create this book to inspire future designers and give girls the tools and power to be their own fashion entrepreneur someday,” said Johnson, who has three children, 16, 14 and 11. “Most books or story lines about fashion depicted petty social drama or were an unrealistic view on how the fashion industry actually worked. I think a whimsical dress form, like Mabel, is the perfect relatable character to tell my entrepreneurial story.”
Johnson is originally from the East Coast but grew up in Hawaii and Alaska. She moved to New York City to attend college at the Parsons School of Design.
“I knew I wanted to go there because that’s where Donna Karan went, and she was my inspiration as an aspiring designer,” said Johnson, who received her bachelor’s degree in fine arts in fashion design. “So drawing, painting and art were a big part of my training.”
While at Parsons, Johnson enjoyed internships with her idol, Karan, and with designer Micheal Kors. After graduation, she worked five years in the garment district, first with Calvin Klein and then Cynthia Rowley.
In 1998, “I chose the unconventional route of opening up a boutique and atelier in Brooklyn, where I could design in the back and sell in the front, directly to the customer,” Johnson said. Her first store was on Smith Street in Carroll Gardens. “As my business expanded, I opened a small factory where everything was manufactured. Both are prominent settings in the book.”
Johnson relocated to California in 2004 because she felt it would provide a better place to raise her kids. “I shifted my business to wholesale and designed and manufactured an eco-friendly knitwear line for 10 years.” Then in 2011, she opened a second store on Montana Avenue. She closed that location about five years ago after a fire in the building.
She has since scaled back her wholesale business and is focusing more on her e-commerce website, shopstacia.com, producing small batch designs with a California beach lifestyle in mind.
This change gave Johnson time to write and illustrate her book. “I’ve had the idea for this book since 1999 when I first started using Mabel the dress form on my first e-commerce website,” Johnson said. “But with running a business nonstop for 20 years, I never had the time till now to execute it.”
In writing it, “I scoured through old photos of my Brooklyn shop and atelier, and my memories of the New York fashion industry to create my illustration plates,” Johnson said. “Some of the plot lines were inspired by my own experiences working for other designers. The book is also sort of a love story to NYC, the center of the fashion industry.”
Johnson has started an online fashion portal for kids (mabelthefashionmuse.com), where there are design activities, resources, tutorials and templates.
She was asked if her daughter is interested in design. “My daughter does have an interest in fashion. She has her own Depop business and loves to thrift and style looks,” Johnson said. “During the early days of the pandemic when LA was on lock down, we did a few fun DIY videos together for the Mabel the Fashion Muse YouTube channel (tie dyeing, mask making and sewing a faux fur bag).”
To learn more about Stacia, visit: shopstacia.com.
The 40-page book, published by Austin Macauley, can be found at Diesel Bookstore in the Brentwood Country Mart.