Ethical Fashion: Johanna Ortiz

Johanna ortiz founded her eponymous label in her hometown of Cali, Colombia in 2003 after earning a degree from the Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale. The brand quickly gained international prominence after presenting in Fashion Weeks in both Bogota and Medellin in 2014, and now boasts  collections sold in more than 14 countries at 44 points of sale. Ortiz’s feel-good designs are characterized by ruffles, off-shoulder silhouettes, patterns that pay homage to the natural world, and vibrant colors that reflect the spirit of Latin America. As the “JO woman” is ever changing, each collection boasts its own unique characteristics specific to current trends. However, all looks—no matter the season—reflect the three pillars of the brand: feminine, festive, and effortless. “It’s all about being relevant but never losing that femininity, color, and joie de vivre,” describes Ortiz. Colombia is not only the influence of Ortiz’s designs, it’s also the focus of her personal and charitable endeavors. “Being able to make a positive impact on the lives of the people that work at Johanna Ortiz is one of the biggest achievements I have as a designer. Over the past couple of years, the fashion industry in Colombia has evolved and flourished, and today we can say that the ‘orange economy,’ as we call the creative industry in Colombia, plays a huge role in generating dignified employment in our country. We are almost entirely vertically integrated, which means that more than 90% of the production is done in-house, translating into more than 370 direct jobs,” explains Ortiz. Additionally, the brand employs artisans from different communities throughout Colombia, especially for its accessories, which are almost all handmade with natural fibers using ancestral techniques.

Johanna Ortiz (Images courtesy of Johanna Ortiz)

As a result of the pandemic-induced work-from-home trend, Ortiz’s latest Spring 2021 Collection, summarized as “barefoot luxury,” reflects more relaxed looks while still feeling festive. And to further the goal of helping Colombia—especially now while the country faces both COVID-19 and climate change—proceeds from this season’s T-Shirt will also benefit Act 4 Amazonia, an organization with the goal of ecosystem recovery in the Amazon region. Ortiz also begins the design process for each new collection by using existing stock and upcycling materials to avoid creating unnecessary waste. “Giving a second life to existing fabrics has become a very special experience in the past three seasons (designed during lockdown)! Additionally, for our latest collections, we have worked closely with suppliers of GOTS cotton from Italy and Netherlands, BCI Cotton from Portugal, as well as GRS polyester and PIMA cotton from Peru for our knitwear selection. All of these certifications ensure materials are recycled from secondhand use and processed sustainably,” explains Ortiz. Another current initiative—the closest to Ortiz’s heart—is the brand’s current “Semillero,” an onsite training program created to offer free professional-level seamstress and embroidery courses as a vehicle for independence and professional empowerment. To date, it has trained 57 professionals, many of whom are still employed by Johanna Ortiz.

A look from Johanna Ortiz’s Spring 2021 Collection.