By Clyde Hughes | AC JosepH Media
CAMDEN – Where some have debated the meaning of the word “feminist” today, Erin Johnson is clear about what it means and where it belongs – a term of empowerment that every woman should be proud to wear, literally.
The word is the inspiration of one of popular clothing lines for Erin Johnson’s online fashion company, The Collective. Based in her hometown of Camden, The Collective is an online and mobile women’s clothing store offering a range of women’s fashion and an exclusive at-your-door service for women.
It also provides additional services such as personal styling, private parties and makeovers. For Johnson, a former Division I track athlete at Boston’s Northeastern University, Johnson sees The Collective as a celebration of the importance of unity, womanhood, creativity and community service.
“I think everyone should embrace (feminist),” Johnson, 31, told Front Runner New Jersey.com. “Everyone should stand for equal rights and opportunities for women. The word ‘feminist’ means a lot to me. It means a person who advocates for women’s rights.
“Feminism means endless possibilities for women, mutual respect amongst the sexes, and lastly humanity. I want to live in a world where woman and girls are valued for their strengths and knowledge, whether they fall into stereotypical gender roles or not,” she added.
Johnson credited her parents with introducing her to the principles of the African-based Kwanzaa principles while growing up, particularly “Ujima,” which means collective work and responsibility. She said those parental lessons led to her creating The Collective.
“I’ve always had an obsession with how the universe works,” Johnson said. “I believe in the cosmos, or the belief that the universe works harmoniously with all existing matter and space. There’s a balance which helps to ensure that all of these things work collectively.
“Without community and balance, progress is impossible. From all of these important ideals and principles, The Collective was born. I mixed my love for art, style and social awareness to create this brand. The Collective was just one avenue in which I wanted to give back,” she continued.
One way she wanted to give back was literally coming back – to Camden. Where for some, the idea is staying in Boston after graduation would have been tempting, Johnson said she never hesitated returning home to start her own business.
“Home is literally where my heart is,” Johnson said. “Camden’s given me so much, even my husband! He’s a Camden native too and we’ve always talked about moving back to our hometown to invest in our community and our people. Camden has great bones and potential, the people (my people) are some of the strongest, most resilient and loving people I know. Camden was the perfect fit.”
In 2016, Johnson said he leveraged her personal network of friends and fellow entrepreneurs to launch the Feminist Business Society. The society is a professional network and business resource hub for women. Its mission is to empower women through education and opportunities for economic self-sufficiency.
“After doing some research on the fastest growing population of entrepreneurs being women, I wanted to find effective ways to help because I was a budding entrepreneur myself,” Johnson said. “I wanted to continue to empower and encourage that stay-at-home mother like myself who wanted to hold down the fort and run her own business, to help those stuck in dead end jobs who were seeking financial freedom, help shatter glass ceilings, and to promote a sisterhood amongst them.
“I’ve always been blessed to have such a great network of women that I wanted to share that and figuratively and literally bring them together under one roof. I know I didn’t have all of the answers and secrets to becoming the best entrepreneur or how to land your dream job, so I wanted to find a leverage my personal network to help others.
“With the help of Brittany and Tiffany Moye and Tameeka (entrepreneurs and consultants) we launched the very first Feminist Business Society Dinner Party. In attendance were a group of entrepreneurs, careerists and retirees. From the dinner party, we continue to host an annual dinner, workshops and social events,” she added.
Johnson also sits on the board of Around the Way Girl, Inc., an empowerment and education nonprofit that provides high quality programming to young women in underprivileged and marginalized communities.
“The organization was founded by a great friend of mine Maya Carr who I admire,” Johnson said. “I had been following the organization and all of the amazing work being done in our community.
“The organization was focused on reclaiming our narrative as young women from ‘the Hood,’ being proud of where you come from, empowering young women and placing them in thriving environments through workshops and sessions. Their mission spoke to me so when Ms. Carr asked me to be a board member, without hesitation I said yes,” Johnson said.
Johnson, who expanded her network politically as an officer with the South Jersey Young Democrats Black Caucus, touched on other important subjects in her interview with Front Runner New Jersey.com.
FRNJ: I tell anyone who will listen that fatherhood was the best thing that happened to me. How has family affected you and your outlook?
Erin Johnson: This is a great question! Family is the best thing that ever happened to me, I absolutely love and adore my family. Having a family of my own has made me more self-aware and intentional about my next steps because it impacts everyone. It’s made me become a better person each day and they hold me accountable. My parents laid a great foundation for me with instilling the importance of community, entrepreneurship, ownership, striving for excellence, and giving back. Family has taught me the importance of collaboration. We are all a part of the larger picture working together is a necessity even in the household.
FRNJ: What was it like being a Division I athlete? What lessons did you take from that?
Erin Johnson: Being a Division I athlete was tough yet rewarding. You compete against and with the crème of the crop! It was similar to being a part of a nationwide club which is known as the NCAA and under that umbrella were many chapters or colleges. I formed a sisterhood with my track teammates at Northeastern University and a comradery across all teams at the university. It was a big family. I got injured my last year resulting in a surgery on my hip which was a career ender for me. But, I had my friends, family and teammates by my side that helped me through that tough time. Lessons learned: Stay on top of your studies and ask for help, time management is key, build relationships outside of sports, and utilize all resources provided by the school.
FRNJ: How has that shaped your mentoring and the volunteer track work you do now?
Erin Johnson: I was very shy until I did a short stint as a fly attendant. I didn’t speak up often when I needed help or was struggling with something. I want to empower and encourage my athletes and mentees speak up, speak out and get after whatever it is they are passionate about.
FRNJ: Why did you get involved in the South Jersey Young Democrats Black Caucus? What do you try to bring to the group?
Erin Johnson: A friend of mine named Fatima Heyward reached out to me about doing more for black people in our communities in South Jersey and promoting young leaders. That was another no brainer. She shared her ideas about forming a Black Caucus as well as the co-founder who is another good friend Digna Townsend. I’m the oldest on the board, I know it’s hilarious being as though I am just 31. I bring a diverse background and some organizational skills I’ve gained with the help of my husband, Anthony and Fatima who is the president of SJYDBC and the new president of the New Jersey Young Democrats. I also bring my full support and passion for the mission. I enjoy watching my peers thrive and work through differences. That’s what makes this experience unique.
FRNJ: Anything else I forgot to ask?
Erin Johnson: I’m obsessed with watching You Tube videos about quantum physics.