Name: Johanna Swanson
Current City: Cardiff by the Sea, California
Hometown: Yuma, Arizona
Occupation: Owner/Designer of Mar Y Lana, Public School Teacher and Mother
Johanna Swanson grew up in a small farming town in Arizona with her wonderful family and Columbian Mother. "This gave me the great advantage of traveling to Colombia consistently and being bilingual," she states.
After high school, she studied Psychology and Spanish at NAU and quickly realized her dream of living in San Diego and becoming a teacher. Once by the ocean, she discovered her intense love for surfing and moved to Cardiff by the Sea where she now resides with her husband and two young kids, ages 2.5 and 4.
On top of being a mother, she continues to teach and work on her passion project Mar Y Lana. If that's not enough to make her Wonder Woman, she's currently overcoming a challenging year. "I've been dealing with complications from my prophylactic double mastectomy and hysterectomy due to a BRCA gene mutation but I only one more surgery to go," Johanna shares.
Read on to learn more about Johanna's phenomenal journey.
What's the inspiration behind Mar Y Lana, and what plans do you have for the future?
It all began with a poncho that had been handed down through our family to my son. He started wearing it around town and people went nuts over it, from how cute it was to how they wanted one for their child or themselves. So, I contacted my cousin in Colombia and asked him to find out where the ponchos were made and the story behind them. I knew I needed a story to tell them, but I never realized how incredible that story wound up being. It took him three weeks of traveling the countryside to find the real community of artisans that were making these garments the way their ancestors had taught them. Once he found the community, it took 6 hours for the artisans in the small village to open up and trust him.
This village once boomed with the sounds of loom weaving. Our artisan, Williams tells tales of the sound of looms coming from behind each and every door down each and every street. Unfortunately, once China came into the picture and fast-fashion took hold of the global market, their economy dissolved. Now there are only a handful of men who continue the tradition and the younger generation is having a hard time seeing the value in continuing the practice. To make matters worse, some of the men who used to work their looms are now working in horrible conditions in illegal coal mines or in the potato fields. Some men have even had to burn their looms as firewood. It is heartbreaking.
Once I saw that I could have a direct effect on this community’s quality of life as well as help keep these traditional practices alive, I was hooked. How amazing will it be when one day we can get men out of those working conditions and back on their looms, at home safe with their families. We also give back a portion of our profits to the local school to help with simple supplies and food for the children.
All of the materials for your ponchos come from Colombia, how often do you travel there and do you plan to source from other countries in the future?
I go about once a year and I am in the process of saving money to source some organic cotton from Peru. It has taken me longer than expected but I am still pushing for this goal.
Out of all your stunning designs, which poncho is your favorite?
Oh man, this is a hard one. I love so many of them and have to limit myself so that I don’t own them all. Right now you will find me wearing the Carmin. I love the buffalo plaid during the cooler months because the wool/cotton blend is so cozy. On a warmer day, you'll find me in my Navy Herringbone Poncho. I literally could wear this every day. It is open in the front so sometimes I throw one half around my neck, or cuddle underneath it for extra warmth. I even use it as a beach blanket.
What was your biggest hurdle switching to the world of self-employment?
Well, I have not switched over to self-employment yet. I am still teaching. It’s hard and I often wonder how much further along I could be if I quit teaching and could dedicate all my time to Mar Y Lana. But I don’t have investors and I am not in a hurry. I am growing slowly and that is ok.
Do you have any other projects/exhibits/collabs on the books you'd like the readers to know about?
I am taking my family to travel South America for a year. We will be spending time all over volunteering, surfing, and of course, connecting with our artisans and others who want to be part of our brand. I’ll be blogging about it and you can follow along @rfamlyslyds or rfamlyslyds.com.
If you could offer one nugget of wisdom to individuals around the world, what would it be and why?
Don’t wait for things to be perfect. Do the best you can and move on!
Say money and time were not a factor, what career would you pursue/how would spend your days?
I would go back to school and study things just for the love and learning and of course surf my heart out, oh and ride horses.
Discuss the importance of female friendships in your life.
My relationships with my girlfriends are part of what makes me who I am. I have lifelong friends who are very similar to me and others who are so different. Being able to connect with all different kinds of women has provided me with consistent inspiration in all areas of my life. Supporting each other in our most vulnerable times and cheering each other on through our triumphs creates such a bond. I have the kind of friendships where I may not see or talk to some of my closest friends for months at a time but we are always able to pick right back up where we left off.
Who are some of your greatest influences?
My parents are by far the greatest influence in my life. They did a really great job of raising my siblings and me with a solid sense of self, emotional intelligence and confidence. My dad came from nothing and has worked since the age of 4. He always had such trust and respect for me, that is really held me accountable in my youth. My mother is a super-dynamic and free-spirited woman – the kind of woman who lights up a room. She passed down an attitude of unfettered optimism, charm and childlike spirit.
If you could have dinner with any woman in history, dead or alive, who would it be and why?
I would want to have dinner with my paternal grandmother, Ellen Anderson. She lived a very different life than I have. She was very poor, had ten children, and everyone would tell you she never once uttered a bad word about anyone. I’d love to have dinner with her to listen to her stories, learn some of her simple way of living off the land and hopefully make her feel proud of who I have become.
What are you grateful for?
Oh man... this easily brings me to tears because I have so much to be grateful for. After a hellish year of so many surgeries, I am so grateful for my husband – he really is the greatest! He is able to take care of everything when I have to be in bed for weeks at a time. There is also no way my husband and I would have been able to get through it all without the support of our family and friends. They helped with the kids, meals and kept me company. I am so grateful I had the opportunity to take control of my cancer risk and never have to worry about getting breast or ovarian cancer. It's a pretty great feeling.
Do you have a personal mantra or quote that inspires you?
“Those who matter don’t care and those who care don’t matter.” This helps me when I am feeling unsure or insecure about most anything.