Born and raised in Charleston, South Carolina, Angel Johnson describes herself as “a Southern girl through and through.” Johnson attended The Citadel Military College of South Carolina before ultimately joining the U.S. military. She leads an active, healthy lifestyle, and working out is a staple of her daily routine. At the gym, Johnson strives to feel good and look good. In fact, looking good for herself motivates Johnson, and she says that every visit to the gym is a “fashion show” for herself.
During one of Johnson’s fashion show workouts, a friend pointed out that her expensive, designer-brand leggings were actually see-through. Embarrassed, frustrated, and appalled at the money she had spent for leggings she describes as “not squat-proof,” her mind immediately went to work.
Angel looks through her ICONI apparel that is hanging in front of her.
Johnson was able to identify and leverage whitespace in the activewear market—the quality of most workout gear was not up to par for her rigorous, high-intensity training. With this in mind, Johnson ran with the idea of developing the best, highest-quality activewear that allows its wearers to squat, run, jump, stretch, do yoga, dance, and everything in between—and look good while doing it.
After eight years of dedicated military service, during which Johnson was the perfect example of selfless service, she pivoted to become her own boss and ICONI was born. Launching ICONI represented the first time that she was truly doing something for herself. Johnson went from a military career, during which she knew what she was going to wear and what her schedule would be every day for eight years, to becoming her own boss and being responsible for planning her own schedule and even her own outfits (spoiler: she wears ICONI most days).
As a Black-owned, woman-owned, and veteran-owned motivational and inclusive activewear line for men and women, the ICONI brand focuses on four core elements: motivation, empowerment, philanthropy, and excellence. In line with its commitment to philanthropy, ICONI donates 10% of its profits to nonprofits.
What sets ICONI apart from other activewear brands is that it is both motivational and inclusive. Johnson believes people need motivation no matter where they are on their fitness journey. She designs each ICONI piece to feature inspirational words and phrases, so every time you wear something from ICONI, which stands for "I Can Overcome, Nothing's Impossible," you’re reminded of those core values.
Johnson insists that she doesn’t want people to think they need to look like a fitness influencer in order to wear her brand. ICONI welcomes and accepts everyone, and that philosophy extends to the business’ inclusive product photoshoots. Johnson ensures that models of all shapes, sizes, colors, hair types, and sexual orientations are represented. She wants her customers to see and connect with someone who looks similar to the person they see in the mirror.
While ICONI is a brand meant to empower others, it also inspires Johnson. The brand has helped her grow as a businesswoman and as a woman, allowing her to feel more confident and self-aware than ever before.
Angel holds up a pair of ICONI leggings while a person holds pen and paper smiles at her.
Despite admitting that she suffers from imposter syndrome, Johnson’s hard work was recognized and validated by a big name: Oprah Winfrey. ICONI was on Winfrey’s Favorite Things list in 2020, a huge accomplishment for any brand, let alone one that had been operating for less than 12 months.
Getting her business off the ground was anything but easy. Johnson shared: “I come from a lower middle-class family, so my family didn’t just have the money to start this business, and l think historically, Black-owned businesses have lacked a lot of the resources to access capital.”
Johnson recently joined Amazon’s Black Business Accelerator (BBA), a $150 million commitment to help build sustainable diversity and growth for Black-owned businesses. BBA helps Black-owned businesses by providing access to financial support, strategic business guidance and mentorship, and marketing and promotional support. Johnson is also a participant in Amazon’s Seller University, which she credits for helping take her customer experience to the next level.
Selling in Amazon’s store has been instrumental in helping ICONI reach a large demographic of customers. Last year, ICONI received orders from customers in all 50 U.S. states and was able to expand to Canada—all in the brand’s first year, which is something Johnson never expected. She’s even received inquiries from people in the UK wondering when they’ll have a chance to purchase ICONI gear.
The level of success that ICONI has achieved in a short period of time is beyond what Johnson ever expected. Still operating out of her apartment, her goal is to secure office space where she can store product and conduct fulfillment operations. In addition, she hopes to expand on ICONI’s current product lines and become even more inclusive by further expanding its size range.
Johnson, true to the ICONI brand, remains motivational when it comes to advice for other entrepreneurs. Her tips? Believe in your brand, be a positive representative of that brand, stay organized, and work hard to avoid becoming overwhelmed. Most importantly, practice self-care.
“It’s up to you to do what you need to do to heal and get back to where you need to be, because your business can’t run without its most important component—you,” said Johnson.