Linda’s love for making handmade items started when she was just 8, making and selling her very own leather belts “and then I thought, I think I’ll make some jewellery”. So she got some of her Mum’s old jewellery and a few of her Dad’s tools and started taking the bits a part and making different kinds of jewellery with it, selling her designs to her friends.
Teaching herself everything. With the money she acquired from that, she went to a bead shop in London and bought some beads to make earrings and sold them on “with the money I bought some other bits and started doing craft fairs when I was a bit older”.
She’s now running a breath-taking beautiful shop ‘Beretun Designs‘ in the North Laine of Brighton which everyone should give themselves the pleasure of going to see. Filled with handcrafted items of her own designs and some imported small British company items that Linda has loved and chosen to sell too. “Unless you love what you’re selling, you can’t sell it.”
Her first shop opened in 1991, in Milton Keynes. “Working from home at the beginning, the reason that the business took off from being something that I just did on the side was because my soon to be husband took some of the jewellery that I’d designed up to Vogue House and to the editor at Bride’s Magazine and she’d never seen anything like it.” The editor loved Linda’s designs and featured them in the magazine and then all of a sudden Linda’s answering machine was packed with people trying to get in touch to find out how they could get a hold of the jewellery. “So I contacted them all, made the stuff and it happened every single day for about a week.” Linda was so busy making all of the orders that she had to give up her job in advertising and focus on designing and making for her eager customers.
So this shop was mostly shoes, bridal accessories and jewellery “and then I thought, I’m going to have a go at designing some wedding dresses”. And like everything that Linda decides to do, she made it happen. She went on a course to learn how to make Victorian corsets and BAM she was designing, making and selling wedding dresses. Her amazing designs appeared in films (eg. Confetti 2006 release) but because she wasn’t a known designer, she wasn’t credited for the use of her designs in the movie which she says isn’t bothered about. “My stuff gets ripped off all the time. People think that some big designers have made these things but no, it’s me. Hahahaha”
To add to that, Linda explained that the wedding head dresses that a lot of people wear now a days, with the twiddly wire and the twisted beads is actually a technique that she invented and developed originally. “At the time, big flowery circular tiara’s were fashionable and I wanted to make one with beads and I could do beaded flowers but the fine beaded wire was only really grey, it wasn’t really nice and it made the beads look dirty but it was what had always been used. And I wanted something in a nice soft gold or bright silver so that I could make gypsophila (like babies breath) in pearls.”
The internet hadn’t been invented, so Linda searched through the yellow pages for weeks to find this wire she needed. She finally came across a wire manufacturer in Potters bar, which is where Linda originally comes from. “Now a days it would take 2 seconds to find what you’re looking for.” The company said they could make the wire. “It had to be specially annealed, lots of times so that when you twisted it, it didn’t break. Where as all the other wire available just broke, that’s why nobody could do it.” She had to buy the wire in masses, apparently it turned up on a lorry and she’s still using it today despite having bought it before the internet was invented! Linda designed and made completely original beautiful head dresses that nobody had ever seen before and they sold amazingly.
When the national wedding show started, Linda turned up with her husband and these fantastic head dresses “I’ve never been so scared in my life, we were pinned to the back of the stand while people were grabbing everything on display and we had to call security because it was dangerous, there were too many people! All of the other stands had their flowery circular tiara’s and they were like, how on earth have you done that?!” Nobody could work out how Linda had done it and everyone wanted it. She was working through the night, getting her husband to help out because she couldn’t keep up with the orders. “My fingers were so sore! I’d rubbed all the skin off the end of my fingers where I was twisting the wire.”
It took three years for anyone to be able to copy this new fabulous technique of Linda’s!
The wire wasn’t available in England and it wasn’t until scrap booking came in and soft wire started to get imported from America that people were able to mirror Linda’s technique. “Until then it was entirely mine but now you see them everywhere, you see them for 50p from China and I look at it and think yeah I developed that.” Nobody knows that this new invention came from Linda she regrets now for not copy writing it but didn’t think of it at the time. As a designer, she was focused on getting the materials she needed to make her designs. “Hundreds and thousands of people have probably got businesses off the back of it now.” I thought surely she must be bothered that she never got credited for all of this work but Linda really appears to have different priorities in life, which is inspiring. “I’ll just come up with something else!”
Her Grandad always told Linda she had an inventors brain, always trying to figure out what would happen if she switched this over with that and what’s inside this and how could she work with that. “Whilst I was driving home from work was always the best time because I could see things deconstructing in my head. What would happen is I’d start with the finished design in my mind but then I’d see it coming to pieces until it came down to the bare components so that the next day, I’d know how to make it because I’d already shown myself how to do it.” All Linda needs is a picture from her imagination and she’ll work out her own instructions. I’m glad there were no accidents on the road coming back from work whilst all this instruction making was going on!“People think it’s intelligence but I don’t think it’s all that clever, it’s just the way I’ve trained my brain to work.”
Whatever assistants Linda has had working with her in the shop, Linda has enjoyed teaching them and passing on her talent which she believes is something that they can keep and have fun with. She advertised for jewellery making classes back when she was living in Milton Keynes and over the course of some time managed to get a lot of people involved and loving the lessons. “It got to the point where I did it two nights a week because nobody would ever leave, they just kept coming! So I was teaching them and I wasn’t really making any money out of it, I was just covering the cost of the beads. I had a spare evening and I wanted to do something.” When Linda broke the news to her customers that she was going to be moving to Brighton, she thought she’d never seen so many tearful eyes. Clearly a very special teacher to many.
I wanted to know how on earth Linda was managing to keep a shop going and teaching extra evening classes without being completely worn out? “It’s just a hobby isn’t it. I am doing it to earn a living but it’s not really a job is it you know it’s making stuff, it’s not hard.” I replied yes maybe, TO YOU! Hahaha “It’s not like I’m sitting at a computer all day working with data or something, that would just kill me.”
“I start working when I get up and I don’t stop until I go to sleep.” Linda loves what she does so much that she finds it difficult to tell when she is and isn’t working, which can be quite exasperating for the husband. The handcrafting is always a priority to her and so the general house chores tend to be left unattended. “I will always put one of my customers before other things that I need to do.” To the extent that right after giving birth to her son, she was making head dresses in her hospital bed to make sure no orders were late! “One of my friend’s was helping out in the shop, and she received a big mouth full from a customer who was appalled I’d gone in to labor early because she was convinced she wouldn’t get her head dress on time for her wedding!” Linda let her outspoken customer know that she was ever so sorry but that her little boy had decided to come early and that she was making the order in her hospital bed and that it would be ready for her wedding that was to be in 3 months time! But that if she went back to the shop one more time and spoke to her friend like that then she’d reimburse the up fronted money and she could go elsewhere.
Moving to Brighton was inspired by Linda wanting a place where she didn’t just work on commission and do what other people wanted her to make, which is how the bridal industry is. “I was getting really bored because I wanted to do other things.” She wanted a shop where she could make and sell items that she liked. So when her son went off to uni, Linda and her husband went out on a limb and came to Brighton to open shop. They bought the Beretun Design space no questions asked and worked very hard to build the business that exists today. “We were completely penniless! And it took a year and half before we could start living on more than bread and water.”
Now having lived in Brighton for 5 years with her husband, running her fantastic shop, Linda plans on retiring in the next 2 years but will certainly not stop handcrafting. “If I don’t stop, I will burn myself out.” She and her husband plan on buying a camper van, living like gypsies, travelling around and enjoying life. “If we don’t do these things now then you might never get to do them.”
“Do what you want to do.”
BIG THANK YOU to Linda Johnson!
And let the magic continueeeee…!