Working out at the gym makes you feel better about yourself. Doing it in gym clothes from ICONI, a new line of activewear for women, will make you feel even better because 10 percent of the black-owned social enterprise’s profits go to help provide clothing for kids in need and other good causes.
Founded by U.S. Air Force Capt. Angel Johnson, a Charleston, S.C. native and 2013 alumnus of Sullivan Foundation partner school The Citadel, ICONI was spotlighted in O: The Oprah Magazine last month and more recently in The Post and Courier, a Charleston, S.C. newspaper. According to ICONI’s website, the impact business has thus far donated $11,000 to nonprofit organizations that provide school clothes and accessories to hundreds of in-crisis and low-income children. ICONI also supports social-justice nonprofits, food pantries and shelters for victims of domestic violence.
Johnson, now stationed at Buckley Air Force Base in Denver, founded the brand after realizing that fellow gym-goers could sometimes see through her form-fitting workout attire—and that stuff was expensive, too.
“I was tired of spending $80 to $90 on leggings, then going to the gym and discovering that they were see-through,” Johnson told O Magazine. “That’s the most embarrassing thing…and so frustrating.”
Inspired in part by an Army officer with an entrepreneurial streak, Johnson made up her mind in September 2019 to launch her own line of clothing and started researching the industry. Not one to waste time, she designed her unique high-waisted, curve-hugging and flexible leggings, which are constructed with moisture-wicking, fast-drying fabrics, in October. By January 2020, her first products went on sale.
In addition to the leggings, the ICONI line now includes sports bras, tops, shorts, hoodies and more, typically priced between $25 and $50. ICONI also offers gym attire specifically designed for curvy and plus-sized body types.
And when new products come in, Johnson told The Post and Courier, “I have different people test them to make sure, no matter what size they are, they won’t be see-through.”
The products have earned acclaim from Oprah Winfrey herself, who added ICONI to her list of Oprah’s Favorite Things last October, less than a year after the brand had launched. When she found out about that, Johnson told O Magazine, “I was in the parking lot at work, just freaking out in my car.”
As an African-American and African history buff, Johnson wanted to incorporate West African elements into her brand. “The base of the logo is a ‘power’ button, and the Ghanaian symbol stands for strength and versatility,” she said. “I was looking at African countries and cities on a map, and when I saw Iconi, a town on Grande Comore Island in the Indian Ocean—just off the coast of Africa—I wondered if I could create an acronym that was motivational.”
She could and did: in addition to alluding to the town itself, ICONI stands for I Can Overcome, Nothing’s Impossible, her brand’s slogan.
Johnson also makes every effort to support fellow black-owned businesses. “From my clothing to the facial products, soaps and makeup that I use, I always try to support [them],” she told O Magazine.
ICONI took off rapidly as customers discovered her activewear on social media, Johnson said. “First, it was people I knew. Then, my customer base grew through word-of-mouth, Instagram and Facebook. From the beginning, I embraced them all. I responded to every single DM, and if someone sent me a photo of themselves wearing ICONI, I took the time to comment.”
She also pays heed to customer feedback as she works out new designs. Case in point: When she posted a design for a hoodie on Instagram Stories last year, her followers came through with useful recommendations, such as adding thumb holes, expanding the size and choosing colors.
And Johnson makes sure that anyone can wear her clothing, regardless of body shape, weight or even gender. “I want the brand to be inclusive, so I’m making sure all of our products are available in larger sizes and working on a men’s line, too. Those are the goals for 2021.”