Gillian Johnson


Gillian Johnson is the founder of Assembly, as well as the owner and designer of jewellery brand Hawkly. Her new collection and website just launched, see more here.

How did you get started?

I first started making jewelry when I was on a University exchange program in Thailand. I was visiting a small island near Bangkok when I saw someone making jewelry and was overcome with envy. I started nosing around, asking questions and the artist was kind enough to share some tips on where I could source materials. Next thing I knew I was bartering for strands of stones in Bangkok’s Chinatown and making “jewelry” with fishing line. I was cleaning out some things at my parent’s house a few months back and found some of my original pieces. Pretty funny and a little bit embarrassing to see the craftsmanship from the early days but I guess you have to start somewhere!

What does a typical day look like for you?

I think I may be stumped on this one :)  There isn’t a lot of routine in my life as a result of living between the city and my yurt, travelling and juggling a variety of projects, but one constant is starting the day off with one of my great loves of life…coffee! I always drink too much of it no matter where I am. I usually like to write emails and take care of computer work while I drink that second cup of coffee. After coffee, a good day in the city starts with a bike ride and in the country with a hike in the forest. And I just love working away at my jewellers bench late into the night.

Your pieces are very textured & organic. What are some of your inspirations when creating a piece?

I find inspiration for jewelry pieces just about everywhere. Whether I am out on a hike and the intricate pattern on leaf catches my eye or am wandering around the city and have to stop to take a picture of the textured wall or ornate door knob, the inspiration just jumps out to me and I can’t wait to incorporate it into a miniature wax sculpture. So much beauty in the world to be interpreted, explored and shared.

You also founded Assembly, and are working on a farm project in the country. What motivated you to start these very different projects?

After over 10 years of entrepreneurship I realized the things that brought me the most joy, outside of making jewelry, were working collaboratively with inspiring people and being in nature. Though these projects seem unrelated at first, the common goals for all projects are building community, enabling continuous learning, creating beautiful things and sharing connection and joy with other people. Currently, Assembly is an incubator for other upcoming Toronto based brands and a workshop space where we have had the chance to collaborate with so many amazing makers and entrepreneurs. The plan is to build on that model by creating a permaculture farm and rural artist residency where people will be able to come to explore their craft and be inspired by nature. I am beyond excited for the type of collaborations and play that can be explored in this setting.

What do you do to stay grounded when you are feeling the pressure from your business and life in general?

When I am in the city, I love to have chill evenings with dearest friends. We call them “floor hangs” and the ingredients of those nights usually include some stretching and ball massages, bottles of wine and lots of laughs. In the country, a lengthy hike on an unknown trail or laying in the meadow observing the complexity of the plant and insect life that usually goes unseen will usually do the trick for me.

What are some surprising things you've learned from starting a business?

In my experience, it takes WAY longer than expected or desired for everything to come to fruition so above all perseverance is key. And I am still so pleasantly surprised with how supportive my friends and family always are.

What's on your best of Toronto list?

A meal at Union never disappoints, the smoothies and salads at The Goods are the best, love the down to earth vibes at the Tampered Press and the back patio at The Walton. And fav shops are The Wanderly and Subrosa Vintage.