True to Form - Peckham Peculiar Profile

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We were thrilled to be the subject of a piece in The Peckham Peculiar, our local paper with a combined print run of over 104,000. You can read all about us and our life in SE15 here:

True to Form:

Jo Johnson moved to Peckham 16 years ago and has just opened her first shop in the area, called FORM SE15. The Queen’s Road resident handpicks every item she sells, ensuring that all her stock has an ethical and traceable supply chain  

Christmas party season is upon us, and one of the best places to find a stylish outfit for the office do – not to mention a gift or two – is Form SE15 on Bellenden Road. Locals will have noticed that the girl behind the garms is Jo Johnson, former manager of Bellenden Road shop Bias, which closed earlier this year. 

Jo opened her own shop in May following a “whirlwind” five months. “I really enjoy it,” she says. “I love being my own boss, making all the decisions. Everything in the store [is there] because I want it to be.” 

The premises was formerly a vintage shop and the lease came up at the same time as Jo’s role at Bias came to an end. “It was serendipitous really – things fell into place at the right time,” she says. “When I found out that Bias was closing, I had a couple of months where I was like, ‘OK, what can I do?’ If I was ever going to open my own shop it was the perfect time, but I didn’t have the financial means. [Eventually] I got a government start-up loan and a friend invested.” 

Form SE15 sells clothes and accessories for women and men, as well as a curated collection of bathroom products and gifts, from the luxurious to the quirky, all handpicked by Jo. “I want people to step into the shop and feel uplifted, [have] a really happy, positive experience. Other people can do austere, pared back very well, but that’s not me – I’m more of a maximalist than a minimalist. I like a lot of print, I like a lot of colour.” Fashion runs deep – Jo’s mother was a seamstress. “I literally had a toy sewing machine at eight, making disco outfits for my Sindy. I knew very early on that I wanted to at least train in fashion,” says Jo, who hails from rural Norfolk. 

She studied fashion design at what was then called the Norfolk Institute of Art and Design, followed by a degree in fashion promotion and illustration at the Surrey Institute of Art and Design in Epsom. It was the early 90s, when Britpop was exploding, a “really freeing time”. “I was in the Blur camp. Within six months of moving, I shaved my hair off and pierced my nose,” she laughs. After university, she moved to London and worked as a photographer’s assistant, then in a variety of creative fashion jobs while battling long-term illness, including as an art agent and starting her own fashion label. She had several jobs in fashion retail before joining Bias. While there, she gained invaluable experience in going on buying trips, scouting new labels and attending trade shows. “I saw behind the scenes, it was a really good learning curve.” 

All the clothing brands at Form SE15 have “traceable supply chains”, says Jo. “You have to be ethically and sustainably aware these days, especially if you’re an independent. It’s what makes me different.” Her ceramics and jewellery come from local makers and she stocks Peckham Soul wares too. Her beauty products are also carefully chosen and include products by Austin Austin and Magic Organic Apothecary. “I am one shop, but you can still make an impact,” she says. “You want the shop to make money of course, but you can do it in a positive way.” 

Bestselling brands at the moment include Baum und Pferdgarten for women and for men, UK brand Far Afield. Her recommendations for Christmas party season include Gestuz’ black sequin maxi skirt and a dark green animal print jumpsuit, or from Baum und Pferdgarten, a lemon mohair sweater with balloon sleeves. “[In London] you tend to see people want to dress well day to night time,” she says. “What works is relaxed, cool, rather than anything too fussy.” 

Her fashion muses are Tilda Swinton, Neneh Cherry and Karen O from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, but she also takes inspiration from the streets around her. “It’s such a cool place to watch what people are wearing. On Rye Lane you have all the different African textiles and patterns, a lot of sportswear, more young people coming in. There’s such a mix of cultures and ages in the area.” 

She recently moved to Queen’s Road, and previously lived at the other end of Bellenden Road. She first moved to Peckham 16 years ago. 

“I came here, saw the house, walked round and felt really comfortable, in a way I hadn’t felt comfortable in any other part of London. Peckham’s the first place [in London] where I felt I could make it my home. I never want to move; you’re going to have to crowbar me out.” 

She has worked hard to make Form SE15 a “friendly, local, neighbourhood shop” and runs a variety of events, which have so far included terrarium-making with Jar and Fern, a leather workshop with Rye Hide and candle-making with Join candles. She has a Christmas wreath-making class on December 13. One item everyone should add to their Christmas lists is a new candle called Nurture, which Jo has created with Join candles. Priced £15, 100 per cent of the profits are going to Southwark Foodbank. “Peckham’s given me a lot, it’s a way to give back,” she says. 

I take the chance to ask Jo what we’ll all be wearing next year. Animal print is continuing as a big trend, she says, as well as sportswear. As for colours, we’ll be donning silver and also luminous yellow and orange: “real highlighter colours”. Thanks to Jo, it looks like the future is going to be bright. 

Words: Katie Allen
Photos: Lima Charlie

Reprinted with kind permission of The Peckham Peculiar