Think of Joanna Williams as the textile whisperer. For the past decade, she’s sourced exquisite fabrics for luxury fashion houses, interior designers and global lifestyle brands. “I was doing trend consulting, mostly in fashion, and finding pieces and building up a little collection, just for myself,” says the Los Angeles-based Williams. “I was just really in love with textiles. The textures, different weights, prints, fabrications and history all inspired me.”
Breaking away from the commercial, trend-driven sector of the industry, Williams carved out a new niche as a dealer. Her company, Kneeland Co., named after her adventurous grandfather who sailed the seas in an 85-foot schooner, focuses on pieces sourced around the globe and includes everything from embroideries and embellishments to yarn dyes and laces. Her holdings (some 20,000 items) represent every major design movement from the 18th century on, as well as exclusive contemporary textiles.
While Williams continues to serve her private clients, in March she opened a retail outpost in West Adams next door to her library space, allowing the public a window into her world. “I’d done a couple of successful pop-ups in 2018, just for the fun of it, really, with all of these beautiful things that I’d brought back from my travels,” she says. “So, I thought, ‘Maybe I can offer this other public side of the business.’”
While the timing was tricky—non-essential businesses closed a mere week later due to the pandemic—the entrepreneur has made the most of the moment, pivoting to appointment-only shopping and launching an e-commerce site. She’s also found a silver lining in social media. “I started doing Instagram videos talking about where the items were made, how I discovered them and their significance,” says Williams. “I would never have done anything like that otherwise.”
Of course, the design doyenne longs to return to business as usual, which, for her, entails regularly crisscrossing the globe. The hunt is an essential part of her process, not only for the discoveries themselves but for the connections she makes along the way. “Every fabric has a story,” says Williams. “It’s exciting to introduce clients to work they might have never even heard about and to promote the importance of craft.”