Fashion is having a spiritual revival—from the witchcore trend that enchanted our feeds to our collective obsession with crystals. Tarot and astrology symbols have shown up in designer brands such as Alexander McQueen and Christian Dior proving that witch behavior isn't just for Halloween. However, when fashion brands start using actual spiritual symbols in their pieces, it highlights the fine line between honoring and appropriating.
Fortunately, it’s a line that Max Johnson, co-founder and CEO of Awe Inspired, can walk. Founded in 2018 with his mother, Jill, Awe Inspired has quickly gained fame with its popular goddess collection, which features mythological goddesses including Medusa and Hedone, as well as real-life goddesses such as Harriet Tubman and Marsha P. Johnson. The necklaces have skyrocketed in popularity thanks to celebrity fans like Taylor Swift, Meghan Markle, Camila Cabello, Halle Berry, and Madonna, among others.
Below, Max Johnson discusses fashion, spirituality, and how to combine the two without losing style and soul.
How would you define spirituality?
Max Johnson: It’s one's search for meaning and purpose in life. It often does have a metaphysical component. People’s spirituality can be a connection with nature, a deep kinship with your family, [or] a real sense of mission in the work you do.
How has your spirituality influenced Awe Inspired? Do you think that resonates with your customers?
MJ: I was raised Jewish, so that is a very intimate part of my spiritual story, but also just my personal identity. When I got to college and came out, I was really getting more involved in the queer community. I had this awakening that my belief system and how I conducted my life were really mine for the making.
We talk about crystals a lot. For a lot of people, crystals are a very tangible symbol of new-age spirituality. We say the people who own or curate crystals are at the very heart of what we’re doing, but our audience is the crystal curious. It's the people who are on this journey of exploring other ways of practicing rituals and finding meaning in life. We want to be their portal through which they discover these things. Through quizzes we create, the different products and symbols, increasing collaborations with other brands and other product categories. How we can help people practice all these rituals?
Why do you think more people, including celebrities, are seeking tokens like necklaces for spiritual meaning?
MJ: We have some really large culture forces coming together that have really pushed people to some of these new-age topics. Now we have TikTok and Instagram, and it is allowing a larger swath of people to experience these new-age practices. It's trending, but it's coming at this time when people are desperate for meaning. We're coming out of logomania, and none of those brands—Gucci, Prada, Adidas—indicate who you are as a person or what your values are. There's a whole crop of brands now that are embracing their responsibility as a meaningful brand.
What are your thoughts on the spirituality movement in fashion?
MJ: I think it's wonderful that people are reflecting on these topics. It's tying us back to something we have in common. The one planet we share. I think spirituality and sustainability are deeply interlinked. We are all made of matter of the earth. It's a great unifying symbol. The fact that it's happening in tandem with conversations around sustainability in fashion makes a lot of sense. I would like to see the companies that are monetizing off of spirituality, which is a very well-intended practice of improving the world, to make sure they're doing their part.
How do you choose your goddesses?
MJ: We were founded to create these symbols of strength that honored various survivors. We've always tried to tell the story of a group of people who've overcome adversity. Particularly strong, admirable women. We created the goddess as this motif people can wear. Over time, as people began to discover our brand, we increasingly got requests to include more cultures and be more inclusive. More groups wanted to see their figures represented as well.
We have taken on that responsibility to give them that totem of strength, which really is a gap in the market. We have done extensive research into the traditional artwork, symbols, and language that describes those figures to ensure that we're honoring the spiritual tradition and not reflecting them to serve our own needs. We also built our team to be representative of the pantheon we hope to honor. Our team is over 50% women of color, with over 90% identifying as queer or female. It's our responsibility [to create jewelry] as appropriately and intentionally as possible.
How has your spiritual journey influenced your own fashion choices?
MJ: I think my spiritual identity and my sexual ordination have empowered me more to dress for what I believe in, instead of what I think is expected of me. My spirituality and my respect for so many different kinds of people have given me a more casual sentiment about what people wear. I hold a lot less judgment. Dress for yourself and not for others.
How do you hope Awe Inspired will continue to influence spirituality and fashion in the future?
MJ: Our vision is to be the portal through which people start experiencing spiritual wellness or a spiritual luxury lifestyle. So how we're going to continue influencing it into fashion is by taking a step back from the items themselves and pivoting to what it means to be spiritually well. As we go through this emotionally intense journey [of life], it’s really powerful to be liberated from [the idea that] what you practice is no one's choice but yours. I think that’s why people have such a connection with the product, because it’s a symbol of that journey.