Among your many titles: philanthropist, businesswoman, and entrepreneur. How would you describe yourself? Who is Sheila Johnson? Of all my titles, philanthropist, businesswoman, and entrepreneur, I must say all these titles apply to me and define who I am. I am very comfortable taking these titles and connecting the pieces together. I believe in the double bottom line, being successful, and reaching out to the community.
How did you get started taking pictures?
I learned to take pictures way back in high school (just for the fun of it) and then it became a real hobby in my early twenties. Later I got serious taking classes and developing my own film.
The photos on your scarves from the holiday/ resort collection are all landscapes. Do you take other kinds of photos, like portraits?
I do take portraits, especially of family members, and people whom I am close to.
Would you consider designing a line of scarves featuring the work of other photographers? If you could put anyone else's work on one of your scarves who would it be and why?
I really don’t like using other artists for projects that I believe I can do myself. When using others work it can become complicated, both legally and professionally.
In college, you studied music and played the violin. If your photographs had a soundtrack what would it sound like?
If I could put a soundtrack to my photography it would definitely be of the classical genre, preferably of the impressionistic period.
Is it difficult for a creative mind to also be shrewd in business?
I truly believe the best minds in business are the ones who are most creative. Artistic people are really the problem solvers of the world.
You co-founded BET, a major TV network. Have you ever thought about starting a station again, one that could now fulfill your initial vision?
I really wouldn’t start another network. First of all, the cost is prohibitive and the media world is changing so fast it would be hard to find the right niche.
Tell me about your work with Parsons and the Sheila C. Johnson Design Center. How were you inspired to assist in the completion of this building? What effect has the building had on the school and the surrounding neighborhood?
Parsons is an exceptional school that has been recognized as a true national and international leader in design. I fell in love with the school because of the dedicated faculty and the exceptional students. The facilities and thus the learning environment for students was unacceptable. I realized that this would be a rare opportunity to really help an institution make an enormous difference in providing a central campus for the students and faculty.
I read that you sewed your own wedding dress so I guess we can add "seamstress" to your long list of skills. What are some of your other hidden talents?
Sewing my own wedding dress was a fun and enormous task. Out of necessity, I use to make all my own clothes. A girl has to do what she has to do.
What is your vision as a philanthropist? What social change should we be focusing on in 2013?
Society needs to focus on the health issues of our young adults. We have an obesity epidemic and mental health issues. We need to educate our public as to how we can better solve these issues. At my resorts I will be holding retreats, bringing in the best minds to tackle some of our toughest problems in these areas. Education is key for moving forward to solve our problems.
You're an amazingly accomplished woman. What is one thing you have yet to accomplish?
I want to continue to grow my company, make it enormously successful, so that I can continue give back.
Do you collect art?
I do collect art, especially to place in my resorts.
You sponsor The Lady Salamanders, an all-women's street soccer team. What have you learned from this experience, from these women?
My Lady Salamanders are a very special group of ladies who have struggled through addiction and emotional abuse. I admire their strength and courage to want to change and transition into a better and more productive lives.
As you know, the salamander can grow and thrive in the harshest of conditions. Can you relate an experience or a time in your life in which you were like the salamander?
I love what the salamander stands for, because I have experienced some tough situations in my life personally, that I honestly felt I would never recover. My problems could have been my excuses to stop growing, but like the salamander, I regenerated and grew stronger. In my old age, it is about life. Do you want to live or do you want to live?
Donna Karan recently honored you as a "Woman Who Inspires". Who are the women who inspire you?
My Mother, Hilary Clinton, Condi Rice, women of strength, courage, character, and integrity.
You've produced many films including: “Kicking It” and “A Powerful Noise”. What do you love most about the power of film? Are there any other films in the works? (Note Sheila has also produced “The Butler” directed by Lee Daniels starring Robin Williams, Oprah Winfrey, Minka Kelly, Forest Whitaker and Alan Rickman, out in 2013. Her other documentary films include “She Is the Matador”, and “The Other City”)
I love telling a STORY through film. It is the true art of storytelling.
If you could produce any film about any topic, no matter how epic, what film would you like to see made? I would love to produce a film about the power and the importance of arts education.
When I say "fashion", what comes to mind?
Fashion is about self-expression.
See Sheila's new collection of scarves at
Interview by Andrea Blanch
Photograph of Sheila Johnson by Andrea Blanch