The Powerful Women Behind OtterBox Design

Were you one of the fierce ladies at this year's Beauty Summit? If you scored the golden ticket, then you remember that our friends at OtterBox amped up our cell phones with some swanky, new cases. The device makeover station was a fan-favorite and we all got a closeup of the Disney Princess-inspired collection that made the princesses appear as bosses, rather than damsels and cued our '90s nostalgia.

We interviewed two of the female designers from OtterBox, Erika Johnson and Annelise Ingram. 

Erika Johnson is a 27-year-old trend forecaster by day, apparel designer and crafter by night. She’s a Colorado native and a city girl at heart who previously lived in NYC. Apart from designing cases at OtterBox, she loves snowboarding in the Rocky Mountains, sipping on craft beer, and of course pumpkin-flavored everything. (PSL’s anyone?)

Annelise Victoria Ingram is a 24-year-old trend specialist at OtterBox with a background in apparel design. She’s Texas-grown with a calling to the Colorado mountains. Annelise is obsessed with color trends, puppies, Michael Buble, and chocolate covered strawberries. #Same.

OtterBox, the maker of the number one most-trusted protective phone cases, recently gave a nod to female empowerment by partnering with Disney to launch the Power of the Princess case line. These stylish cases showcase the fierce women of Disney–these are not damsels in distress.

At OtterBox, combining style with protection is part art form and part science. The internal design team works closely with partners including Disney, WGSN, and Pantone to stay ahead of trends and make integral, informed decisions for the international industry leader. Another major plus is that at OtterBox the team is dominated by powerful female leaders who are far from damsels in a male-dominated technology industry.

Create & Cultivate: When did you realize that you wanted to pursue a career in design?

Erika Johnson: I am that person that just always knew what I wanted to do. I learned to sew as a kid, and from there I use to draw my fashion magazines. In high school, I was known as the “crafty girl who always had cool necklaces.” I looked forward to my third-period fashion classes and found myself sketching through chemistry. In college, my passion truly soared. I got to spend my days sewing, drawing and designing. A total dream!

Annelise Ingram: When I designed a pair of pajamas and named the colorway “Fruit Punch” instead of taking science notes in 5th grade. 

How did you land in the world of phone accessories?

EJ: Fate, I suppose. Fresh out of college, I had just moved back from an internship in NYC. Jobless and living in my childhood room at my parents, I applied for an internship at a company I had walked by the doors of many of times in college. Walking into the design department at Otter Products felt like home. While I wasn’t surrounded by dress forms and sewing machines, the creative energy was the same.

AI: Divine providence. I applied to somewhere around 100 fashion internships. After interviewing at Otter Products, I felt like I’d found a supportive and inspiring culture in which to grow professionally.

Who is your favorite Disney princess? Why?

EJ: Belle, mostly because I watched the movie so much I wore out my VHS as a kid. She is my favorite because she always stays true to herself. She is stubborn and a little nerdy, pretty much how my friends describe me.

AI: Mulan. For all the reasons. She’s a little awkward, has a great sense of humor, oh, and she’s totally courageous and stands up for what she believes in. Also, Mushu is her best friend. #goals

This collection paints the princesses as influential figures rather than damsels in distress. Why do you think this message is important for girls?

EJ: Playing the damsel in distress in life is easy, being strong and influential takes courage. OtterBox is known for being strong and influential in the world of phone cases, so this mentality is embraced here. We have pretty phone cases, but we are more than just a glittery case. Behind the case is a community that builds each other up in good times and bad. We never lose sight of what really matters, which is why our mission is to Grow to Give.

AI: To be honest, I think the beauty of their stories lies in distress, and how they deal with it. We can’t always control our circumstances, but we can control how we react and become proactive in the future. That’s also why I think the Create & Cultivate conferences and summits are such great events. We all have things weighing us down or seemingly working against us in life. We need to hear the message that, like these princesses, we can create our own adventures and cultivate attitudes that help us reach our goals-- and help others to do the same.



What is your favorite part about working in design?

EJ: Seeing a print I designed, or a color I fought for in the wild. I still get butterflies when I see it.

AI: COLOR! As I said, I’m obsessed. I think it’s so interesting to discover what colors are speaking to people in the current zeitgeist. And then, of course, taking that information to apply to our wonderful products!

How does it feel to be a female designer in a male-dominated space?

EJ: Empowering. It took me a while to find my voice and speak up, but our team is so supportive and encouraging everyone’s opinions matter regardless of your gender.

AI: I’m truly blessed. I feel fully supported by my team at Otter—both men and women. My mentors at the company set a great example. It’s about your smarts and creativity, your attitude, and the dedication you bring to work. Not your gender.

Do you have any advice for young women who are looking to begin a career in design?

EJ: Do it. In a world where education programs are pushing STEM careers, don’t forget about us creatives. The world needs a balance of those who can make things work and those who make it look a certain way. I have learned that design is in everything. I had people ask me what I was going to do with my apparel design degree, but there are so many different avenues.

AI: Don’t be afraid to do it. I tried out a different field of study because I thought it gave me a broader angle when it came to getting a job. That was dumb. I’m grateful for the experience, though, because I made a mistake that now always inspires me to pursue my passions, even when there’s a lot of uncertainty involved. Also, know that there are a lot of roles within the design industry. You might be a star at every part of it, but if you’re like me, it’s worth it to stick out the portions you don’t love in order to find that niche part of the design world that you do love—that you can’t help but tell people about. Like how cool is it to see complimentary colors paired up naturally in real life? The world is just beautiful.

What case design do you have on your phone now and why?

EJ: At this moment, I am rocking one of our new exclusive cases with Target. The collection is focused on Gen Z and is perfect for summer. I swap my case out almost every day!

AI: BB-8, or “buh-bate” as I lovingly refer to it. I’m a Star Wars nerd, too. It’s cool.