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UVa alumna is the artist behind local labels

Charlottesville is home to a booming beverage industry and one local graphic designer is making her mark — literally — on more than one hometown brand.

Makaela Johansen, who graduated from the University of Virginia in 2022, works full-time for Three Notch’d Brewing Company but also does freelance design work on the side.

Between those two jobs, she’s had a hand in label designs for multiple products.

Design wasn’t always her plan for herself. While attending UVa, Johansen studied architecture before she quickly realized it wasn’t for her.

“I just don’t really have an affinity for the technicalities in architecture,” Johansen told The Daily Progress. “But I did really love the design aspect of architecture.”

Johansen switched the focus of her major to design, she said. She wanted to be able to “hone in on the design aspect” of the field.

During Johansen’s second year at UVa, after making the transition, she sought internships with startups and took “any opportunity” she was offered, she said.

Johansen was able to transfer those same skills to the field she works in now where she does “anything graphic design centered” for Three Notch’d.

“My favorite thing to do is labels, which is maybe why I was so successful in designing the kombucha label,” Johansen said. “I had been working at Three Notch’d for a bit before I had sent over the work to Mountain Culture Kombucha, and I seem to just keep coming back to label to design.”

Johansen partnered with Mountain Culture Kombucha to work on a new label for their bottles as a “passion project,” she said.

“I was initially a huge fan of the kombucha,” Johansen said. “But I was always bugged by how not great the labels were initially when I started drinking it.”

Johansen decided to draft a label of her own for fun after doing some research about previous labels, she said. She originally had no intentions of sharing her ideas that were crafted purely out of love for the brand.

Jonathan Dickinson, a partner at Mountain Culture Kombucha, said he instantly thought the design was “brilliant.”

“We’ve always been interested in growing our business at an organic pace rather than being pushy, and it’s just neat that her invitation to use these labels came about organically,” Dickinson told The Daily Progress.

The company’s old design was a “screen printed” look that “hid on the shelves,” according to Dickinson. Johansen’s new design is eye-grabbing, he said.

“The colors really popped,” Dickinson said. “She basically took what we had and ran with it, and it was just a much more polished logo. She was just like, ‘This is what I think you’re really looking for,’ and we were like, ‘Yep, that is exactly what we’re looking for,’ and we’ve been very excited that she reached out to us.”

This was Johansen’s first time advertising her work to a brand, she said. The decision to share her ideas with the company was a spur of the moment one.

“I thought that it was actually really strong and super relevant to their core values and their connection to Appalachia and just on a whim I decided that I would email the email that was on the website and send them a whole deck of everything I had designed,” Johansen said.

The entire process, from sending her design in to seeing it on shelves, only took a few months.

Johansen admits that she sometimes takes trips to go see her work, for Three Notch’d and Mountain Culture, on display in the wild.

“I like to just walk over to the sections so I can see the things I’ve made,” Johansen said.

Johansen is a “habitual” kombucha drinker, she said. Her favorite Mountain Culture Kombucha flavor is Appalachian Harvest. Part of her affinity for creating labels for beverage companies comes from how much she just “loves a good beverage.”

And now, “I get free kombucha now for the rest of my life,” Johansen said.

Johansen is open to working on other projects around Charlottesville, she said. In the meantime, she can rely on work from her full-time gig at Three Notch’d.

“We [Three Notch’d] have a lot of new cool work that I’m doing that’s going to be coming out the later part of this year,” Johansen said. “I have gotten better through this role so it’s just awesome to see the labels keep getting better and better and having that reflected in sales as well is awesome. A lot of the labels I’ve done have done really well in the market.”


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