VISIT: 632 SW Pine St, Portland, OR 97205
STORY BY RACHEL SCHWARTZMANN – SHOP Johan – PHOTOS BY NICHOLAS PETER WILSON FOR THE STYLE LINE
Portland’s best-kept #shhhop is now in #plainsite. In fact,
you may remember our initial story with Johan in 2015, where founder Laura Housgard first told her story and described Johan by way of a couple of witty hashtags. Two years later those expressions have translated into action, as Laura has worked diligently to cultivate a tangible hub for independent design and the Portland creative community. We even got a glimpse into Johan’s explosive growth last year at our third birthday party at their (then) new shop in the city’s emerging downtown neighborhood.
While we remember Johan’s first storefront as cozy, intimate, and thoughtfully curated, we were impressed at Laura’s ability to seamlessly build upon that inviting ambiance while simultaneously doubling the size and amount of inventory. Sartorially, these changes include an emphasis on Johan’s vintage section along with the introduction of Johan Man to cater to the shop’s growing male customer base. The minimal, airy interior also help set the tone, as if providing a blank canvas so that visitors and Portland dwellers can focus on the #onlygreatthings within the shop. Despite any surface changes, Laura contends that community will always remain top of mind, and as she mentioned in our interview below, “The Johan shopping experience is, of course, different with a bigger and brighter space, but the main feeling you get is still the same. All customers quickly become friends – that’s something that will never change.”
With the above in mind, the idea of community not only extends to brands and shoppers but also Johan’s growing internal team. That’s why we’re thrilled to share this exciting follow-up and introduce two (stylish) members of Johan’s tiny but mighty team. Discover our catch up with Laura and meet Britt and Ella who share their thoughts on Portland’s penchant for sustainable design, their relationship to personal style, and the important role creativity plays in one’s endeavors. Also, take a virtual tour of Johan’s current space featuring exclusive photos captured by Nicholas Peter Wilson for The Style Line.
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“Often the thing you love changes, the industry changes, the political climate changes, or personal circumstances change. If you want to build a business that leaves a legacy, the business must be able to adapt to the demands of the times.”
– Laura Housgard, Founder of Johan
Laura Housgard, Founder of Johan
My name is Laura Housgard. I am the owner of Johan, a design-focused shop in downtown Portland. Johan
has grown a ton since 2015. We moved out of our 125 square foot secret #shhhshop in the front of my east side apartment to a larger brick and mortar downtown. The new shop is hidden in a parking garage in the very center of the city, with 25 feet of floor to ceiling windows looking out onto one of the most prominent intersections downtown, hence the new hashtag #plainsite. We also recently opened an experimental gallery space in Chinatown called #closedgallery, which we are using to explore ideas surrounding community and experience outside the bounds of the shop. It’s been fun having a space to engage with the Johan community and challenge ideas of what an interactive space can and should be.
We loved celebrating our third birthday with you guys last year but never got a chance to ask about the inspiration behind the new space. What has it added to Johan shopping experience? How is it reminiscent of Johan’s old space?
We were honored to host your 3rd birthday last year. We owe you a huge thank you for the opportunity – we had a blast!
The new space has been a dream come true, although after flying under the radar for so long, I was hesitant to move the shop to such a central area. As a nod to the #shhhshop, we kept the address for #plainsite a secret for the first six months. Besides an initial address leak for the opening party, you had to know someone or stumble upon the shop to find it. This proved quite difficult to maintain with social media as pervasive as it is – and of course our huge windows and distinct view.
We love our two walls of floor to ceiling windows, white floors, and three huge circular light fixtures that make the space glow. Additionally, there is about three times as much space to play around with. It’s allowed us to grow the amount of inventory we carry, reach an entirely new customer base on the west side, and be super convenient for tourists. The Johan shopping experience is, of course, different with a bigger and brighter space, but the main feeling you get is still the same. All customers quickly become friends – that’s something that will never change.
How has the space itself informed your buying and curation decisions and can you share any designers/brands, details, or initiatives happening that you’re excited about?
Not too much has changed with my buying process in the new space beside the fact that we need MORE inventory because we are growing so quickly! The vintage section has grown because we can restock it more often than seasonal buys with designers. I wear a ton of vintage, and I think a lot of our customers do as well, so it’s been really fun to see that category expand. We also launched Johan Man this past spring to accommodate our loyal male shoppers.
For spring, I brought on two beautiful LA-based brands, Pari Desai and Une Heures. Completely obsessed with both collections. Pari is known for her knitwear, having done stints at Calvin Klein and ALC. It’s perfection! And Une Heures has been getting a ton of press for their immaculate Italian silk ribbed knits. This is all very exciting for me because it’s the beginning of this shift from oversized and androgynous to fitted and feminine. I love watching the fashion pendulum swing while keeping the Johan aesthetic grounded in classic shapes and high quality fabrics. For fall I’m bringing on Sayaka Davis and Moderne by La Garconne. Crew neck mohair sweaters, moleskine jackets, perfect track pants, and sheer white tops – it’s going to be magic.
Regarding the neighborhood, what do you think being in this part of Portland adds to the experience, and in turn, what do you hope Johan contributes to this part of the city?
I love the location of #plainsite. It’s super gritty and urban. Most of Portland feels quite residential and suburban, especially compared to bigger cities like LA, Chicago, and New York. Our little corner of downtown has beautiful historic architecture, lots of characters walking around, and all the hustle and bustle you want out of a city. It makes the shop feel like an unexpected oasis.
I know when we moved to this area, a lot of people were excited. In a way, we were planting the flag, saying this is a cool spot and it’s going to blow up in a year or two. It’s definitely on that path. There are new hotels, restaurants, agencies, and coffee shops popping up all around us. We hope to be a part of a new group of people doing creative things in downtown/Old Town/Chinatown, while respecting and accepting the area for what it is, grit and all.
How would you advise the next generation of entrepreneurs or shop-bosses to leave an imprint in the world, simply by doing what they love?
Do what you love, but be flexible. Often the thing you love changes, the industry changes, the political climate changes, or personal circumstances change. If you want to build a business that leaves a legacy, the business must be able to adapt to the demands of the times.
Britt Hawkes, Store Manager at Johan
My name is Britt Hawkes. I’m the store manager at Johan and I am a born and raised Portlander. When
I’m not working at Johan or creating for my jewelry line Sea + Pattern you’ll find me running around town with my husband Stephan and our 9-month-old black Labrador, Rooney. Portland is changing so much that enjoying new restaurants and bars with my friends and family is a MUST. Things I value in life: Laughing until my stomach hurts, listening to music, and traveling. Whether it’s a two-week trip or a weekend getaway, exploring always brings new ideas and creativity!
Talk to us about your relationship to independent design. What role has it played in your life both personally and professionally, and how has working at Johan added to this?
I’ve always had a passion for independent design, so as an independent designer myself I am able to see all sides of the process including buying, selling and the creating of each individual item. Working at Johan has introduced me to many talented artists, and one of the highlights of my job is to give their pieces a beautiful place to be showcased.
Walk us through your day in the life while in the shop. What are some of your favorite elements of your role and how has it changed your thoughts on fashion’s role in our lives?
My day to day at Johan is always changing which is why I love it. No day is the same and it keeps me on my toes. The best part of working in an environment like this is the relationships we create with customers and our community. I’ve met clients that have turned into years-long friendships during my time in the fashion industry. The product at Johan is carefully selected with our clients in mind. By going directly to the source on buying trips, we are able to introduce Portland as well as the rest of the e-commerce community to styles and design they may not find on their own.
Based on your time here so far, how would you characterize Johan’s community of both brands and customers?
Johan specializes in carrying brands that are unique, practical, and forward- thinking. Our strength is offering items within those categories from both local and distant designers. Our customers are able to come into the shop for an experience as well as the knowledge that each piece has a story that we are happy to share with them.
How do you think creativity contributes to some of the world’s bigger conversations and what role do you think Johan is playing in this movement?
Johan is a curated concept store in a world of fast fashion. We are bringing something new to the table by offering a personalized experience they may not find at a traditional retail store. The focus being on the designers we feature and the customers we introduce them to. I hope that when our clients leave the store they are walking away with a memory to accompany their purchase. In the end, we are all about quality versus quantity and giving independent designers a voice for our community.
Ella Higgins, Sales Associate at Johan
My name is Ella Higgins. I am a sales associate at Johan, a graphic designer, and a student.
Outside of Johan some of my favorite things to do are cook with friends, go swimming and work on personal projects within design.
How would you characterize the collective personal style of Portland dwellers and how has working at Johan re-inspired your approach to style?
It’s hard to characterize Portland’s style as a whole. Everyone carries their own personal style, but there’s definitely a sense of simplicity underlying that individuality. Before I started working at Johan, I wasn’t quite sure where I wanted to be with my own personal style, but I knew what I wanted it to be like. With Johan, I am surrounded by pieces that fit within my style and it has allowed me to hone in on the specifics of how I want to dress.
What is one question you wish people asked you more often?
“Can I sit and read this book for a bit longer?”
How do you celebrate personal style and what role does independent/sustainable design play in this?
My decisions with style are very specific, and I particularly like having garments that are either thrifted or made by friends. It feels so personal owning something that a friend created, and it feels good to be supporting them as well.
What are the most unexpected discoveries you’ve made about yourself and your style as a result of being part of the Johan community?
While working at Johan, I’ve met a lot of great people who share similar ideas on style, design, and books. It’s helped create a community in my life that I would not otherwise have without Johan.