ADDRESS: 1907 SE 12th Avenue Portland, Oregon 97214
STORY BY RACHEL SCHWARTZMANN – Discover Johan – PHOTOS BY Nicholas Wilson for The Style Line
Today we’re thrilled to share
the story behind Portland’s newest shopping secret – a secret until now, that is.
Enter globetrotter and self-proclaimed aesthete Laura Housgard, who is the owner of the newly launched shop Johan. With an already thriving e-commerce component and a personal penchant for fostering #onlygreatthings, Johan’s brick and mortar location will surely provide an extension for Portland dwellers to purchase great things, and perhaps more importantly, come together. As Laura explained in our interview below: “I took inventory of my skills and experiences and decided to focus on only Swedish brands didn’t feel right. I re-branded to Johan in February of 2015 and added products from local Portland designers as well as a curated selection of goods from other designers producing high quality, high design work.”
Speaking more to that idea, the tiny but swoon-worthy space is already fully stocked with quality product – which varies from thoughtfully-designed clothing to paper goods – and it seems as though Laura has her eye on the prize in providing the most coveted items for her customers. While the shop prides itself on fostering a thoughtfully curated brand community, Johan also prides itself on being a secret destination (read #shhhop) though many have asked, why keep this under wraps? Having already infused many elements from her personal life (Johan itself was named after her great-great-great-great-grandfather Johan August Magnusson) and having opened the shop in front of her home, one would think there’s nothing left to be revealed. Yet for Laura, it’s all a part of the plan who mentioned, ” [Also] the retail game is changing and a simple storefront won’t cut it anymore. If you have a physical space, the experience has to be extraordinary and transformative for your customers.”
In maintaining a constant conversation with her customers and by paying attention to detail and careful curation, Laura has created a lifestyle haven fueled by never-ending discovery. We were lucky enough to be let in not only on the secret but on Laura’s life before Johan along with a few lessons she’s learned as a small-business owner. Read on to take a virtual tour of Johan (featuring exclusive photos by Nicholas Peter Wilson for The Style Line) and discover Laura’s tools and tricks for approaching your own professional endeavors creatively and fearlessly.
My name is Laura Housgard and I am the owner of Johan,
an online shop with a secret brick and mortar location called #shhhshop in Portland, Oregon. There are two kinds of people in the world: people who want to make things better and people who want to make things beautiful. Both are absolutely necessary. I am definitely the latter. I thrive on all things visual. From flipping through old graphic design magazines to going on walks in industrial areas, my interests seem to revolve around visual stimulation. On a larger scale, I value living a simple, balanced life and being close to family and friends. Walking everywhere, keeping consumption to a minimum, being kind to people and the environment, these are also things that are important to me.
Talk to us about the inception of Johan. What would you attribute as being the sole reason and inspiration behind opening the store?
Even though I had a great job and was learning valuable skills, I was severely unhappy. I was still enamored with Swedish style and knew that my true passion was retail, so in 2012 I started an online store selling only Swedish brands.
We love the concept and with reference to your #shhhshop tag what appealed to you most about the “secret” aspect of the shop?
How would you describe the Johan community?
The Johan community is a group of young creative professionals from around the world. The one thing that ties us all together is that we hold ourselves and our work to the highest standards. Good is not good enough for us. We want, produce, say, make, eat, and buy #onlygreatthings. Keeping this in mind is the best way I can make sure Johan remains an elevated form of retail, worthy of its own community. Also, being extremely visual, I obsess over details, and I’m finding this gets worse with age. It’s to the point where I can’t buy anything without questioning why there is a seam there, why they finished it that way, why they used those buttons etc. It’s a bit out of control, but it’s also a quality I am proud of. This quality has played a major role in shaping my current personal style – I’ve been forced to keep it minimal.
How do you think Portland fosters its small business community?
Portland has been incredible. There are so many people doing amazing things here. There is this understanding and support the second you reach out to someone. When I first moved back to Portland, I contacted a few people whose work I admired. Almost everyone was willing to meet me for a drink or for coffee, and many of those people have turned into great friends. When you are someone doing something out of the ordinary, you tend to want to support others that are doing that as well. For this reason, Portland is full of people who are ready to embrace new ideas and new endeavors. The difference is that Portlanders are also extremely genuine, making this a place where it’s easy to form true, lasting friendships and relationships with other business owners and creatives.
What are more questions you think your customers should be asking more often?
The Style Line was built on the premise of discovery, exploration, and transit. With this in mind, if what is your “the style line” in your wardrobe?
As a shop-boss what tools would you advise aspiring business owners to utilize in their own endeavors?
What is one question you wish people asked you more often?
I get questions all the time about the challenges of being an entrepreneur, but I love it when people ask about the good things. It’s nice to be reminded every once in a while that I’ve got an exciting business in a beautiful city, great friends, and a wonderful family.
How do you connect with your customers and ultimately what are you looking to bring to the neighborhood/community?
Customers that shop at Johan quickly turn into friends. The entire experience is warm and welcoming, and whether they buy something or not, I want them to feel like they are getting the absolute best treatment. My favorite customers are ones that hang out, share a cup of coffee, flip through books, and chat about the neighborhood.
I want Johan to be the leader of the Portland retail scene, the place that is top of mind when both locals and visitors think of the best place to shop in Portland. The #shhhshop is small (approximately 125 square feet!), but I have plans to open a larger space. Ultimately, I would love Johan to be a destination where people can experience the best of many things, from shoes and apparel to coffee and graphic design.
How do you think creativity contributes to some of the world’s bigger conversations and what role is Johan playing in this shift in thinking?
Fast fashion needs to end for so many reasons. I’m not an extremist, you can buy a shirt at Forever 21, but then wear it for five years. The less fabric, water, labor, and resources we consume as a population, the better. It seems lofty, but if everyone made small adjustments to their lifestyle, we would see a big change.
What story do you hope to tell through this endeavor?
There are no rules. Or rather, you get to make your own rules. You can live the way you want to live, you can do business the way you want to do business, you can dress the way you want to dress.