Interview / Photography by Aaron Levy
Laura Housgard chooses her lifestyle deliberately.
The 29 year-old Portland native resided both in New York City and Sweden for much of her twenties, working jobs in merchandising and technical design and getting her Master’s Degree in Branding and Marketing. Inspired by the slow-living practices and clean, simplistic elements of Scandinavian design, Housgard launched Johan online in 2012 while living in Brooklyn. Two years later she moved back to the Pacific Northwest. A brick-and-mortar location for her women’s retail concept shop soon followed.
Today, terms like “minimalism” and “slow living” are rarely realized as anything other than hashtags and buzzwords of the Instagram generation. Laura, on the other hand, is injecting the retail landscape with a fresh perspective.
"I’ve been back in Portland for a little over a year after living in New York and Sweden for a bit. It’s hard for me to see Portland very clearly because I grew up here, and I just can’t see it with fresh eyes. I will say that people have been really responsive right off the bat and really supportive. There’s a certain group of people in [this city] that are drawn to new things maybe even more so than New York or San Francisco. They love discovering it, and it puts them in this category of “cool” or something, where they feel special because they know this kind of Portland. There are also so many people here trying their own thing that we all just want to support each other because we’re all doing it. In a way, it does feel like a community, and I’m still learning what’s special about this city."
On inspiration for the shop:
"The inspiration for this shop specifically, being that it’s in the front of my apartment, came from The Apartment by the Line in New York and… have you heard of a brand called Bless? They have the Bless Home in Berlin that a girl actually lives in and you can shop at it by appointment only. They have all these really cool conceptual products plus their apparel line. I was just inspired by thinking about retail in an unconventional way, as well as the lowest risk way."
"I started playing around with patterns and taking all my favorite parts of vintage clothing like the neckline from one shirt or the sleeve from another shirt and put it all together into what I consider the perfect dress. I’ll probably be releasing it sometime soon."
"Anything androgynous I’m definitely drawn to right away. I think it’s very Scandinavian as well. Menswear is something that I think about a lot. When I started Johan, I started it online when I was living in Brooklyn in 2012 and I placed some orders with menswear designers. And so yeah, I did have intentions in the beginning of carrying menswear. I think it’s just hard when you’re starting a business, you need to be very clear on the direction you’re heading and I’m kind of glad that menswear didn’t work out, because women seem to be drawn to this more naturally. But it is becoming to be quite a lifestyle, and menswear is starting to make more and more sense. I have a few guys around Portland that are like, “We’re going to open Johan Men’s for you!” and are really pumped about it."
On slow living:
"That’s definitely a big part of the shop. I think a lot of the people who like the really nice things in life are also the slowest ones to adopt these slow living practices of less consumption. I think it’s my duty to convince them, without pushing it hard on them. By keeping a very curated selection of things and encouraging purchases only when it really makes sense and not, “Oh, you already have 25 pairs of jeans? You need this!” So I kind of subtly incorporate it into the shop. Also, I try to bring on brands that produce with sustainability whenever I can and local brands to reduce the shop’s carbon footprint, of course. I think a lot about shipping and packaging and all that, but it’s hard. It’s a fine line that I think I’m walking right now between living a lux, comfortable, beautiful, modern life and then not having a lot and not wasting a lot. It’s hard as a retailer."
On expansion to other cities:
"Yeah, yeah I’m thinking a lot about it. I was actually just looking at retail spaces in Brooklyn right near where I used to live. I found one that I had been eyeing for a long time. Johan Brooklyn is on my mind. Of course, Johan LA would be one of the first. The next step is going to be finding a more permanent and larger - not huge obviously - but a better location here in Portland."
1907 SE 12th Avenue
Portland, Oregon 97214