We’ve been crushing on Johan for quite some time, a welcomed and stark contrast from the expected Pacific North West Cliche. A gallery of coveted garments and objects that are equal parts art and utility. Owner Laura Housgard welcomed us into Johan on a chilly weekday morning. The visit was spent chatting about some of the outstanding lines the shop carries and the need to bring a store like Johan to our ever-changing city. First and foremost, Housgard’s goal is to bring a high standard of quality with refined minimal taste - catering to the ever growing design community that Portland harbors.
After spending time on her Masters degree at the Lund University, Laura moved to New York to work in corporate fashion. A taxing lifestyle that made her yearn to be around the Scandinavian design that she had fallen for in Sweden. This lead to Johan’s Son, an online purveyor of the minimal designs that she had become so deeply connected with. Fast forward a bit and she found herself back in her home town of Portland dedicated to expounding upon on the concept. With her vast experience in retail she bravely opened the front room of her inner South East apartment into a shop called Johan with select hours and an intimate feel and her customers loved it! Portland hadn't seen anything like it, and it quickly became clear that Laura needed a permanent storefront. She found the ideal location in downtown and Johan is now in #plainsite.
Laura has delicately curated a shop with the perfect amalgamation of products from local brands like Ara Handbags, Ashley Hardy Ceramics, Midnight Collective and Sea + Pattern and other incredible small scale designers like L.A. based Desiree Klein, LLOYD out of Vancouver, B.C. and Martiniano footwear. Housgard has managed to create a very special retail experience that is a must, just look for the sign that reads “yes”.
1. Tell us about Johan! (How long have you been open, where is it, etc.)
Johan is a concept shop with a secret address in downtown Portland. It's a destination where people come to find the best of many things, from ceramics and design books, to apparel and jewelry. We started online in Brooklyn in 2012, opened our first brick and mortar location on the east side of Portland in May of 2015, and moved to our current location in July of this year.
2. What made you decide to open a store front?
I was living in New York, absolutely miserable working as an apparel technical designer for a large corporation, feeling stifled creatively, when I hit rock bottom. I had to decide where to go from there. What would make me happy? What are my strengths? My weaknesses? My skills and experiences? I've worked in retail since I was 18 and my master's degree is in branding and marketing. When I added it all up, opening a store was the only thing that made sense.
3. What is the concept behind the store?
4. How did you come up with the name Johan?
Johan is named for my great great great grandfather on my mother's side, Johan August Magnusson. I had the opportunity to live in Sweden, meet my relatives, and hear Johan's story. He was known for being resourceful, creative, and a bit of a dreamer. He renovated our family farmhouse which still stands on a beautiful plot of land near a small lake in southern Sweden, he planted cherry trees in the front yard, he tirelessly tilled the rocky land. His story resonated with me - I think I saw a bit of myself in him.
5. How do you find designers you showcase in your shop?
I get emails from designers daily introducing themselves - I love learning about new brands that way. I also go to New York twice a year for market week - a great way to see hundreds of designers all in a short period of time. And then, of course, there is Instagram.
6. What are your 3 favorite things in the store?
The three huge light fixtures on the ceiling.
7. What’s a funny shop story you have?
Lots of funny stories - our new location is in a pretty gritty part of town. That coupled with the fact that we have 28 feet of floor to ceiling windows makes it feel like we're watching (or in?!) some sort of nutty downtown Portland reality show all day.
I once had a guy with a string wrapped around his head stand outside and stare at me through the window for ten minutes. I finally called Clean + Safe, and when they tried to take him away he said he couldn't leave because I was his wife.
8. Who inspires your style?
Margaret Howell. She always looks timeless and comfortable in her own skin.
9. Tell us two truths and a lie.
I do a mean Australian accent. I sold Mos Def a pair of drop crotch pants. I always finish the last sip of water in a glass.
10. Where are your favorite places to shop?
Craig's List, Muji, La Garconne.