It was love at first sight for Jeanne Johansson, owner of Scarlet Clothing. Ten years ago, she said “I do” to the boutique and hasn’t looked back.
Since then, Scarlet has earned its spot at the top of the fashion game in central Arkansas, as well as online success coast to coast. So what’s the secret?
“I compare it to marriage,” Johansson says. “We keep doing new things, keep it fresh. We’re always texting each other ideas. One day we just started drawing all over our conference room walls. Whatever, anything new and fun. We don’t ever want to be bored, not for one day.”
But that desire for an engaged, dynamic lifestyle is an intentional one that stemmed from past obstacles.
At 19, Johansson spent three months in bed, paralyzed from a mononucleosis complication. She missed the fall semester of her sophomore year at the University of Arkansas, spending it in rehab, relearning how to walk, how to write her own name.
“I made one promise to myself and that I’d never lay around again. I was going to run through fields with music playing, go hiking. I was always going to have fun every day and not take anything for granted,” she recalls.
“I think I’m a different person since then. I don’t ever like to have a bad day. Sometimes I’ll be a little grumpy, but I try to be happy, positive every day.”
And she didn’t waste any time implementing those standards. Soon after she got back to school, the fashion merchandising and apparel studies major took a job at a local clothing store and fell head-over-heels. She spent all her free time there, learning the ins and outs of the industry.
While in school, a class required her to create a business plan for a mock store, following all the steps necessary for a real one, including a small business loan. A few years after graduation, when the magazine she worked for folded, Johansson saw an opportunity.
“The only reason I wasn’t going to open my store was because I thought I was too young. But then I thought that was a dumb reason. I was ready, so I did,” says Johansson.
Fast-forward 10 years, add a husband and a 4-year-old daughter, and Scarlet is still growing. After moving twice to larger locations, they’ve settled in the Pleasant Ridge Town Center on Cantrell, complete with the internal Salon Scarlet and photo studio.
Despite success, Johansson has been smart about her employees, utilizing them to their full potential. The photographer is also the person in charge of marketing and web. The person who does the books is also the person who does customer service.
“Everything’s in-house, but it works,” she says. “Everybody who works here loves it and treats it like their own. They spend a lot of their free time getting better at their jobs. They’re all so passionate about it. They’ll call me with ideas; at meetings, I barely talk. It’s awesome.”
Scarlet’s website has been key to the store’s performance. By styling every piece and filling each page with full outfits, they hope the site will be a resource for people as they get ready. That and their social media presence have drawn a lot of attention. Employees get approached outside the shop about items people have seen online.
An oddly proud moment came in realizing that the vast majority of Scarlet’s online sales were from California and New York.
“We hear all the time that people can’t believe we’re from Arkansas,” says Johansson. “There are some really trendy people here, and our reps were so surprised. No, we’re not missing our front teeth.”
Some of that comes from Johansson’s refusal to purchase what sales reps think “looks like Arkansas.”
“I don’t know if that stereotype’s ever going to go away, but it’s fine because we’re surprising people, and I like that.”
That stereotype is something that draws the boutique owners of Little Rock together, despite any friendly competition. Johansson loves any and all attention fashion gets from the community, even if that means sending customers and sales reps to other stores.
“It’s a small little fashion world. People think it’s really glamorous, but everyone works so hard and is so passionate about it. Just the work ethic is crazy. Everyone is cheering each other on and helping each other out.”
But even now, her favorite element is still putting an outfit together. Whether it’s the ability to be creative in her own effortless and laidback style every morning, or spending three hours online one night trying to find the perfect red dress for a customer, Johansson confesses that it’s not about the logistics, it’s about the feeling.
“We have one customer who wiped out her entire closet. She had never really spent much time or money on her wardrobe, so we started from scratch and built it little by little,” she says. “She looks like a different person. Her confidence has changed. It’s gorgeous. These clothes didn’t make that happen, it’s her. She just glows.”
It’s that kind of payback that keeps Scarlet going strong. Even with a new website in the works and girls now looking to her as the standard, Johansson proves that hard work and perspective can make a 10-year relationship seem like only yesterday. Scarlet’s in it for the long haul, for better or for worse, and we’re only predicting better.
A sneak peek at what’s on Scarlet’s fashion agenda
Excited for: Look for Scarlet’s new website in the upcoming months, as well as a Scarlet phone line that you can text for direct feedback on your outfit.
Wish list: Scarlet sells merchandise for organizations like the Taylor McKeen Shelton Foundation and Fighting Fancy, but would love to get involved with more charities and nonprofits.