Stretch of imagination

A La Crescenta woman is following her passion while honoring her dearest friend who died from breast cancer.

Leanne Johnson Levine took her love of fashion design and started a T-shirt business called Capable Arts in 2005. Her inventory began with five adult T-shirt designs and one for a baby. Each displays a positive saying or character.

“All the designs are motivation affirmations,” Johnson Levine said. “I just wanted to do something that reflected what I believed in. To think more positively.”

T-shirts are a universal form of expression, she said. While coming up with design ideas, she thought about what people might be feeling before they put on a T-shirt in the morning.

One of the T-shirts, named after the business, features Japanese characters that spell out the word “capable.”

“That’s a word that meant a lot to me — having power and ability,” she said.

Her favorite, however, is called Persistence, which has the definition on the back. Another design comes on either a T-shirt or tank top that says “Groovy Mommy” with the words “peace,” “love” and “balance.” It goes with the Groovy Baby shirt that has “peace,” “love” and a picture of a pacifier.

“The company, Capable Arts, is a passion project of mine,” she said. “I wanted to create organic cotton T-shirts printed with eco-friendly processes.”

She found a green manufacturer in the United States and a printing company that uses an environmentally friendly dye instead of ink, she said.

“The dye penetrates the material rather than sits on top of it, so the wording on the shirt doesn’t crack, and it’s really cool,” she said.

Just when she was starting her business her best friend, Karen Dunaitis, also of La Crescenta, was diagnosed with breast cancer. She died in 2007.

Dunaitis was like a sister, Johnson Levine said. They had been friends for 17 years.

“Karen was my biggest fan,” Johnson Levine said. “When I first started the business, she bought the T-shirts from her hospital bed.”

Dunaitis didn’t let her illness prevent her from participating in the 2006 L.A. County Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure. She got a team of 10 people together, and they raised more than $8,000. Dunaitis raised almost $3,000 of that herself, Johnson Levine said. She walked the walk, as well.

In honor of her friend, Johnson Levine has created a new T-shirt design, Intrepid, which she is donating a percentage of sales to the Komen Walk for the Cure.

The word is displayed along with the definition “characterized by resolute fearlessness, fortitude and endurance.”

“I got the idea from an e-mail she sent out,” Johnson Levine said. “She had picked it as her instant-message name, and she put the definition in the body area of the e-mails she sent out while hitting people up for donations for the race.”

There are two colors, pink and a unisex sea-foam blue, Johnson Levine said.

“I knew guys wouldn’t wear pink, and I wanted to do something for them because breast cancer affects them too, whether their wife, mother or sister have it,” she said.

The shirts are available on her new website,, which went up Friday, and through Vida Verde, an eco-friendly boutique in La Cañada owned by La Crescenta resident Laurel Murrieta.

Everything in the store is either made by local artists or the items are made without using products harmful to the environment, or they are products protected by the Fair Trade Federation, which makes sure the person receives a fair wage for their merchandise, Murrieta said.

The store has carried Johnson Levine’s T-shirts since it opened in 2009, Murrieta said.

“I love that they are designed by a local artist, and it meets my requirements as an eco-friendly boutique,” she said. “They are made of organic cotton and soy ink and made here in the United States.”

In honor of October being Breast Cancer Awareness Month, the store will have an open house from 5 to 7 p.m. Oct. 29, and a percentage of sales from all items in the store, including the breast cancer T-shirts, will be donated to the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure, Murrieta said.

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