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Entrepreneur puts fashion forward

Brittany Johnson

La Cañada resident Brittany Johnson launched "Haute and Borrowed,” which delivers designer clothing items to members, who can then return them at a cheaper price than buying them.

(Roger Wilson / La Cañada Valley Sun)

Brittany Johnson was a teenager when she learned a love of high fashion tends to come at an equally high cost.

Growing up in La Cañada, the young fashionista — smitten by the transformative powers a well put-together ensemble can have on a young woman with personal and professional aspirations — often spent more money than she wanted to obtain designer clothes and accessories for important occasions.

“At everything I went to, I just wanted to be the best dressed person there,” Johnson, 25, recalled. “I’ve always thought what you wear is such a reflection of who you are.”

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Dresses

A trio of dresses available through "Haute and Borrowed.”

(Roger Wilson / La Cañada Valley Sun)

But, as the years progressed and social media sites Instagram and Pinterest became destinations for showing off the latest trends and clothing acquisitions, being seen or photographed in the same old thing quickly became taboo.

“We live in this age where you take one photo and that piece of clothing becomes dead to you,” Johnson joked. “I kind of think it’s dumb, but that’s the reality of it.”

Tired of spending hundreds of dollars on designer items she’d ultimately wear no more than once or twice, Johnson was a Crescenta Valley High School junior in 2008, when she began to dream of a solution. Wouldn’t it be great, she thought, if there was an affordable way to borrow designer clothing and accessories, wear them and return them without having to pay the full cost?

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Some online companies rented outfits, but their one-at-a-time services were too costly and focused more on formal wear for mature audiences than party wear for fashion-forward selfie subjects in their late teens to early 30s.

The vision she created — sort of a Netflix for designer clothing and accessories that can be rented on rotation through a renewable monthly subscription — spent years on the drafting table as Johnson majored in business marketing at California Lutheran University and worked at a string of tech start-up companies after graduation.

Last month Johnson finally took the plunge. Her business, Haute and Borrowed, launched Dec. 1 and, with a little help from younger sister Amanda Johnson and boyfriend Joel Avery, is quickly gaining a solid customer fan base.

Amanda and Brittany Johnson

Brittany Johnson, right, founded “Haute and Borrowed” with the help of her sister Amanda and boyfried Joel Avery, not pictured, on Dec. 1.

(Roger Wilson / La Cañada Valley Sun)

“At first, you think, ‘Cute idea. That’s great — you go do that,’” said Avery, who helps with Haute and Borrowed’s technical aspects. “Then you kind of realize how great an idea it is. A lot of girls are into fashion, but I guess she’s the only one who’s taken this pain point and wanted to do something about it.”

At $69 a month, an entry level membership lets users rent two items of designer clothing and one accessory at a time. Whenever they’re done, they can send the items back for free and receive a new “box” in a matter of days. Higher-priced memberships increase the number of items.

“This is essentially your closet,” Johnson said of a home workshop filled with hundreds of designer goods. “How you use it is basically up to you.”

Johnson credits mom Rhonda for instilling in her a love of style, and father and local business owner Gary (himself a CV High graduate with the class of 1979) for nudging her in an entrepreneurial direction while growing up.

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Gary Johnson, who operates a precision tool business out of Montrose, said he always thought Brittany would benefit from learning a few business basics. He’s pleased with what she’s managed to make of her dreams already.

“Things seem to be moving along very well for her,” he said . “We’re all certainly very pleased with how well it’s gone so far.”

“It’s a great idea,” agreed Rhonda Johnson. “You can turn it back in and get something else to wear, and you’re not spending so much money — If I was young, I would do it.”

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Sara Cardine, sara.cardine@latimes.com

Twitter: @SaraCardine


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