In the summer of 2014, Landria Johnson was a student at the University of Michigan, taking a year off between grad and undergrad and staying with her grandmother to help her recover from surgery. But while working an internship at a hospital, plus bartending and waiting tables, it wasn't a desire to launch a successful business that started what has become The Sassy Olive -- it was a simple desire to keep her hair out of her face.
"I had really long hair, and I couldn't find anything to fit my style and that worked to hold my hair back," Johnson said. "So I went to Hobby Lobby and bought $42 worth of fabric and I took it over to my grandma's and I said, 'Hey Gram, show me how to use this old sewing machine you've got.' There was nothing that I really wanted out there, so I decided to make it myself."
And Johnson did just that, creating her own headbands to fit her needs and style, when her coworkers began to take notice of her new accessories.
"I started wearing them to work and the girls started asking, so I made some more," Johnson said. "I remember taking them in and spreading them out on a steak tray in the back room where I was working at the time and they were buying them. That August I opened my Etsy."
With some online sales and craft shows proving to be successful, Johnson didn't have to wait tables through grad school. In fact, her business was already growing enough that she needed to enlist some help.
"I had one friend that I ended up hiring to iron some of my stuff for me, and then she slowly started helping me make them," Johnson said. "Then she was shipping my Etsy orders while I was at school, so my dad would drive back and forth from Allegan to Ann Arbor to pick up and deliver stuff."
After graduating with her Master's of Public Health in Hospital and Molecular Epidemiology in April of 2017, she decided to take the plunge and pursue her side business full-time, renting a small space in downtown Allegan with some pretty modest goals.
"My original plan was to just have a space so I wasn't working in my parents' basement on the ping pong table and didn't have to have it at my own house; I just wanted a space to work," Johnson said. "I thought I'd have just a little bit of stuff in there because I was working out of an old office space. I figured I'd set up a few displays in the front room in case people wanted to stop in and shop. But my goal was simply to make enough to cover the rent. That quickly grew, and I realized I wasn't going to be able to work and man the store and do everything. So I ended up hiring some help, then worked on getting more sewers, and it just sort of started snowballing from there."
Rapidly, in fact, as Johnson and her crew began searching for a bigger space not even a year into opening.
"With as quickly as we were growing and the goals I wanted to achieve, I knew I wanted a bigger storefront -- I wanted to have clothes because I wanted to encompass my style into a space more than just my headbands," Johnson said. "My dream was to have a space where I knew we could grow into it and not have to worry about moving again in a year. I wanted to have more people, I wanted to have my production in-house, I wanted to have everything in one spot."
When Johnson heard that the city's old dime store building would be going on the market, her eyes lit up. Because not only would the square footage allow her business to grow in the ways she wanted, it would also allow her to invest in an important piece of her community's history by purchasing 125 Locust St. "It's great that I can be a part of not only what's happening right now in Allegan, but also that I am a part of this awesome chunk of Allegan's history by owning this building," she said.
Community is important to Johnson, who not only serves on various boards in Allegan, but also contributes to it directly through various fundraisers for scholarships and non-profit organizations. "For me, it's extremely important to support local," she said. "Sure, it would be cheaper to outsource production, but then I can't provide these local jobs, I can't watch the process from the beginning, and that's not what we're about."
What The Sassy Olive is about is imagination, creativity and originality, and promoting diversity and inclusivity through the creation of handmade headbands showcasing that all are welcome and celebrated. Now, with ample space and a lot of momentum, Johnson is looking to take her message, and her headbands, further into the world.