Jeff Johnson, 55, left a chaotic technology life in Jackson and moved to quaint Oxford, returning to the apparel business.
Johnson wakes up as the birds chirp before sunrise, five minutes to 5 a.m. He immediately feeds his family’s boxer and cat, then sips on his coffee while catching up on the latest business fashion blogs.
“I’m never reading about what the Kardashian’s wore last night, but about who is making money and the big fashion industries,” he said.
He said everyone is looking for discount stores, causing big stores to lose money. Nieman Marcus has Last Call, Nordstrom has Nordstrom Rack, Saks Fifth Avenue has Saks off 5th.
“And obviously the Internet is the great divide,” he said.
After catching up on the latest news, Johnson opens his store, Nella, a women’s clothing store, between 7:30 a.m. and 8 a.m.
His day is packed, making phone calls about products with customers and East Coast vendors.
He pays bills and checks the store’s Instagram to see what items are trending.
“We probably sell five to eight things from Instagram every week,” he said.
After working in the morning, he usually leaves around lunchtime if it’s not too hectic. He usually stays until 5:30 p.m. to prep for the next morning.
Nella is located between First National Bank Oxford and University Sporting Goods. It is an elegant and colorful women’s apparel, crossover store. Johnson said that means any age woman can shop there, from college students to older women.
Johnson was born in Yazoo City and found himself back in Oxford only a few years ago. He attended Ole Miss, was a member of Phi Delta Theta fraternity, and worked for The Daily Mississippian. He majored in marketing because “there wasn’t anything like IMC (integrated marketing communications) at the time.”
At his first job, he worked at a big men’s store, similar to Hinton & Hinton on the Square, for 11 years in Jackson.
After 11 years, he got a job in technology at a large company called Ergon. He sold industrial computers to telecom, military, and other big suppliers. He often flew to Illinois for business. That job lasted about three years.
“I kind of had a hankering mid-way through that year to get back into apparel,” he said. “So I kept in touch with the owner of Duvall’s, bought this space, and now it’s Nella.”
The store was named after Johnson’s little sister, Katherine Ella Johnson, who is 18 years younger than Johnson and currently the Delta Gamma housemother on campus.
“There’s a lot of competition in Oxford,” he said. “But there’s a good pace here. It was a great way to leave Jackson. Jackson and Memphis have similar issues with crime, infrastructure and stuff like that.”
After being in the technology business for so long, Johnson had an epiphany in Nordstrom that he wanted to go back into apparel.
“I walked into a Nordstrom in Dallas,” he said. “It had just been redone, and there was this guy sitting there playing the piano. I looked at my wife and said: “This is kind of crazy, but I think I will go back into the clothing business.’”
Johnson said selling women’s clothing is easier than selling men’s clothing. “The reason I don’t work in menswear is because nobody wears a coat to work anymore,” he said.
Johnson’s family members help with the business.
“My wife works in the back as a bookkeeper,” he said. “My daughter, who is a senior, works on the floor.”
Johnson is a member of the Chamber of Commerce and helps out with Oxford Square Lines, about 30 stores that put on three free family-friendly events each year.
“We just did our Easter event, and I got a kid from Oxford High to dress up in an Easter bunny suit to take pictures with the children,” he said. “We ended up shooting 11,000 pictures on that Saturday before Easter.”
Johnson’s biggest lesson about women’s apparel is: “Always buy too little,” he said. “You can always call NYC or LA and get something shipped immediately.”
In the early days, Johnson said he would fill out an entire order form, then wouldn’t have any room for the extra clothes in the store.
“Really go slow on inventory and cut lines that aren’t selling quickly,” he said.
Johnson said what makes Nella unique is they try not to carry what other stores in Oxford carry.
Kaeyln Sreenan, 21, is an IMC major with a minor in business and a public relations specialization from Jacksonville, Florida, who works at Nella.
“I want to be a self-sustained hard working woman to prove something to myself,” she said. “I would love to work in fashion marketing/PR and or PR and marketing for covering major events.”
Sreenan will have worked at Nella one on June 1st. She said Nella has a great work atmosphere, and she’s happy she came to Johnson freshman year looking for a job.
“When I went to him my freshman year, he told me he did not hire students until their junior year,” he said. “So the last day of my sophomore year, I went to him and said: ‘OK, I’m a junior.’ The next thing you knew, I was working at Nella.”
A typical workday for Sreenan is arriving early to straighten the racks, making sure all tags are tucked in on hanging clothes, and that the jeans are in size order on tables. While straightening the racks, she checks to see what new merchandise came in to become familiar with the brand and the style.
“Then I go on our work computer to look at Instagram and see how our page looks and what other pages are posting,” she said. “We usually try to take some photos to post to our Instagram for the next couple weeks.”
As people walk in the store, she and coworkers engage with customer. Before they close, we always make sure all the racks are straightened and finger spaced apart so it looks good for people walking by at night.
Jeff Johnson and Nella’s Top Ten Fashion Trends for Summer
1. Anything with a raw hem on jeans.
2. Less distressed jeans.
3. Anything that’s the color blush.
4. Lanyard jewelry. You can dress it up or down.
5. $40–$60 sunglasses.
6. Tinsel, a type of fake denim.
7. Floral prints (not Johnson’s favorite, but it sells).
8. Bohemian “boho” type shirts
9. Faux suede sets.
10. Colored anorak’s (jackets) (Johnson’s personal favorite).
11. (Bonus) athleisure.
Kaelyn Sreenan’s Top 10 Fashion Trends For Summer
1. Denim, especially patchwork denim.
2. Small block heels.
3. Stair-stepper and raw hem jeans.
4. Soludos shoes.
5. Comfy, but cute sneakers, with a little height to them.
6. Colorful, bold earrings.
7. Vertical stripes.
8. Nude coloring in everything, especially handbags.
9. Vintage T-shirts.
10. Bigger than your normal size denim shorts that hang on your waist.