‘I Get To Put Pineapples On Stuff’
LIFE ISN'T ALL RAINBOWS AND BUTTERFLIES FOR SHANLEE JOHNSON. IT'S ALSO ALPACAS, HEDGEHOGS, AND FLOWERS.
‘Selling baby clothes is like selling cupcakes,’ says Shanlee, the owner of Little Birdies Boutique in Georgetown. ‘Everyone is so excited about a new baby in their life. There’s no stress really; it’s just fun. You get to put pineapples on stuff.’
Preparation preceded the pineapples, of course. Growing up in Memphis, Shanlee started designing—or rather, redesigning—her own clothes at an early age.
‘I was always cutting off my jeans and adding ribbon trim. It was the 80s. And my mom had a sewing machine, so I just got it out and played with it. She made her clothes when she was younger, including her wedding dress, so she’s a pretty good seamstress.’
Shanlee moved to New York City after high school and followed suit, studying women’s tailoring at The Fashion Institute of Technology. She worked for Tory Burch, Catherine Malandrino, and Scoop—moving to DC nearly eight years ago. Each career move provided an education in everything from lifestyle, to customer service, branding and buying, but Shanlee’s lifelong dream was to open her own store and clothing line.
‘I thought women’s wear was over-saturated. Adult sizing is often more difficult and inconsistent than children’s sizing, leading to frustration in the fitting room. Baby clothes are a happy business, and there wasn’t a children’s store in Georgetown.’
So Little Birdies was born.
Shanlee opened her Wisconsin Avenue boutique in 2014, with clothing, accessory, and toy sales doubling year-over-year. She says it’s been a slow and steady build, having started with ‘barely any budget.’
‘There were weeks in the beginning when we wouldn’t see anyone in the store for days. We were surviving month-to-month.’
As word-of-mouth grows, Little Birdies has become one of the go-to boutiques for Washington’s best-dressed children. This year, Shanlee introduced her own southern-inspired line, Pineapple Sunshine. She says designing children’s clothing requires the same technical basics of women’s tailoring—but more fun.
Pineapple Sunshine has quickly become one of the most sought-after brands in the store—focusing on more traditional children’s wear in an age when many parents are drawn to baby leather jackets and sparkly tops.
‘They really still dress their kids in the south. They do the whole outfit; the matching shoes, and coordinated family looks.’
For a dose of that traditional ‘East Coast nautical’ look, many of Shanlee’s customers come from New York. One regular drops by monthly to pick up his wife’s wish list while he’s in town on business. Georgetown residents also make up a sizeable portion of sales, as well as aunts, grandparents, and friends looking for a baby gift.
All seem drawn, in particular, to Pineapple Sunshine’s fun, happy, and sweet designs—inspired by Shanlee’s own childlike interests. Thanks to a recent trip to Peru, it’s currently baby alpacas.
‘I’m also obsessed with cars, so we’re doing a vintage Cobra car for the Fall. I turn things I like into a fabric and repeat print.’
It takes three to four months to manufacture Shanlee’s pieces, supplemented by other clothing lines that she discovers through Instagram, buying trips to New York, and cute babies on the street. The biggest challenge is finding items that aren’t in every other store.
Moving forward, Shanlee has her sights set on additional boutique spaces in New York and Nantucket—the latter where half of her local customers own second homes. Her Pineapple Sunshine collection is in six stores (and counting) nationwide.
Sweetest of all, it’s on her niece.