Rugged and Fancy is more than its self-proclaimed title “lifestyle initiative,” according to the Johnstons. The husband and wife team — musician and producer Duquette Johnston and stylist and jewelry designer Morgan Johnston — are the creative minds behind Rugged and Fancy.
It’s the couple’s philosophy and mantra for thoughtful, design-oriented, simple elegance. Now on the advent of their apparel store launch, Rugged and Fancy is taking lifestyle initiative to the next level.
Currently, through the business, the Johnstons work with individuals and companies to find their voice and carve out a unique niche in their field by using creative strategies.
“A close friend called me rugged and fancy as a joke,” Duquette said. “But I ended up titling an album Rugged and Fancy, and it became our philosophy.”
“It’s our style,” Morgan said. “It’s not about being one or the other, but embodying both.”
“Rugged and Fancy’s motto is ‘life in pure form.’ It’s a boiled down way of saying do what you were meant to do. Pursue your passion,” Duquette said.
The Johnstons said they have always pursued their passions. Through experience as entrepreneurs, they know a thing or two about finding the right voice and carving out a niche in a creative field. The couple first discussed starting the Rugged and Fancy business together three years ago, and now their client list has grown to include BIG Communications, Luckie and Co., Schaeffer Eye Center, Belk, UAB Hospital, People Magazine, the Birmingham Zoo and more.
“People would come to us for advice on where to buy the best jeans or where to find the best restaurants, so we started blogging to compile all the things we liked,” explained Morgan. “Community is no longer constrained by geography, so we’ve included things from Birmingham and places we’ve traveled.”
It’s the culmination of these various influences that inspired the Johnstons to start designing T-shirts and later decide to open an online store, where they’ll sell both their clothes and handcrafted works of other designers. The first two items to roll off the Rugged and Fancy apparel line were the Surf East Lake and Woodlawn High School 1916 T-shirts, seen around town recently in REV Birmingham’s pop-up shops. After the success of the pop-up shops, the Johnstons recognized a market for their merchandise.
“We thought we’d just do one run on the Woodlawn shirts, but they’ve sold well so we’re going to do more and give part of the proceeds to the Woodlawn High School band,” Duquette said. “We believe in giving back, and we know that music can change a kid’s life,” added Morgan.
As for the inspiration behind the Surf East Lake shirts, the Johnstons call East Lake home and know firsthand that it’s a vibrant community.
“After we got married, we considered moving to New York City, Northern California or Nashville, but we had friends in East Lake, and we saw something special there,” said Morgan Johnston. “There’s a pulse. Neighbors talk to each other, kids play outside. … It’s revitalizing something that’s already great,” added Duquette.
Part of the Johnstons’ philosophy of style is that if something does not serve a purpose, and is not aesthetically pleasing, then it’s no good. Combined with the respect of the craftsmanship that goes into handmade products, the Johnstons are working to put together an online store that will launch in time for the holidays.
“People are becoming more conscious of what they’re buying, where it comes from and how they’re using it. We want a dozen good products that inspire people. We don’t want to overwhelm people with options,” Morgan explained. “We’re so fortunate to have met amazing craftsmen from long friendships.”
“If we’re going to carry their products, we want them to have attention to detail and quality — the same philosophy as we do,” added Duquette. “So much of our world is disposable, and that’s not our view.”
The store will house Rugged and Fancy apparel, which includes men’s and women’s jewelry of Morgan’s creation, and, eventually, home goods such as furniture from Wood Studio, which was recently featured during Design Week Birmingham.
“We understand that we don’t have to make everything in the store ourselves. There are already so many people making incredible things so we don’t want to reinvent the wheel when we can partner and collaborate,” Duquette explained.
Additionally, the duo plans to grow Rugged and Fancy to include things for parents and kids.
“I’ll be a mom early next year, so we’re thinking about adding a family component. There are so many parents that are cool and hip, and not everyone wants lime green and polka dots,” said Morgan.
Though no specific date for the Rugged and Fancy store’s launch has been set, the Johnstons are hard at work making final preparations. They’re quick to add that living creative lives takes hard work.
“I think it’s hard for some people to conceive what lives like ours look like, but if you want something, you’ll make it happen. You don’t do it for the money. As long as you’re getting by doing what you love, you’re living well,” Morgan said.
“There were times when we had no money in the bank and just beans in the cupboard, and I still wouldn’t trade it for anything,” added Duquette.
Through living creatively, the Johnstons hope to inspire other creatives to do what they love, too.