Louis ( LC ) Johnson IV is only 24 years old but he's already making waves as the creative director for Currency, a New York City-based jewelry company that he co-launched in 2012 with jewelry designer and straight ally Gee Powell.
"I started interning at Complex Magazine in New York City and from there I went on to intern at Showroom Seven, a multi-branded PR house, and that's where I met Gee. We connected creatively and wanted to create more together so we started Currency together and began to get her designs mass produced," said Johnson. " I was already a freelance fashion stylist and one of my clients was Gee's artist, Asian rapper Luz, so that worked hand in hand with what we were doing. We worked with artists and models doing photo and video shoots to visually compel a new market. We marketed this to young, creative people who were into fashion, music and those who wanted to be a part of something new. I think that right now our generation is about supporting everyone's endeavors. It's about comraderie and that's really the essence of what our company has been about since we started."
According to its website, Currency "was inspired by gifts of coins from personal friends who traveled to faraway destinations such as Cuba, Bahrain, Morocco, Costa Rica, France, Africa, Israel, India, Mexico, Kazakhstan, Jamaica and Hong Kong.
"Currency uniquely turns international coin currencies into a modern lifestyle and fashion jewelry collection for both men and women. Currency necklaces and bracelets are the perfect day to night jewelry. Each piece can be dressed up for evening or pared down with a T-shirt and jeans for day."
As the company has grown, Johnson and Powell have been able to use their personal relationships with people to spread the word. Some of the notable people who've become fans and clients of Currency's jewelry are Rihanna, Rita Ora, Dasha Polanco, Zendaya and Justine Skye as well as top fashion stylists like Yusef Williams, Ty Hunter and Law Roach. Last September, Currency was featured during a presentation at the James Hotel during Fashion Week in NYC.
Johnson's role as creative director for Currency involves making the jewelry artful as well as appealing to the masses while also figuring out the direction that they want to take the company. He also does all the social media, runs sales, decides what images that will be featured on the site and gets the jewelry to various stylists. Powell designs the jewelry and has full creative control over the way the jewelry looks.
Being in the fashion industry has always been a part of Johnson's life, even when he was a kid. He was born on the West Side of Chicago on April 14, 1991, and attended Providence St. Mel for elementary school and went on to graduate from Steinmetz College Prep High School. He attended The Illinois Institute of Art-Chicago before moving to NYC to attend The Art Institute of New York City where he's currently finishing up his degree in fashion marketing.
Currency isn't the only thing that Johnson does professionally. When Johnson returned to Chicago for a vacation he got offered a full-time job at Etro, an Italian fashion house, so he decided to move home last May. He is completing his degree online as well as continuing in his role at Currency while also working at Etro.
Johnson noted that he first came out as gay while attending high school and except for a handful of negative comments about his sexuality he's had mostly positive responses from family, friends and colleagues. Johnson explained that while in high school he started meeting new friends that he could relate to and they all supported each other since they were going through similar adversities. He said they gained a strong sense of brotherhood in friendship as they navigated their coming of age years.
"It was definitely not easy to be brave at that point in my life but it's empowering to become comfortable with yourself," said Johnson. "When you start owning who you are you get so much more love, support and understanding from people. I encourage people to be who they are but everyone has to set their own time table as to when they want to come out."
"I will say that I don't feel like my sexuality defines me. I'm definitely not ashamed of who I am and if you ask me I'll tell you I'm gay," said Johnson. "It was easier for me to be out when I moved to New York City because at least for me it was more acceptable to be gay there than here in Chicago. It's more shocking if you aren't gay in New York City, especially in the fashion industry."
Not only does Johnson work full-time, run Currency and is finishing college he also hosts an LGBT friendly dance party on the first Friday of the month at Esso Bar in Wicker Park called The Firm.
"I'm trying to create a space where the LGBT and straight community can collide similar to what I saw in New York City when I hosted parties at Mister H with Rapper Sir Michael Fernandez, where everyone is integrated within a social space," said Johnson. "I want to help eliminate some of the segregation that exists in Chicago."
When not working; Johnson likes to hang out with his friends, travel, work out, run, play tennis and swim. During summer vacations at Camp Chippewa in Minnesota, Johnson also likes to do archery, kayaking and water tubing.
"I'm like a mermaid," said Johnson.
As for what he would tell people thinking about becoming an entrepreneur, Johnson said the most important thing is to not give up on your dreams.
"Always focus on your own dreams whether you are working for someone else, you have to mind your own business," said Johnson. "It's important to remain positive even when you think something isn't working or you can't see a light at the end of the tunnel. Just know that every day is another step towards your dream and as long as you keep going you'd be surprised to see where you are a year or two from now."
See www.currencyny.com for more information .