Kenne Johnson knew from a young age that she wanted to be an entrepreneur. Growing up in southern California, she’d watched her mother run her own childcare business and was long enamored with the idea of being her own boss. As a kid, she sold candy and drawings to her schoolmates and later as a college student, she began taking courses in entrepreneurship. But it wasn’t until the pandemic began in 2020, that she really began to put the wheels in motion.
Using the experience she’d gained working at Lush Cosmetics, Johnson launched her own line of body products with an emphasis on sustainability and natural ingredients.
“I’m really focused on the sustainability of our products, and I’m learning how complicated that can be,” she said. “I’m trying to really be intentional with the ingredients I use – that’s really my focus, being very intentional and purposeful with ingredients and packaging.
She started selling her products online, at maker’s markets and other events throughout the Bay Area, and in stores throughout the region. About a year in, she realized she wanted her own brick-and-mortar store. Online sales were fine, but she missed the human interaction aspect. She moved to Scotts Valley in 2021 and began looking at spaces around downtown Santa Cruz, which led her to Downtown Pops!
Downtown Pops! is the Santa Cruz Economic Development’s pilot program designed to help businesses open downtown by lowering the barriers to entry while also reducing risk for property owners wary of taking on new tenants during challenging times. Essentially, the city enters the lease with downtown commercial property owners with vacant spaces downtown and then subleases the spaces to various pop-up tenants for a shorter term.
I grew up in a small town and always wanted to live in a big city, but I quickly learned I’m not a big city girl. It’s quieter here and I can just relax – I can drive to West Cliff and sit there for two hours. — Kenne Johnson
After deciding her first choice of space (the former Botanic and Luxe space on Front Street) was a bit too big, she expanded her search efforts beyond downtown. She’d already found a permanent space on Ocean and Soquel when Sarah Domondon of Santa Cruz City Economic Development contacted her to see if she was still interested in one of the Downtown Pops spaces. Johnson went for it.
Since late February, the Terra & Self store has been located at 1349 Pacific Avenue, next to Paper Vision. There, Johnson sells her own T&S line of body oils, lip scrubs, lip butters, deodorants and more. She also sells products from other women-owned businesses, with a special focus on businesses owned by other women of color. That includes candles from Decor Ate Me Studios, jewelry from Watsonville’s La Luna Designs and soaps from Wayward Bison in Santa Cruz, among others.
She’ll be located downtown until May or June, when she will move to the Soquel Ocean Center, the shopping plaza that currently houses The UPS Store, SPENGA Santa Cruz, Beach Hut Deli and others. Having the opportunity to try out the in-store experience before she takes over that spot has been a big help, she said, and her neighboring businesses have been especially welcoming.
It’s been a chance to raise the visibility of the brand in Santa Cruz and get customers hooked on her goods – including her best-selling Golden Hour body oil. “I can barely keep it in stock,” she said. “I constantly sell out of it.”
For Johnson, locating her home and business in Santa Cruz County has had a lot of benefits. Having grown up near deserts in Southern California, she later moved to the Bay Area and found herself wanting to live closer to the ocean. Santa Cruz County offered a slightly slower pace and a lot of scenic beauty.