Johnnie Lovett always had a strong interest in fashion, sneakers, and being “in the know” about the latest trends.

As a sophomore at Gwendolyn Brooks College Preparatory Academy, Johnnie took a NFTE course along with his then-partner, Christopher Houston.  Johnnie and Christopher initially wanted to start a clothing brand, but they didn’t have the resources needed to produce the apparel and products that they wanted to sell.

Building off of their original idea, Johnnie and Christopher put their heads together and came up with another way to approach fashion as a business.  Realizing that technology is the wave of the present and future, the young men created StayFreshOnline.com – a digital fashion magazine that promoted fashion-related businesses with web access, email, and text messaging.  Johnnie and Christopher won first place in the 2007 NFTE Chicago Citywide Business Plan Competition.

Looking back, the biggest challenge of their business plan was getting people to look at their “website of the future,” says Christopher. The most important thing that he learned from NFTE: “Know your numbers.”

“NFTE also taught me that networking is priceless,” says Johnnie. Indeed, more than 300 people have joined their online community through Facebook. The two young entrepreneurs say “StayFreshOnline.com is the perfect business, because being young is staying fresh.”

While Christopher Houston and Johnnie Lovett are still friends, a new venture presented itself with other business partners that ultimately became the evolution of StayFreshOnline.  At his new business, Fresh Connection Brand, Johnnie is pursuing his initial goal of starting a clothing brand.

Johnnie and his partners at Fresh Connection Brand, Joshua Gadson and Kenny Kinder, have created an apparel brand designed to represent the fashion ideals of today’s millennial consumer.  Applying some of the brand messaging and foundations of StayFreshOnline to their new company, Johnnie and his partners are working to establish one of the most up-and-coming clothing brands in Chicago.

Founded in 2010, Fresh Connection Brand is growing and will soon be national, says Johnnie.  Recently partnering with Dwyane Wade (of the Miami Heat) for a tee shirt collaboration celebrating the team’s 2012 NBA Finals Championship victory, Fresh Connection Brand is planning to reach online and boutique retailers for fall 2012.

“The core foundations learned from the NFTE program inspired and guided where I am today,” says Johnnie. “It has helped in my recent successes and will help in my future potential for becoming a major urban fashion brand.”