Vagrant vet to TV star: Local goes on 'Say Yes to the Dress'

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Louisville-based entrepreneur and veteran RaeShanda Johnson has said "no" to plenty of things in her life, like homelessness and poverty, but this weekend she's ready to "Say Yes To The Dress" on TLC's wildly successful reality series hosted by fashion guru Randy Fenoli.

"After I got engaged in July of 2018, one of my bridesmaids suggested I apply to 'Say Yes To The Dress,'" Johnson told The Courier Journal. "I almost didn't bother because I thought they'd never pick me."

A former teen mom, she had her first child when she was 13 years old, a member of the United States Army and a graduate of Kentucky State University, Johnson, a divorced mother of four, arrived in Louisville in 2011 broke and homeless.

But she didn't stay that way for long.

Johnson explained to TLC show producers how she created a dream board of the lifestyle she wanted after she arrived in Louisville. She then started a Facebook fashion page in October 2012 that grew quickly. Following a suggestion from a Facebook follower, she opened an online boutique and earned a six-figure income within 10 months of opening the online store in 2013.

Today, "All is Fair in Love and Fashion" has a social media following of over 500,000 members. The brand’s first flagship-style office opened in September 2015 in downtown Louisville’s historic Heyburn Building, 332 W. Broadway.

Between running a successful business and raising four kids, Johnson is known for giving back to her community.

Each year she holds two benefit fashion shows. The “Scholarship Brunch” provides college scholarships to teen moms who attend the Westport TAPP school in Louisville. She also curates "Fashion on Fourth," a fashion show which supports veterans held at Fourth Street Live each fall.

This spring she'll add a third fashion show to the yearly line up. On March 14 at the University of Louisville Alumni Center, 200 E. Brandeis Ave., Johnson plans an event focused on fashion for girls ages 12 months to 9 years old.

“My goal with everything I do at 'All is Fair in Love and Fashion' is to educate, edify and empower through fashion and beauty," she told The Courier Journal.

TLC producers loved everything about Johnson's story and her can-do attitude and selected her to be featured on the reality program from the thousands of eager brides-to-be who also applied to be on the popular show.

Johnson, who is also running for a seat on Metro Council representing District 2 using her married name Lias-Lockhart, and three of her closest friends, Amber Peppers, Ashley Bennington, and Dawana Clarkson, were flown to New York for the taping of "Say Yes To The Dress," which takes place at Kleinfield Bridal in Manhattan.

"I said I wanted a dress that would make me look like a queen," laughed Johnson. "Randy, the show's host was there to help and we taped for eight hours until I found the perfect dress. I cried when I saw myself in the mirror. I didn't think a plus-size woman could wear a white gown and look so beautiful."

To continue the theme of the queen, Johnson also said "yes" to a 180-foot-long veil.

But hang on, that isn't the end of this fairytale story.

Once Johnson and her entourage returned to Louisville, TLC came knocking again.

"They wanted to film my entire wedding," Johnson said. "Now I knew everything had to be beyond perfect."

By the time the big day arrived on June 6 of last year, Johnson and her partner had assembled an enormous wedding party that consisted of 30 members of their family and friends. The wedding and reception for more than 300 guests was held at The Olmsted, 3701 Frankfort Ave.

Johnson's four children ranging in age from their mid-20s to late teens were in attendance. "They were excited to know Mommy had found true love. It's an amazing feeling," Johnson said.

Guests were told the attire for the evening was formal, ballgowns were encouraged and no one was to be late. The doors to The Olmsted would be shut (and locked) at 5:45 p.m. and the ceremony would begin at 6 p.m.

"Right before the doors were closing I saw my friend and fashion designer Frances Lewis running across the parking lot wearing one shoe and trying to slip into the other," said Johnson. "Frances was on 'Project Runway' Season 17 and lives in Los Angeles now, and she'd flown in for the wedding, so she was running a little late. I probably would have still let her in."

After the ceremony, the wedding party funneled outdoors for photos next to a waiting hot air balloon. Johnson had ordered white peacocks for the wedding photos too, but the farmer who was going to supply the birds had called with unfortunate news.

"He said the peacocks had died, but if it was something white I was looking for, he had white lamas," Johnson said laughing. “Lamas were not the look I was going for, white or not.”

Besides the absence of peacocks, everything else was picture perfect. "After the photos, we went back inside for the reception and the wedding party performed to Beyoncé's 'Homecoming' — we rehearsed once a week for two months and no one missed a step."

Although what wedding viewers will see on TLC on Jan. 18 at 8 p.m. and on Jan. 19 at noon looks extravagant, Johnson said it was more reasonable than you might guess.

"We didn't spend money on invitations. I created a private Facebook page to invite our guests and a website for RSVP's," she said. "And we cut down on food costs by requesting that no one bring a date or plus-one who we didn't know."

Also, Johnson said they saved a few thousand dollars by holding the wedding on a Thursday evening rather than a weekend. Altogether the savings, allowed the couple to spend money on the details that really mattered.

“Everything was perfect, and I am thrilled I didn't say 'no' on applying to 'Say Yes To The Dress.'”