After the birth of her second child, Whitney Lundeen faced a dilemma common to many mothers of young children. “What can I wear that is practical and comfortable, but helps me feel fashionable and put together?” Let’s face it – even if a mom is fortunate enough to own the latest haute couture, she doesn’t want to risk it being ruined by a child’s sticky fingers, drool or baby food, not to mention all those other messy items…. Most important, however, is the ability to get down and play with her children and still look and feel fashionable and attractive.
In 2012, Whitney had become a single mother and needed to find a way to help support her children. Before having children, she had worked in commercial interior design, but had now been out of the corporate world for over four years. At one very low moment, she even considered taking a job at the local Walgreens. But she remembered an idea that she previously had about producing practical clothes for mothers and decided to pursue that dream and create her own business.
On New Year’s Eve in 2012, Whitney and her family were sharing their goals for the coming year. She had been working hard learning to design and sew, and she was pretty proud of her goal to make and sell ten dresses. But her brother, who was attending Stanford Business School at the time, challenged her to go for 100 dresses!
Whitney named her new company Sonnet James, combining the two names she had picked out for her children, had they been girls. She built a website to launch her dresses, hoping for, but not really anticipating big success. She figured at least her mother would buy one because she “felt sorry for me.” However, Whitney was part of a mom blogging community and one of them, (Gabrielle Blair from Design Mom) posted an item about Sonnet James. Within several days, more than 150 orders had come in! While she now had evidence that she had tapped into a need for mothers everywhere, Whitney was also thrown into a panic and wanted to just shut everything down. Her brother gave her another pep talk and Whitney took a deep breath and began to work out all the details of producing and marketing her playful, practical dresses. On July 1, 2013, she initiated a Kickstarter campaign with a goal of $48,000. When the campaign ended a month later, 628 backers had pledged $58,245.
Sonnet James dresses are made in a simple, but fashionable design, of durable, four-way stretch modal-spandex, and are very easy to clean. Care instructions provided on their website are simple: “Turn inside out; wash cold (no softener); hang or lay flat to dry.” No more trips to the dry cleaners, no fancy washing procedures or ironing needed.
Sonnet James dresses are made in San Francisco, from fabric produced in New York City and printed in Los Angeles. As part of a community of supportive women, it is important to Whitney that the fabric and the production house work environment are a healthy place for the seamstresses to work. As she told The Hive Magazine, even though she may pay more for the production and thereby make less profit, she wants to maintain a close, one-to-one relationship with the production end of her business. It is “important to me to feel good about where these dresses were being made.” And what is her advice for other mothers who might want to start their own business? Despite all the snags, fears, problems and long, hard hours of work, Whitney says simply: “Just do it!”