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Start Your Business Success Stories

Small Business Snapshot: Lauren James

Lauren Stokes, CEO of Lauren James Credit: Beth Hall Photography

Our Small Business Snapshot series features photos that represent, in just one image, what the small businesses we feature are all about. Lauren Stokes, designer and CEO of Lauren James, explains how this image represents her business.

Born from my love of classic Southern style, Lauren James is a lifestyle brand that creates modern, yet timeless collections. We have apparel, swimwear, shoes, accessories and gifts. Our mission is always to deliver quality products that are meticulously sourced, ethically made – often in the U.S.A. – and thoughtfully designed.

In 2013, I was a registered nurse on a 10-week bedrest while pregnant with my first son. Bored out of my mind, I began doodling on to magazine pages and sketching dresses to pass the time. Once Lofton James was born, like many new mothers, I wasn't sure I wanted to leave my newborn to go back to work right away. My husband Lance has an amazing entrepreneurial spirit and has started several businesses in the past. He suggested that I make my doodling more than just a hobby. He said, "If that's what you want to do, do it." He has that way of making things sound so simple.

We were newlyweds and just had our first child, so money was definitely an issue. We pulled together enough to order 36 blank t-shirts and had them custom-printed locally. We sold them online, earning enough to order another batch, and then another. Our homegrown t-shirt business snowballed from there and provided the resources we needed to build a brand.

Named for my son that inspired it all, Lauren "James" quickly developed from a vision to a rapidly growing full line of apparel and lifestyle products that we offer today. Now, about four years later, we have three of our own stores located in Fayetteville, Ark., (my hometown), Plano, Texas, and Southlake, Texas. Lauren James is also available at hundreds of retailers across the nation, including Dillard's, Palmetto Moon and Country Club Prep and does an incredible online business.

Our brand's slogan is "Your Day Just Got Better," because everything we do – from designing the clothing to delivering exceptional customer service – should make our customer's day just a little bit better. This is one of my favorite photos because it represents the fun, feminine spirit of the brand. I'm wearing my very first dress design, which is now called The Livingston and has become a classic Lauren James design. It's still one of our best sellers today. The racks of brightly colored seersucker dresses are a marquee of our collection too, and something that we feel sets us apart.

I think one of the biggest challenges is something that many people may not think about: the challenge of growing too quickly. Rapid growth is in itself expensive, and without the right people and processes in place, it can derail a young company. Fortunately, at Lauren James, we have an amazing and dedicated team where by working together we have been able to keep up with the growth as a business, while continuing to offer new and exciting things to our customers.

This fall we're launching our custom bridesmaid shop, which lets brides customize their dresses by style, color and fabric, and interact with their bridal party within a personally designed web portal. We make our woven dresses in Dallas, so it's easy for us to do a run of dresses for our brides and turn them around in just six to eight weeks.

We also have a new line of licensed collegiate apparel launching. Right now we're licensed with over 25 schools around the country that is continuing to grow. We print all of our shirts in-house in our own printing facility, which allows us to quickly react to special events and games to create custom shirt designs. We have already seen a great reaction to our March Madness, National Championship, and NCAA Baseball Tournament shirts, and will continue to offer event-specific shirts. The next couple of years are going to be huge!

Edited for brevity and clarity by Nicole Fallon.