ENTREPRENEURS LAUREN AND LANCE STOKES WORK HARD TO ENSURE THE SUCCESS OF THEIR COMPANY, LAUREN JAMES
by JULIANNA BOWEN
Your day just got better. That’s the goal and driving force behind fashion entrepreneurs Lance and Lauren Stokes as they operate one of the fastest growing businesses in the country. Lauren James, a Fayetteville-based apparel company, features preppy women’s clothing with pastel colors and southern details like ruffles and bows. The Stokes’ seersucker-stitched enterprise is not only the fastest growing company in Arkansas, but also gaining national attention by making the 2017 Inc. 5000 List and Forbes’ 30 under 30.
Texarkana native Lances Stokes, responsible for the company’s operations and business strategies, co-founded the clothing brand with his wife, Lauren, in their living room. When the young couple was expecting their first child, Lauren was put on medical bed rest. With a sudden abundance of extra time, Lauren enjoyed reading fashion magazines and sketching her own variations of the celebrities’ garments. When their 5-pound firstborn baby, Lofton James, arrived, Lauren couldn’t imagine returning to her job as a registered nurse, where she worked long hours and holidays. Lance, eager to utilize his entrepreneurial mind-set and business degree from the University of Central Arkansas, encouraged his wife to turn her sketching hobby into a career. According to Inc.com, Lauren said, “Lance suggested I turn sketching dresses into a business. I thought he was losing his mind. I’m not an entrepreneur. My parents weren’t entrepreneurs. But he said, ‘You love this so much. You only live once.’”
Paying homage to the baby’s influence on the brand’s origin, Lance and Lauren used Lofton’s middle name— James—along with Lauren’s first name for the new company’s moniker. With an idea and a name, the two began building the empire we know today as Lauren James.
In a recent interview with KATV’s Good Afternoon Arkansas, Lauren laughingly describes the business’s humble origins. “We only could afford one computer ... so every single day we would unplug it from home and carry this big desktop computer to our makeshift warehouse ... Then at the end of the night we would unplug the computer, carry it home, and work into the night – all with a newborn baby.” Now, with over 100 employees, three storefronts, and an eight-figure annual revenue, the Stokes duo is no longer toting their computer back and forth. But successful expansion hasn’t been without a fair share of trial and error. Lance said, “We’ve made a lot of mistakes along the way, and we still do, but the people that surround us continue to evolve with us and support what we’re doing.”
Although Lauren’s original passion was designing sundresses, the price to make a dress was unaffordable in the beginning. Lauren explained to Business News Daily, “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.” The original T-shirt, designed while Lofton laid next to Lauren in his baby rocker, simply said “Keep Calm and Stay Southern” and was marketed on Instagram.
As the T-shirts continued to sell, the business expanded from their living room to Lauren’s parents’ basement. Still an integral part of the daily operations, baby Lofton supervised from his swing or pack n’ play. In 2014, they leased a local warehouse where the growing infant cruised around in his baby walker. According to Inc.com, Lauren described funny memories from their early days. “One day, we couldn’t find our car keys. About a week later, we got a phone call from a retailer in Georgia. ‘I don’t know if you’re missing a set of car keys,’ she said, ‘but there was one in my box.’ Lofton played with our car keys all the time – he’d rolled up to a box on the floor and just dropped them in. At that point, we were like, ‘Okay! You need to go to daycare.’”
Today the Stokes family has two sons, and although they work many hours to ensure the success of their company, spending time together is a priority. Lauren told Inc.com, “Lance often says we started our company because of our family. We work hard for our family. And we get to hang out with our family, because we work so hard.”
When asked what they enjoy most about owning their own business, Lance said it’s the people. “We have a great team that we create and problem solve with every day. There are challenges across every part of the business, and it’s really cool when you can work collectively to achieve a unified goal!”
Growing up in this region has helped inspire the classic look of the Lauren James brand. Lance explains, “We’re definitely inspired by our southern roots. We produce fun and easy clothing representative of the warm and welcome nature of the region. Our motto is ‘Your Day Just Got Better’ and it’s our driving force behind every customer interaction, our designs, and internally with our team. Our mission is to build value, lead with integrity, and create from the heart.”
The Lauren James lifestyle brand now includes southern-style tees, dresses, swimsuits, activewear, formal apparel, and an array of accessories. Their brick and mortar presence is expanding with storefronts in Fayetteville, Plano, and Southlake, and future plans for even more. With marketing geared toward young adults, ecommerce is a successful avenue for those window-shopping on social media sites and laurenjames.com.
The Lauren James Facebook page states they make “goods to make you feel good.” If sweet southern apparel is your cup of tea, then the four states-inspired Lauren James fashion line might be just the thing to make your day better.