UALR Alumna Lauren Stokes Talks Lauren James
A registered nurse turned fashion designer, Lauren Stokes will be the first to tell you that it’s never too late to swap your job for something you’re truly passionate about. Lauren is the founder of Lauren James, a Southern women’s lifestyle line based in Fayetteville. Her line is already a multi-million dollar success.
Being young is the perfect time to try things out and find what lights you up, Lauren says. “I’m big on the [motto] ‘You only live one time.’ If you want to do something, and you have a passion for it, absolutely go do it. You’re only 18 or 20 once. ”
Of course, companies as successful as Lauren James don’t just happen overnight. In fact, there’s a chance that Lauren James never would have happened had it not been for a stint of bedrest.
FROM NURSE TO FASHION MAVEN
Lauren was born and raised in Fayetteville. Growing up, Lauren never imagined she would own her own fashion business. Her heart was in nursing. “The one thing I’ve always wanted to do was be a mom,” Lauren says. “So, being a nurse seemed up that path.”
After high school, Lauren decided to stay in her hometown and pursue a pre-nursing degree at the University of Arkansas (U of A). She rushed Zeta Tau Alpha, which was a decision that would benefit her later in life. “I made a lot of good friends there,” Lauren says. “There’s actually a bunch of Zetas that work for me now. So, some lifelong friends there.”
Lauren finished her pre-requisites at the U of A, then transferred to UALR to finish her degree. She credits nursing school for her hardworking personality, which has been tested throughout the procees of building her company. Long days and nights spent studying eventually paid off in terms of a great work ethic and the ability to juggle multiple tasks.
“I’m not going to lie, nursing school was very difficult,” she says. “Our summer break was two weeks long. So, work, work, work. But you have everyone in your class going through it with you, so that was a big help.”
After college, Lauren worked as an RN for two years. “I wouldn’t take back my nursing degree for anything,” Lauren says. “I think that going to college and having that experience taught me a lot of things that I use today. But, I don’t think it’s ever too late to decide you want to do something completely different.”
BEDREST BOSS LADY
Lauren met her future husband while she was in nursing school at UALR. He was finishing up his master’s program at UCA. Lauren says the two had mutual friends and kept running into each other. After a few months she finally agreed to go to dinner with him. They’ve been married since December 2012.
Fast-forward to Lauren’s first pregnancy with her son Lofton James. Thirty weeks into her pregnancy, Lauren went into preterm labor. Her doctor immediately put her on bed rest for the remaining 10 weeks.
“The first two days were great,” she says. “Then, it got really boring. I started reading every single magazine and watching every single show on TV to pass the time. I started noticing all these outfits that girls were wearing. I sketched them, changing them up a little bit. Like, ‘That dress is really pretty but, if I were to wear it, I would like a big bow or a ruffle down the back, or a different skirt.’ I started realizing that I really liked to do it.”
When it came time for Lauren to go back to her 12-hour days as a nurse, Lauren’s husband, Lance, encouraged her to pursue her new passion for design. “He said, ‘You’re so young. I know you didn’t go to fashion school, but why don’t you give it a try? If it doesn’t work out, you can always go back to nursing.’ So I was like, OK, I guess I’ll try!”
In the beginning, Lauren and Lance (her chief operating officer) worked sun-up until way past sundown to make their passion project a success. The going wasn’t always easy, especially with a baby in the mix. At one point the young family moved back in with Lauren’s parents to save money.
“It’s hard for young people, because most of us have some sort of debt,” Lauren says. “It’s really scary to leave the 9-5 and just do it. We got to spend 100 percent of our time on this, but we also didn’t have a paycheck while we were doing it. It’s very scary.”
TAKING THE SOUTH BY STORM
Starting your own company means constant multitasking and wearing multiple hats. A typical day for Lauren is spent attending a variety of meetings, making phone calls and of course, taking care of her family. “Lance and I are the product development team, we are the sales managers, we are the marketing managers, we are the warehouse managers — we’re a little bit of everything,” she says.
Since their humble beginnings with just 36 blank T-shirts, which Lauren and Lance custom-printed and sold on Storenvy.com, the company now generates a multimillion-dollar revenue. Lauren James’ first employee started in May of 2014, just over two years ago. They now have 60 people working for them.
The secret to her success?
“I hear a lot of people with ideas say they can’t do it because they would only market to a very specific person, so that’s probably not going to work. I’m very quick to tell them the opposite. That’s exactly why it would work.”
And that’s exactly how she did it. “We’re selling to 18- to 28-year-old Southern women,” Lauren says. That’s a small, narrow market, but “those girls flocked to us,” she says.
THE BEST IS YET TO COME
As the brand continues to grow, Lauren says nothing is off-limits. The Lauren James flagship store first opened on Dickson Street in Fayetteville. The company had the grand reveal of their Plano, Texas location in June 2016, and a Southlake, Texas store is scheduled. This fall, a line of technical outerwear—think puffer jackets, polar-fleece vests and pullovers—will be released, and the design team is working on athletic wear mock-ups. “We’re going to start amping up our dress line and our swim line. We have a gift line coming out,” she says. “Just a little bit of everything. Nothing is off-limits for us.”
Lauren says the best part of the job is seeing customers continue to love her designs—seeing them as excited about the clothes as she is keeps her going.
“It’s still weird to see my dresses in the wild,” she says. “If we’re driving, I always make my husband turn around and take a picture.”
LAUREN'S ALL-TIME FAVORITE DESIGNS
- The Livingston Dress (pictured) — The very first dress that I ever designed. It’s still one of our most popular. It’s classic. It’s got a big bow in the back; it’s amazing.
- Seersucker Workout Shorts — We have a design trademark on them because we started it so long ago. They’re so comfortable. The more you wear them, the more comfortable they get.
- The Boyfriend Flannel — It’s plaid and comes in six colors, and it’s a little bit longer so you can wear it with leggings. Plus, it has side pockets.
LAUREN'S TOP TIPS FOR STARTING YOUR OWN BUSINESS
- Find a mentor. People are always willing to talk about how they became successful.
- Don’t spend too much money upfront. I didn’t want to get a big loan or have a big investment. There’s a lot of ways you can do it for pretty cheap. And we still have that mentality.
- Surround yourself with people you trust and truly care about what you’re doing. It will save you so much time.
- Be trustworthy and loyal. I’m a big believer in karma. So always do the right thing because that will never come back to bite you.
- Don’t ever lose sight of why you’re working so hard. We had our big sale on Friday and everyone was so stressed. But at the end of the day we were stressed because we had so many orders coming in.
Lauren James By The Numbers
|19||Collegiate T-shirt designs|
|2013||The year the company started|
|605||Stores that carry Lauren James|