At Urban Crusing , we see creativity and passion as two partners that go hand-in-hand together and lead you to the road of success. That road, however, is not always an easy one, which is precisely why we felt that showing a little bit of the "behind the scenes" and "how-to-get-there's from some of the successful women-entrepreneurs is a great way to inspire you along your path. Today, we would like to introduce you to Whitney Lundeen, the creative mind behind a well-known Sonnet James clothing company.
On the "about" page of the Sonnet James site, Kylan ( Whitney's older brother) describes her as "is the mother of two adventurous, loveable and crazy little boys. In fact, they just may be the wiggliest boys I’ve ever tossed in the air. They are the center of her life and I see how she loves them", adding that "her love for fashion and dedication to her sons led her to create Sonnet James. Whitney believes passionately in being a playful and involved mother. She also believes that with the right dress you can look great without letting your clothes get in the way of the next big adventure! Sonnet James was born out of the idea that beautiful clothing should work for moms—durable, comfortable, and beautiful, yet easy to care for. So, enjoy your Sonnet James dress at the park, the museum, and the city".
We were lucky to catch Whitney for a small chat at a cafe and some personal Q&A. Read on the conversation between Urban Crusing ( UC ) and Whitney, we promise, you will love her heart and personality just as much as we did.
UC: I know some things about Sonnet James, but I want to hear from you: I’d like to know the inspiration behind Sonnet James, its views, and why Sonnet James, why the name?
Whitney: So, Sonnet James was created in a very transformative time in my life. It came to me while I was in therapy. I was going back to some really hard points in my childhood, and the therapist asked me to do an art project that would kind of get me back to that place that I was as a child when bad things were happening. The thought was just that I wanted to make a dress that would have helped my mother to play with me as a child, something that would remind her to do that with me.
So that was when the idea sparked, that was the moment. Then I was in a place where I didn’t think I was probably going to have any more children. Both of my boys were surprise genders, like I waited until I had them, so I had a boy and a girl name picked out and James was the girl name I had picked out if Satchel would have been a girl, and Sonnet was the girl name for Arrow. So I kind of put them together, and it was as if it was the daughter that I never had.
UC: Why dresses? Is it because it is connected to your mother?
Whitney: I think the dress was simply because I think that as a mom I wanted something I could just throw on. You know sometimes when you have to do pants, a shirt, a jacket, and a scarf, it’s just like so much. I wanted something like a one-stop kind of outfit. And I just think that there is something so special about a dress; something so feminine, so romantic, and I feel that as a mother we really need to tap into that romantic side of us to get through the day, and to kind of fantasize and lighten the load a bit, like a dream to help to get through the day to day grind. It’s helpful to be in a fantasy a little bit, and I think a dress helps with that.
UC: I agree. Now, Fair trade and locally made is important to you, why is that?
Whitney: I think I started doing a lot of research into the things that I was wearing and buying, and I was concerned that I didn’t know enough about it. You know it says made in China, or something, but I didn’t know who was actually making my clothing. I read a lot of stuff about child labor and factories that were not good. I worked before this in interior architecture and I did work places, so I designed places that people worked in. They had to be up to code, and we spend so much time in our workplace, and I just think that it affects us as humans so much. So it has just always been such a big part of me. I wanted to know where these people were coming from, and how they were being treated, and what their ambitions were like.
So, I think that when I started my company there was no other option. I needed to see the people that were making my clothing, I needed to know what was happening with them, and feel connected to their work.
UC: So the dresses are made in San Francisco, and where are the materials from?
Whitney: The fabric is made in New York City, then it is washed in Los Angeles, and then it is made into the dresses in South San Francisco. The patterns are all made in San Francisco as well. We are all close together.
UC: Yes, that is what we are looking for as well. We are looking for companies that have a mission, which brings me to another question. Tell me more about your work with Dr. Priscilla.
Whitney: Yes, I love them. So I reached out to Sama Hope because I had seen them on the internet, and I just really liked their mission and I really loved the founder, and so I reached out to them we found Dr. Priscilla, and as soon as I saw her I just connected with her. My sister is a nurse midwife and she works at St. Luke’s and she has delivered babies for the last 10 years, and I just have always felt connected to that, and also you know she (Dr. Priscilla) does reconstructive surgery after the baby has been born, you know to help women come back to regular life. After having two babies I felt so connected to those women, and it is such a simple thing, such a simple procedure, yet so many women are suffering in those areas after childbirth, and it was so great to be able to help her with the dress we created for that mission.
UC: Has this helped to influence the future for you as well? Do you want to go on with different missions to help?
Whitney: Yes, different missions. I am so excited from what this first one did, and I want to do so much. Yes, I really want to make dresses for many causes. I have this idea that I want to actually make the dresses that are from the cultures where these woman come from, to be able to give them a dress that is made by women from there, so that when they come out of the hospital they have a new dress to wear. I would love to do that, so that is in the future, but for my next line I really like to attach a mission to every dress and have 5% go to a cause, whatever it may be, and then I also want to set up a foundation for women to be able to start their own businesses. I just have a lot of ideas.
UC: Tell me more about the names of the dresses, I know the one for Sama Hope connected to that mission, but tell me more about the other dresses, do they also have a connection.
Whitney: They do. Many are inspired. A lot of them are inspired by names of children from my friends. They all have some sort of meaning.
UC: Who is the creative mind behind the totes?
Whitney: You mean the artist?
Whitney: Rachel Cooch. I just found her basically through Instagram, which is so great. It is just amazing. I just loved her work. I was drawn to it immediately. Its one of my favorite parts, and I think you will agree that I love to make these connections with creative people. It’s so beautiful to me, and she is small and I feel like hopefully I was able to give her a little exposure and that makes me so happy.
UC: Now how as a creative person yourself and an artistic person, what effect do you think it has on your parenting: as a mom, as a parent, as a spouse all around?
Whitney: So, you are a working mother as well. It is chaos, but I actually think it makes me more alive, and I feel like it makes me a better mother. I feel like a lot of times I wish I didn’t work, and could just be at home, and just be 100% focused on them all the time, but honestly I think if you keep that creative side of me going and flowing it brings a whole other dimension to me that I think is really important to my relationships, especially with my children.
UC: Do they help? Do they add to what you do?
Whitney: They do! When we were designing these handbags, it started because I was using their finger painting as if I wanted this to be a bag, and then it morphed into having an artist come in. You know I didn’t get anything that was exactly right, but that is where it started. So I was like :Ok you guys, lets do some stuff for handbags. It became a family project. They were very creative themselves. They do help, you know they help me package, and they are just great to have around and they help me a lot.
UC: So this leads from one question to another, which brings me to the team. Who is on the team?
Whitney: Well, I just got a team. I never had a team before. I was just doing this myself for two years. Now my sister is my photographer, and my sister-in law is the model and she has been with me the whole time, and then she started helping me with shipping, but it got a little to much so just last week I hired a whole team.
UC: Well congratulations, it is really necessary.
Whitney: Yes it was necessary, and it has been so great! I hired a woman from New York, and she was the head of production at Madewell, so she is fantastic. She was there for 8 years and she is brilliant, and she is just what Sonnet James needed to start growing. So she came in and I also go someone who works at Anthropology to do returns, and pack and ship, and then oversee some of our operations. Then I have someone over customer service, and that is all. Then I just got an incredible accountant and an incredible attorney, and I feel like everything fell into place just right.
UC: So what do you see ahead for Sonnet James? What do you have in mind?
Whitney: So my head is always just so full of ideas. Now this is an exclusive thing, but I want to do a round of mini-me dresses, you know a dress for the mom and her little girl, I will be doing some photos of that, and I am about to launch swim suits and play suits, you know like little coverups, so we will see how that goes with the market and everything. You know I love to make something whenever I see a need, and put it out there and see what the response is, and if it isn’t good I will cut my losses. You know that’s just my personality, I don’t feel like there is a swim suit out there that is fitting exactly the way I want, so I’m going to make it, and that is the same thing with the play dress. I will constantly be doing that. I’m just going to see where Sonnet James goes.
UC: Did you expect this when you started Sonnet James?
Whitney: Never in a million years. Sonnet James was a personal project, you know, it was a self discovery sort of project, and I honestly thought that I wanted to prove to myself that I could do this, or that I could take this idea from concept to end, and my brother was at Stamford Business school, and he was just telling me to just do it. So I thought I was just going to sell 100 dresses. I knew that I could do that, I could go to parks and I could hand them out. I taught myself how to sew and to pattern draft, and in two weeks I made the dresses, worked through the night, took pictures of them, and built the website in one night and posted it, and I really just thought that my Mom would buy a dress. I didn’t think it would catch on at all. I thought I would be begging people, like please, please buy this dress to get my 100 dresses sold by New Years Eve. But then after my mom picked it up I had like 150 orders and more coming in like crazy and it has just been nonstop craziness and chaos ever since.
UC: You have no idea how happy I am for you, sincerely. I have seen you from the start and I know what it is like.
Whitney: Thank you so much!
UC: Now for just a few more things: What are the 5 things that you can’t live without?
Whitney: Well, five things I can’t live without. So my bed is my favorite place on the entire planet, so that would have to be on there. I mean if I could have all my meals brought to me in bed, if I could work in bed, it would be wonderful, I just love my bed. Ok, my lip balm would be on there. I use Burt’s Bees, but in the tinted kind, the rose is my go-to lip balm. The next would be related to food, I can’t live without food: chocolate and cheese especially. Hot Baths at night to calm me down, and of course my boys.
UC: There you go! Ok, now in one sentence ( or more if you feel like it ) what advice would you give to creative moms, young moms who have ideas, but are stuck with the idea that they are just a mom now and that that is the end of life , career, etc.? I know your days are crazy, they surely are, but what advice would you give them?
Whitney: I would say that you just have to chase what your passion is, and if you love something or believe in a mission strong enough, then you can do it. I think I didn’t realize how much I could do until I had that burning desire, like I believed in Sonnet James so much that it pushed me to do things I never thought I could do before. I mean I have worked harder at Sonnet James than I have ever worked at anything before in my entire life. I think that you just need to be fearless. Fear is what limits us so much in life, it’s our fear of failure, and you just have to remove that from the table. Every day when I wake up I really have to say to myself like what is the worst thing that can happen? You know maybe my orders don’t come in, the fabric is damaged, then I email the customers and I tell them what happened, and if I just take out the fear and just say that I’m going to do everything I possibly can today, and some things are going to terrify me, and most things I do every day are pretty terrifying to me, whether its negotiating fabric or speaking in front of people whatever and so yes, I think my thing with Sonnet James is just to be fearless, and as I said before, and not being afraid to fail, I think failure is so underestimated and it is important, and I think failing and course correcting is what makes someone successful and not making too many mistakes.
UC: Thank you so much!