Today, Lauren James Enterprises, a Fayetteville, Arkansas–based
apparel company that sells preppy dresses and T-shirts with a
southern flavor, has more than 100 employees, three retail
locations, and $13 million in revenue. In the beginning, it was just
Lance and Lauren Stokes, their baby, and the business—and no
time to sleep. —AS TOLD TOBURTHELM
LAUREN STOKES Lauren James Enterprises ; Three-year growth ;,;;;.;; 2016 revenue ;;;.; ;;;;;;;
Photograph by Tonje Thilesen
of us would be reaching out to new
retailers and doing customer service
while the other packed orders.
Lofton was 6 months old then,
so he’d be in his swing or his little
Pack ’n Play with his toys. We would
just rotate him around the room.
WE LEASED A WAREHOUSE in January
2014. We had a Mac desktop
with QuickBooks, but it was not
cloud-based. Lance and I, every
single day, would unplug our
computer, bring it to the warehouse,
and plug it in. One of us would work
and the other would pack orders
while Lofton rolled around in his
walker. At the end of the day, we’d
unplug our computer, bring it home,
and work into the night.
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, “OK! You need to go
NO W WE HAVE T WO SONS. They’re
both in school. Lance drops them
o; at school in the morning, and
I pick them up in the afternoon.
When we get home from school,
the kids run out to the garden with
me and we pick some stu; that we
cook for dinner. 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.
I WAS ON BED REST for 10 weeks
before our first child, Lofton,
was born. That seems like fun on
the first day, but it gets so boring.
So I had to get a lot of new hobbies.
One I kept coming back to was
SUNDRESSES are my first true love.
I wish I could live my life in sun-
dresses. They are so feminine and
southern and fun.
WHEN LOFTON WAS BORN, he was really
tiny—just five and a half pounds.
When he was 6 weeks old, I realized
I wasn’t ready to go back to work at
the hospital, where I was a nurse.
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
DRESSES ARE REALLY EXPENSIVE, so
MAYBE HAVING A BABY was helpful.
we started with T-shirts. We
bought 36—the minimum our local
screenprinter would do. We had
them printed to say “Keep Calm and
Stay Southern.” I started posting
them on Instagram, and working
on other designs, while Lofton
would sit next to me in his little
rocker. We got lucky: He wasn’t
much of a fusser.
We just got used to not sleeping
that much. We were in Hawaii for a
while, and I would wake up at 2 a.m.
because one of our biggest retailers
was in South Carolina, and they
liked to talk when they opened at
8 a.m. Then we’d get up at 8 a.m.
our time, answer email, take a few
phone calls—and go back to bed.
I WOULD SIT LOFTON next to me and he
would just stare at the palm trees
and the ocean. It was like the best
baby mobile. I was home doing a
lot of social media. I had never really
explored this market before. One
time, really early on, someone
asked me who our competitors
were. I was like, “I have no idea!”
But it was a cool time for me,
to really start learning about the
market and the business.
IN OCTOBER 2013, we moved back to
Fayetteville, and lived with my
parents for six weeks. We moved
our inventory into the basement.
Poor Lance, having to live with
his in-laws. We had one computer
and one chair down there, so one
INC.500 ; BUILD