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Startup: Lauren James

Lauren Stokes of Lauren James, a Fayetteville, Arkansas clothing brand

Lauren Stokes of Lauren James, a Fayetteville, Arkansas clothing brand

At five years old, Lauren James (LJ), a clothing company from Fayetteville, is taking preppy Southern fashion to new heights.

Founded in 2013 by Lauren and Lance Stokes, the startup company is hovering on the cusp of its most explosive chapter and trending toward established stability.

The Stokeses are up two children, 100 employees, three store fronts and more than 300 retailers around the country, including big box giants like Dillard’s. They are fast and far beyond their humble beginning of sketching dresses while on bed rest.

Lauren and Lance alike have received much recognition during the last five years for their entrepreneurial spirit and the success of LJ. When I called to talk with Mrs. Stokes for this story, she was meeting with Google about their recent selection as Arkansas’ top e-commerce business on Google’s annual list.

For good reason, too. LJ has grown by 6,000 percent since their first batch of homemade screen printed T-shirts thanks to its larger e-commerce presence.

“[Google] asked us, ‘Where do you see Lauren James in five years?” Lauren Stokes said. “Five years ago, Lauren James was just an idea! Who is to say where we will be in five years! Who knows? The possibilities are endless.”

Stokes, who started her professional life as a registered nurse, is more reserved than her husband, a graduate of the University of Central Arkansas business school, when it comes to launching the next big thing. Today, Mr. Stokes continues to provide balance to LJ in the role of chief innovation officer.

Stokes credits her husband as one of her biggest mentors who pushed her to think beyond dresses to an overall women’s lifestyle brand. Mr. Stokes had started and failed another clothing business before LJ. The couple had a lot of learnings from his previous endeavor.

The duo decided women’s T-shirts were the right place to start.

“Women all around Fayetteville were wearing oversized tees, but they were all men’s shirts. I wanted to provide them with women’s designs,” Stokes said.

LJ launched with 36 screen printed shirts. When they sold out, they bought 50 more with the profits. Then 80.

“We grew organically. We had learned a lot from my husband’s previous experience with investors, and I did not want to borrow any money without knowing our business was going to be successful.”

Stokes said Lauren James grew 30 percent last year alone.

Lauren James “sweet tees” has expanded into different lines and now clothing and accessories from made-to-order bridesmaids dresses to swim suits to 60 unique collegiate lines.

While Lauren James is poised to exit the startup phase, Stokes and her team plan to keep the “nitty gritty” startup culture in the workplace. Employees are encouraged – and in the case of the marketing team, required – to work remotely at least one day a week, but they tend to crowd into collaborative spaces when they are at one of the two Fayetteville offices.

Stokes, who founded LJ at 24 years old, nodded to the youthful glow throughout the company. Many of the 30 corporate staff started in one of the specialized internships or as sales associates with the company. The majority of staff are focused intently on LJ’s e-commerce platform.

Through all the growth and changes that are most certainly in store for LJ, Stokes’ two boys (Linden, 3, and Lofton James, 5,) are still the cornerstone of her life and she is still as excited as ever about design.

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