A mama after our own heart, Sonnet James founder Whitney Lundeen loves nothing more than eating brownies and searching for the ultimate chocolate chip cookie. When she’s not chasing these noble goals, she’s running a kick-a$$ clothing line founded on the notion that mamas should be able to play and look good. Comfortable, stylish and easy to wear, every Sonnet James piece is created in Whitney’s home turf of San Francisco. Here, she talks with heymama about the confidence-boosting power of fashion and how she started her company on her kitchen floor.
Whitney! We’re so excited to finally meet you! We’ve been following Sonnet James for years. How did this all get started?
I started Sonnet James in January 2013. I feel like I kept my style together pretty well after my first son was born. But after my second son was born, I was wearing Uggs and sweatpants everyday. I started thinking, “why do my hair, why do my makeup?” This lack of self-care began affecting me in a lot of ways. It really affected my self-esteem and I was getting a little depressed. I didn’t feel like there was an option for clothes that mothers could wear everyday that were “realistic” but still fashionable. So I decided to do something about it – I decided to create a market for beautiful play-clothes. Something that was just as easy to throw on as my Uggs and sweatpants, but made me feel beautiful instead of frumpy.
I was a single mom, and after putting the boys to bed, I would come straight downstairs and roll out butcher paper. I had bought a bunch of books about how to draft patterns. It was the most aggravating, frustrating learning curve, but it all happened on my kitchen floor and I would use my little boy’s children’s books as weights to hold the pattern down. It was basically one month straight of me working from 8 p.m. until 2 a.m. every night, doing things I never ever imagined I could do.
Where does the name come from?
Both of my boys were surprise genders, I waited until I had them, so I had a boy and a girl name picked out. James was the girl name I had picked out if Satchel would have been a girl, and Sonnet was the girl name for Eero. So I kind of put them together, and it was as if it was the daughter that I never had.
What was the hardest part about starting your company that maybe took you by surprise? What do you love the most about running your own business?
The hardest part was trusting my gut in knowing I was on to something. What I realized was that when you doing something new, it is scary to people and that leads to them worrying and instinctually telling you to be cautious. It’s hard to open up about big dreams and have people really close to you doubting your idea. You need to tune out the critics and not be so afraid to fail.
I’ve learned how strong women are and how important it is to support each other. These women have so much confidence and they undeniably own their truth.
We love that your garments are proudly made in San Francisco. Why is this important to you?
It didn’t really feel like a decision. I never wanted the thought or idea weighing over me that unsafe things may be happening to the people helping make dresses that I’m selling to mothers and women. I can walk into my factories at any point and I can talk to the workers and be hands-on with the manufacturing process. Because I’m an introvert, I care a lot about the one-on-one interactions. It’s important to me that I can be really close friends with the head of production at a factory and I really enjoy those relationships and it makes working more enjoyable.
You’re passionate about empowering mothers. What have you gained from connecting with women who have children?
It is important that we collaborate because I think deep down we are all sisters. I’ve been so in awe by the kindness and professionalism from the heymama community. I love that we were all once strangers but now we are all collaborating and coming together since we all are mothers who want to do good in the world. I feel so safe in this community and I value it so much since I’ve never really felt like I had something like this my entire life.
You are a single mom and also run your own business. What advice do you have for other mothers wanting to start their own business?
Two words: Do it.
We love that your brand focuses on being playful, which is something many of us forget—ironically—when we become mothers. If you had a day to play, what would you do?
If I had a day to myself, I’d be going for a hike with a friend, then heading to the farmer’s market to pick up fresh fruits, veggies, a crepe and fresh flowers. Then going home and surrounding myself with the food and watching shows. Or going to Santa Cruz to surf with friends, then reading a book on the beach afterward.
With the kids: Going glamping at Costanoa with the boys! This has become one of my favorite things to do with the boys. Or anything with skate boards and scooters, going to the farmers market and getting banana chocolate crepes, letting the boys pick out their favorite snacks like dried apricots. Or a beach day! Movie night with popcorn in a fort.
I love that we were all once strangers but now we are all collaborating and coming together since we all are mothers who want to do good in the world.
Your heymama profile states that your “favorite thing to do in life is lay in bed and watch TV, while eating brownies.” We love you already. What are you currently watching and what is your go-to brownie recipe?
This is very important PSA: Sprouts brownie bites are everything.
Here is a list of my favorites in no particular order (I rotate these based on my mood): Outlander (not the latest season, but hoping it gets better for season 3), Law & Order: SVU, Chicago PD, How to Get Away with Murder, Friends, Seinfeld, Gilmore Girls, Grand Chester, Homeland (last season wasn’t my favorite), Broad Church (even though it is dark), This is Us, and Grey’s Anatomy.
Running your own business and being a mother is all consuming. How do you manage your time between work and family? Do you have any favorite “life hacks” or “non-negotiables” you’ve picked up along the way?
Dinner at the table all together every night is a goal for me. I want to be the one who puts my kids to bed. I love walking the boys to school and walking them home, which is a luxury! I feel like my day isn’t complete without those important moments since I always want my boys to share how they are feeling and their day.
Life hacks: getting child care and having help with the house!
What does happiness mean to you?
Being present and letting go of the past. Happiness to me is more a moment instead of a state of mind. It comes in unexpected beautiful moments and you have to be open enough to really take it in.
Who do you look to for inspiration for career? Motherhood? Lifestyle?
Career: My sister Tiffany because she was the first career woman I knew directly
Motherhood: All the women in my church community, Bing School, and my sister Tiffany
Lifestyle: Tory Burch
Do you have a daily mantra or routine that you follow? If so, what is it?
Yes! “You’ve got this” and “do good and don’t go broke” from the show This Is Us.
3 pearls of wisdom
Light up when your child walks into the room.
Help your child discover their passions and do everything you can to support them.