WOW, today’s episode I got DEEP with our guest, Whitney Lundeen, on her journey to build her clothing brand Sonnet James. Whitney not only talks about the founder tips and hurdles, but gets really honest and open about her personal struggles, which I think will be really helpful for so many people. Whitney tells me about how she was a young mom and found herself in an unhealthy marriage. After making the scary decision to leave, she knew she had to do something on her own as childcare was so expensive. Instead of making excuses, she decided to jump right in and learn a new skill (sewing) to make fun, practical dresses for moms.
She then walks me through the logistics on starting her brand, meeting and changing manufacturers and how she leans on her gut more than others do. Whitney talks to me about the mental shift she has had thanks to this company, and how she really aims to practice what she is selling — more PLAY with your kids. Finally, she tells me about how one book changed her mindset on life and how these past few years have helped given her something she didn’t know she needed.
Make sure to listen for her tips and tricks, but even more so, for her story of courage and mental strength in life and business. Head to their site to check out the cute play dresses and give them a follow on Instagram to stay up to date on all things Whitney and Sonnet James!
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Dana: Are you dying at the thought of missing a single one of your baby’s first, I would have no idea how you’d give up the security that your nine to five job brings. My name is Dana Graham, and I had no clue how to escape that vicious 40 Hour Workweek cycle either until I did. As the wife of a traveling husband and mom of two tiny humans. I made the terrifying and totally bizarre leap from health insurance broker to successful newborn and family photographer, all with the amazing craziness of a two year old and the newborn into when I’m not the only one. I’m so glad you’re joining me as I chat with other moms who took the leap into entrepreneurship and created the ultimate best of both worlds life doing it all amidst the chaos. Alright everybody, we’re back for another episode of amidst the chaos. I am Dana Graham and I’m here today with Whitney Lundeen. She’s the founder of Sonnet James and I am so excited to finally be having this interview. So welcome, Whitney.
Whitney: Thank you so much.
Dana: So give us a quick overview about you in Sonnet James and what you currently do now so that we can work our way back to present day after hearing your story.
Whitney: Yes, okay. So I’m the founder and I tend to say CEO but I’m pretty much everything so that but yeah, I started Sonnet James, almost nine years ago this month, really? I make play dresses. For playful moms. I sort of found a space in the marketplace that was sort of missing by after I had my kids. I didn’t want to wear any of my old fashionable clothes because they were uncomfortable and I didn’t want to ruin them. So I try really hard to make really beautiful clothes that are soft and comfortable and washable and durable. So that mothers can and women just all women can feel really beautiful and also comfortable and able to like really truly live their lives and not be held back. By their clothing. So that’s not necessarily my Shark Tank. It’s a little fits for
Dana: Yeah, no, that’s perfect. That’s perfect. So I want to hear how this even happened. Because honestly, if you’re a mom and you’re listening, which is most of our audience like this is crucial you know that this is a problem like for me it was like, not only could I my clothes, you know weren’t necessarily set up for having kids like they have more they were like more form fitting and like, you know, ready for the workplace and it just wasn’t anything that I was comfortable in. But I didn’t really want to be wearing sweats and tank tops everywhere like or T shirts or whatever. So to be able to have something to actually be able to play in and feel beautiful is amazing. So talk to me about how you got to that point, though. What were you doing career and life wise? Before kids before Sonnet James, what did your life look like kind of on a day to day basis?
Whitney: Yeah, so I started interior architecture and and so I graduated with that degree and I did an internship in that at an architectural firm in San Francisco. But I got pregnant and my last semester my senior year of college and had my first son four weeks after I graduated or something so wow, I just was a stay at home mom from that point on. So I wasn’t a part of the workforce at all really?
Dana: The corporate life Right?
Whitney: Yeah. So that I think made things even more intimidating, and I felt even more limited. Because I loved being a mom and I love just being able to spend my time with my son. I was always very much like a researcher. Like even with him. I was studying everything I was studying his behavior I was studying, you know, trying to understand what he loved the brain were what I could do to help him more be a better mom like so I was. I had a notebook always I was always writing I was always studying and researching. So I guess I was always in some ways still working or still, you know? Yeah. But yeah, I was just I was a stay at home mom and we were really poor for that whole time. But, you know, I was poor all through college and so it was never like really any difference. But the turning point was, I left my marriage and had two little kids. And I knew that I needed to leave I needed to leave the marriage. But one of the reasons I did it for a while is that I had zero confidence and being able to provide for them. You know, I was very dependent, financially dependent. And I really felt like after four years I didn’t have any skill set to like be able to be hired back into the workplace. So it was really one of the most terrifying experiences of my life was being in that such a vulnerable place of having two very, very small kids and not knowing you know, knowing I needed to get out of a situation but not knowing how to, you know, feed my kids really so that is where Sonnet James was born because it was really born out of necessity. And I was able to do it strictly because I was desperate and when you’re desperate you can do pretty much anything to survive. So I was in therapy for many different things. But one of the things you know they focus on when you first start therapy is sort of your childhood and things that happen there and my therapist asked me to do an art project that could kind of try to help me reconnect with who I was when I was a little girl. And so I started our project and I designed a dress that my mom could have put on when I was a little girl that could have reminded her to play with me because she was very much abused by my father. And she was she suffered from depression and, and all that and all the horrible, terrible things that happen when anyone is being abused. So I just had this sort of like fantasy dream of like, you know, my mom feeling better and sort of having this like armor on or this you know, something like a physical representation of being in a better place or being you know, more present and more engaged with me. So that was sort of the birth. That was the idea. That’s when the idea came, and they kind of sat there for a little bit and then I started to kind of make my first prototypes of like, okay, I definitely used to have pockets and I can easily be soft and you know, all these different things. But yeah, that idea just kind of sat there, it didn’t go away. But you know, the the idea is one thing when you have the idea, but then the follow through is the is the wheel to parse.
Dana: It’s a whole different animal.
Whitney: Yeah. It’s a whole different thing. And you know, I was single and two little kids and it’s like how in the world like, you know, being a mom with two little kids, it’s like, that is a insanely full time job where yes, without getting any sleep, you’re working, you know, 18 hours a day it feels like and so I was just like how there’s just no way and I thought about getting a job, like where I would get a job. And it’s kind of crazy to think about now because I know, looking back I could have gotten a better job than this. But I I think my self esteem was so low and that I was thinking about applying for CVS downtown like that was like the highest sort of level of like, what I was like, that’s what I in my mind and and then I caught it. I sort of ran the numbers in my head and I was like, childcare here where I live is very expensive. And so it’s like $25 An hour or something for my kids. And I’m not going to make that in an hour there. So how are they going to work? Basically, I’m going to be losing money. So I one day I was walking with my two kids downtown it was you know, 10am or something and I was actually walking to CVS and there was like the now hiring sign in the window. I got we grabbed something I can’t remember diapers something and then I was walking back down the street and there’s a bunch of cafes with cute little like coffee shops and there was all these you know businessmen and their students drinking their cappuccino and reading the paper. And I was like holding my two little kids hands this like fire lit in me and I was like, if whatever they’re doing, right they’re like these businessmen like, I can do what they’re doing and like I can swing circles around them like I’ve never once in my life sat at a table to enjoy a drink in the last four years, you know, like I’m doing 10 things at one time I I get so much done every single day like I was like it that sort of is what gave me the confidence in that moment of like, if, if they can I know I can work harder than what they’re doing right across the street.
Dana: I love that. That Wow,
Whitney: that was the moment that I really the fire sort of was lit and I and is also the contrast with the desperation of like yes on one side with the now hiring and then across the street like all these wealthy men and fancy suits drinking their you know, $7 cavity, right, right. And like, it’s 10 o’clock in the morning. It was like what, what are you doing? So, I’ve been awake for five hours. And we’ve gotten to the part we’ve had breakfast. So anything so I came home and I was like, I’m going to do this and my family had come into town for New Years and it was New Year’s Eve and we were all sitting around in my downstairs room and saying your New Year’s resolutions. And I said you know I this year I’m going to make and sell 10 dresses, which I thought was a huge undertaking. Yeah, man. So I don’t know how to make I don’t know the pattern job. I don’t know anything about anything. So I thought like being a mom with two little kids, like if I can do anything extra. That’s a big deal. My brother at the time was in business school. And he was like, I think we can like up that number a little bit like and so I was like, okay, 100 I went to make and sell 100 Wow. And so, that night, I was sort of like I think I’m gonna do this and then the next morning I woke up and I was like, here we go. And I planned out everything. I planned out what I was gonna do, I was gonna do it. All in six weeks. And I just might. My kids were with their dad for a few days that week. And so I just like full, never, never stopping, never sleeping just went for it. And so I bought a bunch of books on Amazon and I ordered a sewing machine on Amazon the books I ordered were pattern drafting books, I I learned how to pattern draft and it was like I was crying like every night like the learning. I had nobody I didn’t have anyone I could call and be like, you helped me with this or I didn’t have like an aunt or anyone who’s like, had a business or like I didn’t have anything it was just me and me alone. And so yeah, I did that. I set a goal for like February 22 23rd is when I was going to launch it. So I built the website myself. I designed the dresses like cut and sew them and I built the website and I pushed post that night you know at midnight or whatever. Wow. I was like it sort of felt more like it was something I just wanted to prove to myself that I could do and I didn’t think I thought like my mom would buy a dress like out of this is like feeling bad for me and wanting to support me. And so, like nothing really happened. Right? Uh, like the first day I had emailed a bunch of bloggers, the week leading up or something. Not like 30 or 40 different people and nobody had gotten back to me at all. And then the day I launched design mom emailed me and she said this is a really cute idea. Yeah, I’m gonna post so she posted. I don’t know the next day or I think maybe I posted on Friday and she posted on Monday. And I had like more than 150 orders instantly when she posted
Dana: oh my gosh
Whitney: I just left it open like a pre order like I’ll just make make a you know, kind of to order me to order and when that when that happened I completely freaked out. I was like I have no ability to actually produce anything above this scale. So I called my brother and who was at business school and I was like hyperventilating and I was like, I remember it was nighttime because I think it was at the end of the day when I kind of write comedy. And I was like okay, this this has been a really fun like experiment and I learned so much from it but I’m shutting the website down I’m returning everybody’s orders. I was terrified you know cuz I had like, all those in my bank account now and I was like, I just, I have no dresses. So he was like, Do not shut this down. Like this is what every entrepreneur dreams of what is how hopefully. And I feel like that was the moment. I always think of as an entrepreneur that either makes that’s the moment of maker break. And that’s the reason I think a lot of businesses fail, especially in the beginning is because logically you have to be pretty crazy to jump off of that cliff like no one in the right mind is going to be like this is a good decision for me to make like Right, right. Like putting it down on paper. And there were so many people in my life too. That was just like, Are you sure like this is a really this is really crazy, like, we’re really down and all that. And then I had just that one person you just need that one person who like helps you like kind of get maybe even gives you a little nudge to push you off. Yeah, if I didn’t have that I would not have I would not have Sonnet James right now I would have thing and they wouldn’t be what it is. So I dove off of the cliff had her and I packed up the kids and I drove to La because I’m in San Francisco and I had heard that maybe there would be fashioning stuff in LA and that’s sort of where we’re the sort of started I guess.
Dana: Wow. Okay, so at this point, you’re like, what is happening? Like, how am I even going to proceed from here right? So at this point, you had what like 150 orders and you had no inventory at that point, right like you had no dresses made. You’re just been practicing or what?
Whitney: Yeah, like a lot. Of so the photos I taken were my sister took the photos. My sister in law was the model. They were taking like in if my house and a lot of them like the hem wasn’t sewn on the bottom like they were all the way finished. It was just like they looked fine in the photo. But like no, they were not like sell or not ready, right? Yeah. Not ready in any way. Yeah, I mean there was there were so many bumps so many bumps to like now I have two factories and like, but back then like I think I just started knocking on doors. And I like I literally Googled like Google like fashion in LA and it like took me to downtown, the fashion district. And I just like started going into places and like asking around and I found like a called jobbers where there’s like old fabric from bigger companies that like had access and so I bought some fabric there. And then they sent me to a place that somebody knew somebody that sent me here. That was the place Paris Hilton had her clothes made or something. And no but like, one dress was like $95 to make and I had sold my dresses for like 68 or $75 So I was losing about $20 or more on every piece just with the cutting so not even with the I lost money on the first round. And so that was that was right. What else to do? I got through the first batch and I shipped those all out and you know I had my friends and family come and we all folded them and I made little tags and we put them on and it was like you know, it is sacred experience.
Dana: So were you so did you make all these dresses or did you have the people? a seamstress?
Whitney: I’m a terrible seamstress.
Dana: Got it. Got it. Got it. Okay, I’ve missed that step. Okay, that makes sense.
Whitney: Yes. A little factory made them. And so then I was like, I can’t have a fact that this factor is not going to work obviously because I’m losing money. So yeah. My mom and sister actually gave me I think together it was like $3,000 or something as sort of like to help me get through because I had lost money, you know, so, so that that was a huge help because I was really like I didn’t have any money at all. So that helped me get to the next round which I found a place in San Francisco. And I remember these stories of like, I had to drop my son off at preschool and preschool is only four hours so I dropped him and then I drove so I live south of the city. I drove 45 minutes an hour up to the city and I had my younger son who was 18 months. And there was it was a giant scam. So there was no parking anywhere at all like everywhere and I had a meeting with one I had to I had to get this guy as my production person or I was not going to be able to produce the next round. So I remember I double parked behind a FedEx truck in the middle lane of my lane, oh street, and I just like hopes that my car would still be there when I left. So I grew up I took my 18 month old took him up to the meeting, had the meeting and the guy was like, like why is Why do you have a baby in my office? And then I think the morning was like an hour I kind of sealed the deal and I went back down and my car was still there with that hazard life sign. And I was like I had like one hour and like when it was when I was like Okay, I gotta go like, because I had to pick up my son from right. So that is how things happened back in those days. I mean, I still when I think of I still like have this rush of just like I’m very proud. It was very exciting. It was crazy. Like, just the things that mothers can do is just will always just be so inspiring to me. But uh, so that was my second round. And then I started searching for more places because I didn’t really like that factory. That I had found in San Francisco. So I started searching for more factories and the way I have this pattern maker that I’ve my development team that I’ve been working with ever since. And the way I found them and my factories is that I had found like a list of old factories on the web on the web that was really really old. I didn’t know it but I printed it off and I just started walking around and knocking on doors. And I was walking down mission and it’s not the best neighborhood and I went to one sort of door it kind of has like, you know, bars across and everything and it looked like it was closed up and you know abandoned. There was a guy sweeping in front and I was like to you know, like a sewing he didn’t speak English but I was like trying to show him like a sewing machine. And he just pointed across the street to a building. And so I walked across and I went in and I asked the front guy, like, is there any sewing place in here? He’s like, you can try the fifth floor maybe. So we went up and I knocked on every door on in the fifth floor like now we don’t know we know. And then I finally went to a door and they’re like, Yeah, we do. And so I went in that was Lynn and York and those are all the people I still work with were so nice to me and so wonderful. And they said I said I need a factor and they said well, you could try this one guy, Peter. And so I called him I got in the car and I called him and I said hi my name is Whitney and I need a factory. And he was like, Oh no, no, I don’t have time for you. Because he made like Nike and a lot of big brands. I said while I’m in the car and five minutes away, like please just give me five minutes of your time. So I went in there he spent like 20 minutes telling me how was the worst like area to go into when you’re going to lose all your money and just like every negative thing. And then I had five minutes and I just told them my story and right there he agreed to make my first batch. So Wow. Yeah, that’s that’s how I kind of got to the second level of like actually having makers and a real factory and like so. Yeah, so I feel like I feel like you obviously had checked out so many places, but I do feel like maybe it’s just how the story was told.
Dana: But I feel like it happened relatively quickly that you found the right people like because the right people are so so very important. When you’re starting a business, especially one that’s retail like yours where you have to have people doing things for you, right? You have to have people helping you with XYZ and so talk to me about how you knew that those people were the right people because I think that’s one of the hardest things about businesses really making sure that you can trust the team that you’re working with.
Whitney: Yeah, so that’s really funny because Lynn, who’s my pattern maker that we were just talking about was the first one that was just calling.
Dana: I love it.
Whitney: So I’m I’ve always been a very intuitive person I’ve always been about you know, trusting your instincts and your gut. And so when I first met the people in LA, I did not have a good feeling about them. And then when I met with the guy in San Francisco, I just didn’t feel like it was very honest. I really feel like this very trustworthy kind of situation. And so I just really had to go off of my gut and I wasn’t really going to stop until I did feel because I’m the opposite of like, it’s not personal. It’s business that whole that saying because yeah, it’s these are these are my days of my life that I’m living and these are people that I I really feel like a business should be the people you work with everyday should be your family like that. That is how I feel about all the people I work with. And so you need to enjoy your life and life is about relationships, you know, and so I very much cherish my relationships with all the people that I work with. And so when I met Lynn in New York, they were just such kind, wonderful, funny people and so it’s like, easy to be like, Yeah, I want to I’d like to spend my, my hours and time with these people. And then when I met with Peter, you know, he just seemed like he believed in me, which was a really big thing because ultimately I was a super small he was gonna lose money on me like, but he believed in me and that was big and I feel like he kind of looked at me as like a daughter a bit you know, and, and I trusted him. So, I think it’s all about you know, just being intuitive and following following your gut.
Dana: Absolutely. So talk to me about how your days looked in this phase of building Sonnet James, how did you first off also talk to me about Sonic Jas like the name of the company?
Whitney: Yes, I do get that question a lot. And it’s it’s a fun one to answer because I always imagined having a more kids. And so when I you know when my marriage sort of fell apart, I was sad about sort of losing that family that I was thought I was going to have but with both of my boys they were both surprise surprises. I didn’t know their gender when, when. So I had a girl and a boy name for each of them. And we satchel, my first son. I’d had a dream when I was pregnant with him that I called for my toddler and it was I called James and it was a little girl and she turned around she had like brown curls. And I was like, Oh, I’m having a girl and her name is supposed to be James. So the whole pregnancy I was just like, I had this relationship with my stomach. It was that was a little girl. So it was quite the surprise when boy, so there was a little bit of like this complete thrill of having this baby. This sort of this loss of like this daughter that I thought it was. That was my first pregnancy and then my second the name that I was going to name a girl if we had a girl was sonot and an arrow was the name for a boy so he was a boy obviously. So when I sort of realized that I wasn’t going to be having any more children anytime soon. I felt like Sonnet James was sort of this combinate like sort of the daughter that I never had. Like this company sort of became the daughter that I never had a baby.
Dana: I love that. Yeah, that is so funny. That happened to me that almost that exact same thing happened to me except with a boy so my daughter when she was one we didn’t know until she was born that she was a girl but you know, everybody has to tell you everything about how you’re feeling during your pregnancy. And literally, I think we had maybe two or three people say that it was a girl but everyone else our CrossFit gym people, my work people my husband’s work all our feelings. Everybody thought it was a boy and I was you know quote unquote, carrying like it’s a boy and so I had this relationship with this boy baby and like even looking back I didn’t. I did not affiliate Blakesley my daughter with that pregnancy like I it was a total shift. It was like a total mind block for me because I really, really, really thought she was a boy. So I totally understand the feeling of like, this is exciting, but not what I expected at all.
Whitney: Yeah, exactly. And I was like, I didn’t think I was gonna be given boys because I just I don’t know what to do with boys. I feel like I don’t know how to be girl. But now the funny thing is is like, I feel like I like got boys on lockdown. I’m like, I don’t know what I would have done with girls.
Dana: Yeah, that’s exactly how it is. So true. It is so funny. Okay, so how what did your life look like with the boys in this phase of the company while it’s kind of you know, you’re still doing like, launches and you know, trying to find the exact right people and like really grow the business. What is your day to day schedule look like and how did you manage building this brand with two tiny kids by yourself?
Whitney: So I would first like to say that it was not healthy. There was nothing healthy about it. I mean, I do look back on it as fun because it was very exciting. You know, like, it was completely overwhelming and I worked way too much and way too hard. And I did things that don’t even seem like humanly possible now. Yeah, like the weight of everything that I was carrying the trauma that I was carrying, like, but it was also such a gift to me because the dynamics of my relationship and the separation everything I was really struggling, you know, with my my brain health, my my mental health. My emotional state, I was very disengaged from everything. I was just very numb. And so I remember really distinctly one time like I was, have you seen the show made yet?
Dana: Yes. Yeah, I haven’t finished it but I saw several episodes of and I was like, I gotta take a break from this. It’s very intense.
Whitney: was so there was so there were so many similarities to my life in that in that series, but there’s one where she’s laying on the couch and she kind of gets sucked into it. And it’s really, you know, a visual of depression that I remember laying on the couch and not really being able to do anything at all until I would literally, like put food out next to me like goldfish or broccoli or whatever. And like that is as much as I could do like to feed the kids like points and so I was just, you know, surviving as best I could. And so what Sonnet James really gave me was, I was creating the dress for myself just as much as I was creating it for my mom, as I was just living the same life as my mom like I was doing. I was in the sack in the exact same spot. I was, you know, the history was repeating itself and I was like, I I got to break that cycle. In my lifetime. I got to create this dress that helped me every day, to remind myself to get on the floor and to play with them, and to look them in the eyes, and to really feel things and really, even though so hard, you know, every single day it’s really hard to engage. You know, it’s easy to just go through this motions and feed your kid and bathe your kid and put them to bed and take them to their art class or whatever but like to actually be present in your life as is to me like the reason to be alive you know is to actually be president and so it was huge for me that I would have really missed my children’s childhood if if I didn’t have this company and if I wasn’t able to actually, like practice what I preach, you know, I was in the moment with them and I and I just remember how magical it was. It was such a magical time because we really were sort of living in this it’s almost like a make believe world where like there were so many hard things going on outside of our our four walls in our apartment, but when we were inside, like we were made up things we made up, we made forts and we I kept them really safe and even myself safe from everything. It was to answer your question. It was complete chaos. Which is not anything that I could ever do again, because I don’t think right now and I’m not desperate like, right I don’t I don’t have I don’t not have any money for food like that’s what was and I was grinding on. Afraid every moment that like it was just all going to go away and I was going to be left not being able to feed my kids and that motivation. There is no motivation, like a mother’s motivation to feed your kid there is nothing greater than that.
Dana: It’s true there it really it’s one of those things that you know, I with being overseas, obviously, I’ve kind of left to have like a full blown photography business in DC but when you leave a place that it’s a service oriented business with, like in person service, and you leave your whole network of people like you’re basically starting over and we knew it was going to happen and so I’m you know pulling everything online and doing courses and mobile presets in this podcast, but I am not at a place like when I first started the photography business and quit my job it was I was in it was pure desperation we could not afford to live in DC on just my husband’s salary period, like, like, would be in Raging debt like imminently and I just like even now I’m like, Okay, I need to stay up tonight and do XYZ and I’m like, You know what, I’m tired, but then I would have stayed up the entire night to be able to get it done because I’m not at the in the place of desperation anymore. And honestly, I don’t ever want to do that again because it was like you said not healthy at all. But I’m like a little of that desperation. I wish I could replicate that just just the the workouts like part of it for sometimes when I need to turn it on but you’re exactly right. There’s really no replacement for for that desperation in starting a business. So how did you kind of, you know, grow out of that phase talk to me about how Sonnet James grew and how you were able to kind of get out of that desperation mode and really get into a place where you’re feeling much more comfortable and healthier like with your business and you know with your relationship with with with your business.
Whitney: Yeah. So I do have to say that It was very much an addiction for me I was very much a workaholic, I’d get I guess so I am a workaholic and recovery. The first five years, I had such an interesting relationship with Sonnet James because one I felt very much like I was destined to have this career I guess in my life and I really felt like there were there was an outside force of some kind helping me all along the way, and I never felt like any of the money was mine. Ever. I always felt like it was my customers money and I was just trying to grow and spread this message and that I had a duty to my customers to be the most responsible and do the very best so I think I never really got to a place where I was like Oh, I’m even though I was I was like doubling or even more every year my sales I mean, I grew Sonnet James so quick, and but I was always scared constantly. I lived in constantly, and I never felt like I had money. But I mean, I remember one time the first year I think I made 84,000 in sales. And and that’s really incredible for and that was the first year like the like the one where you made the New Year’s resolution first year. Yeah, that was a first year. Oh, my gosh. Yeah, so then wow. But it was still kind of like Oh, I did it. I did. I did a Kickstarter. And I got I think I raised like almost 60,000 And I used half of that to produce and so then I had the rest to you know, start the next collection, whatever. So I did a lot of risk. There was a lot of risk happening but it was a lot of you know pretty fairly responsible risk, I would say but I I kind of lost my train of thought but oh, the second year I remember. I I did well the second I did well the second year I think I went up to an 80 I think I did, like 304 or something. Wow. Yeah, so I like I grew really fast. Word year. I think I went up to 800,000 in my machine, but I remember i i I’d kind of put everything into the business at a certain point and I there was a time from the first year to the second year or so that I didn’t have any money. Like I put it all into the production. And so I kind of just had to wait until the launch and it was like two months or something. And I remember I didn’t have any money for food and we we ate popcorn a lot. I remember that was like the one thing that was really inexpensive to eat that we could fill ourselves with a lot. So it’s just like such a crazy thing to like think back about that and how scary it was. But that same year that I invested so much into the products and didn’t have any money for a while. Is the same year. I remember calling my friend and saying I just looked at my bank account like it was maybe a week after launch because I wasn’t ever looking. I really wasn’t ever looking at the bank. I was just everyday I was just going forward forward forward for I wasn’t thinking about the money. But I looked and I had like $230,000 in my bank account or like I remember another time like one thing one day I made like $100,000 and I was I was just complete shock. I’m just like, we have like more than $55,000 in the like, like our salary. And so it was just like, I cannot believe what’s happening. But I also want to say that I hit five years and five years I had done over a million. And I think I’d done 1.2 or 1.5 or something. And I called my accountant and I said I can’t do this anymore. I was more miserable. And unhappy than I’d really been in so long. And I didn’t want to do it anymore. And I was like I don’t understand this. Like, I have money my company is successful. Like how can I be so miserable? And now like looking back, it’s because I’m a very highly sensitive person and maybe some people are better at separating things. But I had to become a different person I had to become Sonnet James. I had to become a performer. I had to I had to be on it every single moment of every single day. I had to be on Instagram, I had to be doing photos, all while I was still very much a very broken, traumatized person that, you know, we’re still working through in therapy, a lot of really difficult things and so it was sort of like, I separated like from my soul in a way that and my body couldn’t do it anymore. It was like sound like, Yeah, I can’t keep working at this pace. And I can’t be this separated from who I actually am. And it’s not sustainable and so I asked my accountant, how long can I go without, like working like can I I want to take like a year off or whatever, right? Like random numbers and she’s like, you can take like two months off and then you will be able to keep like oh, okay, well that’s not gonna work. So I sort of cut things back a little that year. I think that was 2018 and I just didn’t have anything left in me, you know, and I’ve always heard like, this is saying in business that like you should sell, sell your company after five years and just never understood that until it makes so much sense because I think there is across the board just a burnout. Like we have to have a step you have to run at a certain pace. And you bring something to life and you create something out of nothing. But it’s impossible for someone to take you do anything unless maybe they’re like on drugs or something. I don’t know. It wasn’t sustainable. So, but that was actually it was really interesting what happened in 2018. Because because I sort of allowed myself to slow down and sort of, you know, figure out what I wanted to do and like kind of what it meant. And you know, there’s no point in doing anything if you’re miserable, even if you’re making me you know like so I read this book called I was I’d always listen to podcasts on my drive to the city because I go up to work a lot. That’s where my factories and my development team are so I was listening to a book on tape called the universe has your back and I had grown up and lived my life constantly in fear. My father was an addict and so I anyone who’s who’s been raised by any type of that addict like you, you constantly have to be reading every room you’re very my EQ is very, very high and very exhausting because you’re always sort of on on the lookout for danger or, you know something and so, my whole life was just a fear based and that’s, that’s where I got my energy from is just like constantly being afraid, and there’s energy there to that. And so I read this book and it was basically about just like the shift of going from fear base to actually being open and having hope that things are just going to work out and that store is this this idea that the universe has your back. The universe is there to help you and if you’re open to it, like it will deliver and it will give you what you need. And so I was kind of like, oh my gosh, like, you know, I don’t know about this.
Dana: Sure. Right. Yeah.
Whitney: And I was like, I’ve done pretty well. Riding off of fear and panic, revival, you know, and so I was just like, okay, and I remember I said in the car like, okay, universe, I’m open. And one of the things that you can never do is find a parking spot in San Francisco. Like I’m open to finding a parking spot. Mocking sort of making a joke, I guess, but I turned the corner onto the street. That thing is and there was a parking spot right there, which there’s never a parking sign. So I was like, Okay, that was interesting. It was a little weird.
Whitney: Within two days, I had Shark Tank reach out to me and say they wanted me to come on the show completely cold. I did. Wow. I had Tesla. The car company reached out to me and telling me that they wanted me to use one of their cars test drive one of their cars for the weekend. And I was like, why? Don’t know why and they’re so funny, because when I went in to get the car, I was like, I don’t really understand why you guys are getting shot. The guy was like, he was like so irritated. He’s like, I have no idea why I’m giving this car keys. Like he was just like, I don’t know why you are deserved to get this car. Like it’s really frustrating to me. And I was like, just grab the keys like okay, I’ll see you in three days. And then on top of that, Pixar reached out to me and said they wanted me to bring the boys to preview the new Incredibles movie. And my gosh, the Pixar studio in. It’s like over by Oakland. And so literally this happened in two days. And I was like, okay, that book is free. Right now seriously. But I was like, Okay, well, I mean, maybe I’m good with this now. There is something to shifting your mindset from completely fear base to like actually, like trusting that good things can happen to you without like clawing your way through life.
Whitney: So that was a really incredible thing because with Shark Tank, I’d kind of like thought about it early on. But it was something that I kind of like wanted and then as I was like, it’s not the right fit for my company. My company was doing so well and
Dana: Right, right.
Whitney: You know, but when they reached out that’s kind of right after I’d kind of like slowed down a little bit. And I didn’t really want to do it, but I was like, they reached out I was like, what’s the harm like? They’re like, can you send us a video? I made like the laziest video ever. Like I did it in one take. I was like I didn’t even care like I’m like, There’s not they’re not going to get back to me. I didn’t even try to perform in any way. I’ve just completely though I was like a goof I was laughing whatever. And they were like We love the video. Send us another one. Like oh, so then the next one I still did the same. I was like, I was really busy like working full time. I just gave it like no thought and every time I just kept being like they’re gonna be like, Okay, we just need to drop this lady, but they kept being like love it. And that next rep love it happening. I’m just going to keep going with this if this. Like I’m not even trying here like, I’m not climbing my way through this. And so I went all the way to the end and they it was a lot of work. So I basically had to stop working completely for four weeks and just focus on you have to get all your financials you have to do so much business wise. So it was it was a ton of work and then you’re kind of just waiting for the next round. I mean, they like okay, I want you to come to LA and all that. So I did that and then I got the deal and then the whole next few months were closing to the deal and making the merger with my investor and and then six months later, like right when the deal closed, that’s when my episode aired. I see okay, so it was just like, it just kind of went chaos. It just went really fast. Yeah. So Shark Tank I tripled my sales.
Whitney: And then COVID Hit that was 2019 COVID hit and you know everything sort of fell apart yet. That’s where we are today. So all my factors I’m in California so all my factories, all my Mills everything was shut down for
Dana: Wow. two seasons currently and we’re just trying to recover from that so and so how do you feel like obviously, the Shark Tank like it’s exhausting, but you’re riding the high of like tripling your sails and you know, everything’s going great and then the pandemic hits like, did you feel mentally to be able to get through that like you’ve been through just as hard if not harder? Like how did that help at all like knowing that like, Okay, I’ve done this before? Or was it like uh oh my gosh, we’re back in a situation where I have no control over what, what to do moving forward.
Whitney: You know, I think I was really grateful because two things happened when when I did Shark Tank. They told me that I was going to be on air, like the weekend before Thanksgiving in November. So everyone said you know, put all of your money into your bestsellers, and I was terrified of any that’s not I didn’t ever risk like that before. And but I did it because you know, that’s what really smart people were telling me to do.
Whitney: I literally put all my money into my into my top sellers. And a week before I was supposed to air about I think they said we had we pulled the episode where you’re not you’re not going to be on Shark Tank anymore. My entire business would have collapsed instantly because all my best sellers were already all the dresses all my current customers already had because that’s where they’re the best sellers because they thought that I couldn’t, couldn’t sell 2000 Reese white striped dresses to right like customers and I all my I had used all of the money in my in my savings account. So that was the moment that I had to come really, really face the fact that everything that I had worked and clawed my way through with a baby on my hip and not sleeping at night like everything, all the tears all the not believing what anyone else said and just pushing through.
Dana: Could be gone in instant, like right?
Whitney: Completely like without even my you know really doing you know, like right right? Outside of my hands. It wasn’t like I made a huge mistake. Yeah. And so that was a really good lesson for me because it really helped me see the business just as a business even though I’d put my all into it. I really attached it to a lot more and and just that you know, at the end of the day, it’s just it’s me, it’s my kids, it’s my family and this business could come and go and and I need to live my life in a way that I can be detached from things that don’t really matter. So that that was a very good thing to have happen to me because it did end up airing the my investor fought really hard the it up. It aired two months later. And you know, I was fine but wow, you’re ever I was I would just cry on the phone to my investor and just be like, I don’t know what to do you know. But then when when COVID hit, I could just be very like I kind of let go of the control a lot. I also was in the middle of a just started actually custody battle over my kids or which state if they would live with me in my state or where their father was moving to so I nothing else mattered pricing thing mattered at all to me I was I still work but like I I had to put my energy into one thing mostly and it had to be the kids like there was no there was no question you know, no choice. So it was it was a really big gift for me because I think well I could have been really angry or frustrated about you know, because Sonnet James had gotten to the biggest it had ever been, you know, it was a million dollars in sales over and like I really felt like it was a turning point like it was we could get to 5 million the next year and 10 million, you know, like just, we were on a projection that was looking and feeling really good. And so to 2020 20 just felt like sort of I everything was taken from me, you know what was back to like, starting all over again. And but I didn’t feel that I every day that I got to be with my kids was a gift. No matter how bad it was no matter you know if we got a flat tire if we, if we were all sick, if you know, the fire alarm went off like anything that could possibly like make you in a bad mood or whatever. Like nothing mattered. I just I was I got to be with my kids. And that was all that was enough every single day. So to COVID and the pandemic was a very different experience for me because Well, lots of people were like hating being stuck inside and felt really trapped and they couldn’t travel anymore. It was like none of that mattered at all to me. I was just like love. I was loving every moment that I could be with them. So I think it was such a gift to me in so many ways. I mean, my perspective on life just in general will never ever be the same. It also is just such a gift to me because, you know, my company is about, you know, being present like my Wang it hard present in the moment and more playful with the ones you love. And that’s exactly what I did in 2020 to 2021 they ended the Battle of my custody thing I did in summer of 2021. So basically the whole time, right?Present I just lived every day just cherishing it sounds really so silly. Like cliche, I guess.
Dana: No, not at all.
Whitney: Yeah, it was. It was a pretty beautiful time for my little my little family. I mean, it was horrible time.
Dana: For Right. Right, right. Right. But yeah, I mean No, but I love your outlook on it. You have to have some if you were had a positive you know, outcome from the pandemic, then you should be telling your story about that and highlighting it because it wasn’t a way for everybody. But I have heard that more often than not, I mean, I really have heard similar stories more often than not have just like I got to slow down and be able to be present and be in the moment and spend the time with my kids that you never going to get back. That’s the thing. They’re only whatever age they are. They’re only that age once you know and you never get that time back. So to have that extra time and these past couple of years has been such a blessing for for so many people for sure. So how is everything right now? What’s the plan for 2022
Whitney: You know, I was writing out my hopes and dreams on paper i i Always write things out like this, but I just my investor is Sara Blakely from Spanx and I just think she I could not have a better investor she is exactly the kind of businesswoman that I want to be and she always says like don’t sell the product, sell the problem. And I feel like it’s very easy to like, get in this place this mindset of just like growth and numbers and how many units you sell. And like projections, like all these things when it’s like for for moving forward. I’m just like I just have such a different perspective on life that like I don’t know how many other more companies I’m going to have in my life. I know I’m always probably going to be working doing something because I I want to change the world that’s, that’s I just want to do everything I can to change the world for the better. I just I’ve always said like the goals for Sonnet James is one have fun, like, you shouldn’t be doing this unless you’re having fun and to like continuing to share this message of like helping mothers and women reconnect to themselves to who they are to, to really be engaged with this life and be present. And so when I come to work with that sort of that direction, it makes working so much more fulfilling, you know, than just like, Can I meet this goal for sales in February, whatever. So I feel good. I feel like I’m just working to slowly build it back up and that’ll get back to where we were, you know, someday and I’m being gentle with it. I think one of the main things is that it’s easy to get frustrated with your your vendors and your your employees and blah blah blah because like everything is stressful and everything’s delayed and everybody like my whole entire team is just working moms. So it’s very easy to they’re all just surviving and doing the masculine cam climbing on their laps and so it’s it’s easy to get frustrated quickly, but it’s just like the number one thing is relationships and being kind and patient and really fostering those relationships and supporting everybody. That’s everybody is having a hard time right now. So I think yeah, just continuing to like love the people that I work with and be kind and gentle with them and just keep spreading the message that I started the company with getting back to the roots and and trying to be gentle with myself I guess but I feel like I’m finally I’m finally I was so broken with the custody battle. I finally feel like sort of coming back to myself into a place where I can actually function. I was not very high functioning for most of the time I was going through that but I feel I feel more myself and so I feel I feel very excited about the future of Sonic Jas I feel like I’ve learned a lot and so excited to my favorite part of of having a company is really the the community of people that I get to interact with every day. I mean I have to say that like, you know, through the last two years like it can feel like the world is a really awful place sometimes where you just like how can this be happening? But then every time I get to interact with my customers on Instagram or through newsletters or emails, like I’m just reminded like, there’s so much there’s so many more good people than bad people. There is so much more love than hate. And so that not everybody gets that like not everybody gets to like hear these wonderful, beautiful stories of of women and mothers you know, just being kind to each other and so supportive and like I got I get to have that because Sonnet James and I get to, to feel that and it really helps me when when life can feel really dark, you know, so that’s a gift. That’s amazing. And I love that outlook. And I think that it’s something that even if you’re starting to feel that way through this pandemic, I think that it’s just never it never hurts to hear that again.
Dana: Right? It never hurts to hear that there is more good and bad and you know, there is more positivity than negativity if you really look for it. And I love that you are experiencing that because you absolutely absolutely deserve it. So tell everybody where we can find you your website and Instagram and all the things oh yes.
Whitney: Okay, so my My website is sonnetjames.com . That’s my instagram handle as well. I also recently started a tic TOCs trying to win. And I’m on Facebook. And also you can join the newsletters because that’s one of my favorite ways to sort of communicate. So yeah.
Dana: Well, perfect. Whitney, thank you so so much for doing this. I am so excited. I think that this has been such an amazing insight into you know, a business owner and how it really is like how it really is to grow a business when you’re dealing with so much other so many other things in your life and especially what everybody’s dealt with the past, you know, year and a half, two years. I think this is going to be so inspirational and I’m so excited for people to hear it so thank you so much.
Whitney: Thank you so much and it was really fun to to go back and remember it. So it was really fun.
Dana: I love that. Well. Thanks so much Whitney and everybody I am so pumped for you to hear the episode and to check Whitney out on her website and newsletter. So thanks again Whitney and we’ll talk to you soon.
Dana: I am so honored. You spent any minutes of your day listening to me babble about living this entrepreneurial life amidst the chaos and any mom’s normal day to day. If you love what you heard any more snippets of knowledge about this mob boss life, head over to our website at amidstthechaospodcast.com For show notes and links to anything mentioned in today’s episode. If you’re really feeling inspired to me and my family if you take the time to Thanks for joining me, Amidst the Chaos.
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