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Helping moms play with kids, one dress at a time

Published: Monday, July 6 2015 10:16 a.m. MDT

Sonnet James makes Sonnet James makes "play dresses for playful moms." Creator Whitney Lundeen believes beautiful clothing should work for moms and be durable, comfortable and beautiful, yet easy to care for. (Whitney Lundeen)

Whitney Lundeen always wanted to be the kind of mom who played with her kids. She’s also very into fashion.

But one day when a dress kept her from riding on the “big boy” swings at the park with her 2-year-old son, Eero, she knew there was a problem. The fear of ruining her nice clothes was getting in the way of her desire to play with, and not simply be a chaperone to, her two boys.

That struck a nerve. So much, in fact, that the Palo Alto, Calif., mom decided to do something about it.

While wearing yoga pants in lieu of her nicer clothes was an option she tested for a while, she felt that under-dressing led to her neglecting to take care of herself.

“I started thinking, ‘Why do my hair? Why bother with makeup?’" Lundeen said. “Sunday was the one day we actually looked nice,” she laughed. “Otherwise it was Uggs, sweatpants and sweatshirts.

Sonnet James makes Sonnet James makes "play dresses for playful moms." Creator Whitney Lundeen believes beautiful clothing should work for moms and be durable, comfortable and beautiful, yet easy to care for. (Whitney Lundeen)

“There’s just not really a market for the clothes that we need to wear.”

So she created one.

After looking through her own closet and researching which fabrics were comfortable and machine-washable, Lundeen — who studied interior architecture at BYU-Idaho and even dabbled in fashion during an internship in New York — sketched out and made a few prototypes. She was determined to find the perfect dress that would let her be the kind of mom she envisioned.

She began wearing her dresses everywhere to test them out. It was only after people kept asking her where she bought these dresses that Lundeen realized she may be onto something bigger.

“It’s important to support moms and help them be engaged with their children,” she said.

Sonnet James makes Sonnet James makes "play dresses for playful moms." Creator Whitney Lundeen believes beautiful clothing should work for moms and be durable, comfortable and beautiful, yet easy to care for. (Remi Stoneman Photography)

At her family’s New Year’s Eve party, she made the resolution to sell 10 dresses that year — a hefty order for her, especially considering she wasn’t a fashion student. Her brother Kylan — a recent graduate of Stanford’s business school — encouraged her to be a little more ambitious and shoot for 100.

“I told her, ‘If you can do that, you know you’re into something real,’" he said. “That’s what spawned it. I revved her up a little bit.”

For a few weeks, once Eero and her older son, Satchel, were asleep, Lundeen’s life was dedicated to patterning and learning about and making dresses, while simultaneously convincing her sister to buy a plane ticket to come out and help with a photo shoot. The next month, they had the shoot (with Lundeen and her sister-in-law Jennifer modeling). On Friday, Feb. 22, Sonnet James (inspired by names she would have named her two kids had they been girls) was officially launched online.

Sonnet James makes Sonnet James makes "play dresses for playful moms." Creator Whitney Lundeen believes beautiful clothing should work for moms and be durable, comfortable and beautiful, yet easy to care for. (Whitney Lundeen)

Lundeen was still a little unsure about how the website would fare, wondering if anyone would agree with what she felt she needed as a mom.

However, the Monday after the launch, Design Mom, a blog featuring everything to do with motherhood and design (and a Time Magazine Website of the Year) saw Sonnet James’ website and featured it. That helped.

By the following Wednesday, orders needed to be closed because Lundeen had reached 150 dresses, a far cry from her original goal of 10.

With more orders than she knows what to do with, Lundeen recently launched a Kickstarter campaign to help get funding for this project, as well as to help reduce costs to make dresses more affordable.

Customers kept contacting Lundeen with thank-you notes and pictures of them playing with their kids and doing other things around the house while wearing their newly acquired clothes.

Sonnet James makes Sonnet James makes "play dresses for playful moms." Creator Whitney Lundeen believes beautiful clothing should work for moms and be durable, comfortable and beautiful, yet easy to care for. (Whitney Lundeen)

“I keep getting emails from moms saying, ‘I need this so much,’ " Lundeen said. “We are all searching to do a job that is meaningful, and for me that is being a mom. It’s not just fashion. I feel like I’ve found a meaningful way to mix two things I love. … It’s really exciting to see that it wasn’t just me who feels like this was missing.”

To learn more about Sonnet James, visit www.sonnetjames.com.

Kate Sullivan is an intern at the Deseret News with Features and Mormon Times. She is a student at Brigham Young University. Contact her via email: ksullivan@deseretnews.com

Copyright 2015, Deseret News Publishing Company