This story was adapted from one that originally ran on TLMN.
Most of us have “mom uniforms”—those go-to pieces that make us feel put together quickly. The best are stylish, cozy, washable, and flattering (especially to post-partum bellies). The Connecticut-based Dudley Stephens fleece line, launched by sisters (both moms of two) hits all those marks and more. Although the tops aren’t inexpensive (they start at $128), we can tell you from experience that they last through years of constant washes and can withstand stains ranging from spit up to poop (seriously—this fabric is magic). It’s also made in the USA of eco-friendly materials, which makes us feel good about the investment. We spoke to Lauren Stephens, who founded the brand with her sister, Kaki McGrath, about the inspiration for this chic company, the power of social media, mom guilt, her own mom uniform, and more. Plus: She’s offering 15 percent to our readers through Friday 5/3, using code LOCALMOMS15. (Psst: These make a great Mother’s Day Gift!)
How would you describe your business to those who aren’t yet familiar?
Dudley Stephens is a sustainable lifestyle brand that makes tailored, stylish fleece clothing for women and children. The majority of our fabric is made using recycled yarn which is created using recycled plastic bottles and we manufacture in Brooklyn, NY.
What were both of your backgrounds prior to starting your business?
My sister/business partner, Kaki McGrath, worked in sports and entertainment marketing, and I worked in fashion for many years. We both bring different things to the table in terms of strengths and weaknesses and that helps tremendously in terms of dividing and conquering when needed. Kaki handles a lot of logistics and operations, where I handle design, public relations, and social media. However, our roles are not defined by that as there is a ton of crossover being a small business, and we both value each other’s opinions in all areas. Our mother, Bonnie, helps with design, and also anywhere else that we need as well.
Love family businesses! What is your dynamic like?
It’s easier to be honest, speak your mind, or express an opinion in delicate situations. It is also invaluable to work with someone who can finish your sentences, knows what you’re thinking without even thinking it, and who can laugh with you (or at you) when the situation arises.
What are you proudest of?
Definitely hitting 1 million bottles [recycled] this year! And counting…the number is growing rapidly as we are growing quickly. Also, moving into our new showroom/office space in Greenwich, The Townhouse, in February of this year.
The showroom is so gorgeous. Why did you decide to launch a studio, and then a pop up shop in NYC?
We knew we needed a branded, digital broadcast space and office, but we also knew it had to be the right space. When we came across the location in Greenwich on Greenwich Avenue, we knew immediately that it was where we had to be. Before we moved in, we were working out of my home office which we were prepared to keep doing until we found the right location and space. We needed something on Greenwich Avenue, with great light for photography, and enough space to throw parties and pop-up events to showcase and sell Dudley Stephens. This space checked all of the boxes and then some! The pop-up in NYC was a fortunate opportunity as there was an empty retail location in the West Village with which we had a connection, it was very lucky situation where we were able to go in for a month and test the market to see if we could in fact have a branded pop-up, or even a long term store front. We’re nearing the end of the month, and it has been very successful, so you can expect more DS pop-ups in the near future.
Amazing! So is there someone who has mentored you through this process?
My father. He is a great sounding board and after many years working in sports and running various types of working teams and companies, he has a breadth of experience.
If you weren’t doing this, what would you be doing?
I would be a stay-at-home mom to my two kids, George and Elle. That was my original plan until we had trouble getting pregnant, an so I decided to start my own company. I felt I had nothing to lose when I wasn’t sure having kids would happen for us. Then, I got pregnant right when we were launching, and here we are!
How crucial has social media/partnering with influencers been?
Hugely. This is how we have built our brand. Instagram is an amazing tool for businesses, and influencers can be as powerful, if not more, than celebrities. I worked in Celebrity Public Relations when I was working in fashion and so truly value the power that influential people can have on brands.
What’s the best part of your job? The hardest?
The best part is the creative fulfillment I get in styling shoots, designing new styles, creating a marketing plan…the hardest is having to leave my kids.
What’s your own “mom uniform”?
Dudley Stephens Park Slope in any color with any of my AYR jeans and Rothy’s or Veja sneakers. A friend posted on Instagram yesterday that being a mom is basically like playing an action sport, so we need to wear athletic clothing—I totally agree with that! That is why DS has been so great for moms, it feels like wearing a sweatshirt but you can actually look pulled together at the same time.
Parenting is a full-contact sport, for sure! Why is the fabric so kid-friendly?
Machine washable, durable, basically wipes clean with most any spill…I could go on and on here, it is truly the best fabric for a mom. And by purchasing you are helping to eliminate plastic waste on our shorelines!
How do you add new styles to the line?
We find a lot of inspiration in high-end luxury brands, and our own clothing by taking it and turning it into what we want…and we love to fill a need in our closets that we feel isn’t being met.
Where are you hoping to take your business next?
We have some exciting things on the docket for the Fall/Holiday/Winter season this year in 2019-2020, and some really exciting potential partnerships. We hope to continue doing collaborations with like-minded influencers and brands.
To get 15 percent off your first order, go dudley-stephens.com and use code LOCALMOMS15.
Photo credit: Julia Dags