For a busy working mother with three active kids, holding down two full-time jobs–one of which is running a home-based business that she created–is a big deal. Growing that business and keeping it successful for 15 years is a feat worthy of public admiration.
“I was just joking with someone, but I said, ‘Where has the time gone?’” laughed Jennifer Angerame, the owner of Wilton-based Southern Yankee, a children’s clothing line for kids aged 0-6 years. “What amazes me the most, I started it when we were living in the city, we were doing the working thing with no kids. Part of the thought was I wanted to do something when the kids came along.”
The business was originally a greeting card company, and Angerame would make the cards by hand, decorating them with vintage, upcycled materials like buttons and burlap. Around the same time she started collecting vintage handkerchiefs, and soon her product line shifted along with her shift in interest. “I like them. I don’t know why, I just like them. It was soon after my oldest was born [12 years ago] that I started actually making stuff with hankies.”
That’s when her fashion background–a stint at Perry Ellis Menswear–matched with her lifelong interest in sewing and design, something passed down to her by her mother and grandmother. Angerame used the hankies to start making dresses.
The hallmark of her signature hankie dress design is the loving history that is a natural part of the material. “One woman sent me a box of hundreds of handkerchiefs that belonged to her aunt, who used to be a teacher. They were very popular teacher gifts. Some people will say, ‘I remember my mother had a drawer full of them!’ Everyone has a story about them.” An adorable baby garment made by hand with a delicate or one-of-a-kind–and often personal–item like that gives the dress its charm and aw-w-w-w factor.
In addition to hankie dresses, she also makes onesies, dresses, bibs and blankets. She also sells handmade accessories like aprons and diaper wipe holders.
Angerame has a line she uses on hangtags that hits the mark describing her line very well: vintage linens for modern girls. “It’s a fresh take on old items, I’m taking the vintage items and have made them new, into something our children would wear today,” she said.
The joy people get from receiving one of Angerame’s hand-crafted garments is matched by the same kind of joy she gets out of making each one, which does take time and personal attention to the detail of hand-making something. “I love what I do, I really enjoy it. Every single one is different. When people are shopping the line, a particular hankie will speak to them, whether it’s a rose motif and their child’s middle name is Rose, they go, ‘I have to buy this one, her name is Rose!’ or the mother’s favorite color is blue. It’s fun to watch how people engage with the linen.”
Many customers treasure her items for years, even after their children outgrow them. “I had one customer who, after her daughter outgrew one of the baby-sized dresses, she framed it and it was hung in her room. She said she wasn’t ready to part with it. I thought that was really cool,” Angerame recounted. She even has friends for whom she’s made burp pads as gifts, who will only use them as decoration rather than as burp pads because they’re too pretty. “They’re burp pads!” she laughed. “I can make them more!”
She can make custom-order items as well, from meaningful, heirloom or personal linens and fabrics. “If you like it, I’ll make it whatever size, whatever color. Bring me your tablecloth, bring me your husband’s shirt and tie. And let’s make it something special.”
The bulk of her line is sold via her website and through some retail stores. And while Angerame has been approached about expanding the line, she’s content keeping it relatively small. “If I were to open accounts across the United States and they all need dozens of dresses, I’d have to hire someone else to do the sewing and I don’t want to do that. There’s a sense of pride that I have made every single thing here. I do have dreams–wouldn’t it be great? But I’m also realistic, it’s my time, there’s one of me,” she said.
That’s the key as a busy mom who juggles lots–knowing her time is valuable. “I think I have figured out I’m either crazy or I operate better with a lot of balls in the air than not,” she laughed.
Angerame has found that there’s a special thing about Wilton–both connections with her network of fellow women business owners here as well as stores–like Frock & Frill–that carry her work and individuals who buy her designs.
“There are a lot of people who do know Southern Yankee is me, but there are a lot of people who still don’t. I joke that I want to be the go-to baby gift person in town. There are some people who shoot me an email and say, ‘I need a gift, I have a shower tomorrow.’ and I literally wrap it, put it on my porch, they pick it up and we’re done. It’s like drive-thru baby gift.”
She also likes having a network of business friends with whom she can bounce ideas or questions off of. “We’re all doing the same thing–parenting, PTAing and trying to build our own little empires. That has been helpful.”
Oh, and what exactly is the meaning behind the name Southern Yankee? The name is a salute to both her Dallas roots and her status as a transplant now living in the North.
“When I filed the name at City Hall the guy said, ‘Yeah, that name’s not taken.’ I just laughed! I really thought it wouldn’t have.”
To contact Angerame or purchase something from Southern Yankee, visit her website.
All images, photo credit: Moments by Andrea Photography