Conversation with Sana Clegg, Founder, Sunny with an A
Design-Inspired Children’s Pajamas
March 13, 2019
1. What is your business?
At Sunny with an A, we offer luxury children’s sleepwear and daywear made with American, high-quality, hand-loomed Supima cotton. The pajamas are a perfect luxe children’s gift item and, even though the price-point is luxury, they are accessible to all consumers who want organic, high-end fabrics without any harmful chemicals.
We have a very loyal customer base. Our customer returns over and over again for pajamas and daywear for their own children as well as people buying the items as gifts for Christmas presents, birthday presents, baby showers, and the list goes on and on. On average, our consumer will buy another three to five items from Sunny with an A after that first pair.
Our cotton is very sturdy and has a lot of natural stretch which means that our little customers get lots and lots of use out of the pajamas. On average, each pajama set can withstand up to 200 washes before even showing a sign of print fading.
To me the most important facet about Sunny with an A products is that we don’t use any harmful chemicals or flame retardants. Children’s sleepwear in America has to follow very strict federal guidelines: pajamas either need to be snug-fitting sleepwear or the sleepwear has to be treated with flame-retardants.
We offer the snug-fitting pajamas, but in order to comply with the regulations, we have to size our pajamas according to government standards. Because of that, our pajamas end up being too small for the average child at each size. We ask our customers to size up for most children.
2. What made you decide to start your business and/or switch careers?
When I was pregnant with my third child, I realized there were very few pajama brands that also had great quality. To me, the existing “luxury” products didn’t seem worth the money. With my New York City mom-friends as my target customers, I started to create pajamas with high-grade organic cotton, lots of stretch, long-lasting and preferably made in America products.
Most children’s pajamas are produced in Latin American countries and Asia, and thus we don’t really know if stringent environmental and chemical regulations are followed. In addition, many European brands are prohibited in the United States since they don’t follow the U.S. federal guidelines for children’s sleepwear.
3. Was there one moment that gave you the confidence that this was a good idea?
Living in New York City made launching a new brand pretty easy. I was able to utilize the local Garment District to source materials and produce the pajamas and clothes. Our debut collection was five prints and two styles. With the help of many loyal friends in the NYC fashion industry, we launched with our first trunk show in the summer of 2017. We sold over $5,000 in sales in three hours. That’s when I realized that I was onto something.
I also had friends who had recently started working with Maisonette.com – a luxury children’s e-tailer. I was lucky to get our Sunny with an A products on their website. Soon enough the Kardashians became our clients as well as many social media influencers and celebrities. The TOT in Dallas’s exclusive Highland Park district also picked us up for their store and website. Today we sell in boutiques in New York City, Greenwich, Dallas, Fort Worth, and Nashville.
We also started receiving great press around the holiday season in 2017/2018. Our Sunny with an A Unicorn Dress was featured in children’s gift guides in Harper’s Bazaar and Instyle, and our Dinosaurs Pajama Set was featured in Vanity Fair. Many of the magazine editors had been women I worked with in my twenties, and we were all moms at the same time, so it was really the right product at the right time.
4. What obstacles did you face in getting started and thinking of yourself as an expert in a new setting?
If I had to do it again, I would have brought on an expert in sourcing and manufacturing. My experience was in post-production, finance, and public relations. We could have moved much more quickly with some manufacturing expertise. We are constantly on a learning curve with the production world—it’s tricky. Making clothing in the United States is quite hard: it’s quite cost-prohibitive, and there are literally no fabric mills.
The government regulations for children’s sleepwear in the United States is also tricky to navigate. The stringent measurements barely fit the actual child that the age is labeled for. Clothes that don’t fit a kid is very challenging from a sizing and marketing perspective. We had tons of fittings with my own children, and I dragged them to factories all over the garment district to try on pajamas for the best fit.
Legally you can’t mislabel sizes, so we have to spend a lot of time explaining that a snug-fit size 4 might not fit an actual four-year-old. Anyone who makes pajamas and doesn’t dip them in flame retardant has this issue.
5. Was there ever a particularly tough time that in retrospect was a priceless learning moment?
There were so many moments and they happen every day. The most priceless learning moment was that nobody manufacturing in the USA is getting a good deal–you’re actually getting a bad deal. You really need someone on your side to explain commodity costs and the cost to print on cotton etc. That’s been the most eye-opening thing for me: no matter how smart or aggressive I am with manufacturers I cannot get a good deal on input costs.
6. Were there any partnerships or advice that were particularly helpful?
The best advice I received was that I was never going to be able to foresee all of the obstacles with a new business. Instead of trying to figure out the answer to every obstacle in advance, it’s better to figure out the most important thing each day and begin solving that problem.
7. How have you been able to grow professionally? What tools have you used?
You really have to be self-forgiving and not beat yourself up over mistakes. Mistakes really aren’t even mistakes, they’re just things that come up that you’re not able to predict. Failure is a great revealer – learn from it – this is what I tell myself every time something goes awry! One time my fabric for my entire new collection came printed on the wrong cotton, and our factory had already begun cutting the pieces so I couldn’t return the fabric. It was my mistake for not being at the factory when the fabric arrived.
But then, was it a mistake or a learning lesson? I don’t know, but it’s important to be forgiving and figure out what to do next. It takes a lot of inner strength.
8. Was outside funding/cost a challenge to getting your business off the ground?
We are still so small, so we are self-funded. If I were to grow large enough, I would bring in investors to meet 10,000 units instead of the 1,200 we sell now. For me, my goal is to build our brand before we bring in outside investors.
9. What are some successes you have had with your business that make you proud?
All the immediate press in top editorial magazines (Instyle, Vanity Fair, Harper’s Bazaar, Manhattan Magazine/Modern Luxury). It also makes me proud when celebrities and influencers share Sunny with an A items on social media. Those are of course great for sales.
All the Instagram shout-outs from real customers are great, and as a result, our brand is very Instagram-focused. We generate 80% of our online sales through Instagram. It makes me really happy when people buy our clothes, take a picture of their child in it, and tag Sunny with an A. Most of our Instagram photos are real people in their houses in our pajamas.
It made me feel really good to know that I had created something that Moms liked. That was the whole point of the brand.
10. What are your biggest sources of inspiration?
Believe it or not, we take a lot of inspiration from interior design—browsing magazines, interior decorating magazines, and Pinterest. Seeing what people want on their walls and the types of fabrics they are using tells you a lot about what type of prints, textures, and colors people want to be surrounded with. I’ve started to figure out that what people want in their homes is closely related to what people want their kids to wear.
For girls, unicorns on everything is popular, so our Sunny with an A unicorn dresses sell all day long. For boys, I saw construction trucks on some kids’ bedding, and we were inspired to use vintage, hand-drawn construction trucks on our pajamas. The print became our best-seller!
11. What are your hopes for your business for the next five years?
Now, we are considering expanding info home & interiors with Sunny with an A printed wallpaper, fabrics, and towels. We won’t branch into children’s clothes because that market is saturated, and it’s hard to compete in for a small luxury brand.
But wallpaper with unicorns and stripes would be so fun. I think décor is where we are heading. I have this vision of a little girl in unicorn pajamas in her bed with unicorn wallpaper in the background and unicorn sheets. I would love that.
Date of conversation: February 6, 2019