Ashton James remembers standing on the front porch of his boyhood home with his cousin, Dan, as the only models for his mother’s new clothing company, Kelly’s Kids.
The boys were paid a dollar an outfit — because they also had to try on the girls’ outfits, too.
Today, the 32-year-old James serves as chief executive officer of the 28-year-old children’s clothing company his mother, Lynn James, started in the family’s farmhouse in Waterproof, La.
“A lot of people say they started a company because they have a great idea or for some other reason, but my mom has always said she did it because she needed some income,” James said.
Lynn James began drawing appliques for girls’ jumpers and boys’ jon-jons in a bathroom she converted to a sewing room. Her New Orleans friends showed off the appliques at Junior League meetings, and before long, James hired seamstresses to keep up with orders.
The company was named for Ashton James’ younger sister, Kelly, who lives in New York. Two other siblings are attending college.
Today, Ashton James said the company remains very close to its original concept, and Lynn James remains involved in operations.
“We produce classic clothing that can be mixed, matched and coordinated across the family,” he said. “We’ve branched out into accessories, and we have patchwork and seersucker fabrics, but the core of our product hasn’t changed — I think that’s what’s contributed to our success.”
Kelly’s Kids products are sold by representatives who host in-home parties and through the Internet and catalog. Its sole retail store is an outlet in Natchez where the company now is headquartered.
James said direct sales have enabled the company to garner goodwill and loyalty among its customer base.
“We try to build on that year after year, but I always say if you don’t have a good product, none of that stuff has any real value.”
James said watching Kelly’s Kids grow from his mother’s tiny sewing room to a company that has clients in nearly every state has been remarkable.
“My mom needed it to be a success — for us and for the community… And I remember where it started,” James said. “Having success from such humble beginnings, from such a small place, just shows you can start from anywhere. It’s a great story.”