Suggested headline: Designer’s clothing for kids wrapped in success
Photos: in edit file
Photo credit: Leo Wesson (1) and Leo Wesson and Whitney Bennett (2), courtesy for Jay Bird
Paul Stoneham never runs out of great ideas or efforts to find answers to difficult problems.
“I’m kind of an inventor,” he said. “I like to figure out solutions to existing problems or improve existing problems or existing products. For lack of a better word I’m kind of a tinkerer, a mad scientist. I love coming up with ideas for things.”
That’s why friends and his sister with triplets turned to him for help with their dilemma. Their toddlers were wriggling out of their pajamas – and worse, their diapers – at night. It was a nightmare. Parents were waking up to kids naked as jaybirds, their jammies and messy diapers flung across the room.
“I’m not married, don’t have children, so it was news to me,” Stoneham, 45, said. “I think it might be mom’s dirty little secret. It’s something you don’t necessarily talk about. It was enough for me to spend eight years of research and development to just try to find a solution to the problem.”
His two years of market research revealed few options. Some doctors back then were recommending that kids be wrapped in duct tape to keep their sleepwear on. Stoneham knew there had to be a better way so he developed a line of sleepwear and clothing for children called EscapeeJays. Using his 401k and some start-up funding from angel investors, Stoneham launched Fort Worth-based EscapeeJays Sleepwear on New Year’s Day 2010. He believes the product is the perfect solution for those little escape-artist kids.
Looking and fitting like traditional pj’s, EscapeeJays are comfy, cozy pajamas that zip up the back and have a specially designed snap that make them both escape-proof and diaper access-proof. The patented design prevents toddlers from pulling their arms through the sleeves. The pj’s are sold exclusively online (http://escapeejays.com) for $25.95 and are available in sizes 2-4. EscapeeJays ships to all 50 states and around the world.
“The biggest thing is that it keeps their clothes on and the fact that they can’t access their diaper is a bonus,” Stoneham said. “If you want to make sure they stay clothed all night, this is the solution. To me, it was a logical solution. Parents are looking for any kind of solution and we have one that’s clever and cute and it works.”
Zip back and relax
Today, Stoneham runs a successful, growing online enterprise, one he never dreamed he would start with a new product he would create.
Growing up in Waco, Stoneham became a distance runner in high school. He went on to the University of Texas at Austin on a scholarship and finished his degree in exercise physiology at Adams State College (now Adams State University) in Alamosa, Colorado.
For the next decade or so he ran professionally for several athletic shoe sponsors, including Fila Inc., Mizuno Corp. and adidas Group, as well as Proof Advertising in Austin. He later became a corporate fitness administrator at Alcon in Fort Worth.
“I was a running vagabond,” he said. “I stopped running in 2008 and didn’t know what I was going to do. I just tried to figure out what was next. I think most of us have that time in our lives where we say, ‘OK. Now what?’ My time came later because I was pursuing this other goal.”
When he started researching and developing EscapeeJays, Stoneham said, he had no expectations for his business.
“I was a jock in college. I have zero background in business and zero background in toddlers. I used to be a toddler is my only experience with that age group,” he said.
Part of the challenge in starting and building a business, Stoneham says, was learning how to take an idea to the marketplace. He had to study about branding, logos (the company’s logo is a cartoon character named Jay Bird), marketing, intellectual property, trademarks, patents and copyrights, and then he had to find sourcing, manufacturers and a fulfillment team.
“I had to find how to reach the public,” Stoneham said. “By creating a completely new product that solves an unmet need in the marketplace, one of the things you have to overcome is how people find out about you. Just through media and social media and word of mouth we’ve managed to continue to sell and to continue to let people know who have this problem in their life that there’s a solution to it.”
Sales of EscapeeJays are trending up, according to Stoneham, who expects to see a 20-30 percent increase this year, making 2016 the company’s best year since its inception almost seven years ago.
Brand and product awareness is the focus for 2017. Growth strategy will involve the debut of new products for children including bath towels, bedding, bumpers and toys, all sporting the Jay Bird character. Within the next few months, the company will introduce a piece of fitness equipment targeting older kids and adults. Stoneham is obtaining a patent for that equipment.
“We have the ability to grow in a lot of different directions. I didn’t want this to be a one-product thing. As we grow I want to continue to grow aspects of it,” said Stoneham, who is optimistic about building his company’s future thanks to a “very motivated customer base.”
“There are 10,000 babies born every day in the United States alone. Every day you wake up there’s a new customer. Our marketplace is gigantic and growing,” he said.