On average, Florida enjoys 237 sunny days a year. For Paige Hunter, all of her days are “Sonny.”
That’s because Hunter is the owner of Sonny James, a local lifestyle clothing brand that focuses on trendy, fun and comfortable tops, dresses and bubbles for the tiniest clientele — little girls.
Hunter didn’t begin Sonny James, however. That honor goes to Emerald Coast photographer Marla Carter, who launched the clothing line about four years ago. Carter, who did everything from creating the designs to fulfilling orders, was preparing to sell the company to someone else when a chance encounter changed everything.
“I was working at Urban Grace Interiors and she (Carter) was at the office one day and we were casually talking and I was like, ‘Man, I would love to have a line like Sonny James,’” said Hunter, who went to school for fashion retail. “I love her line. I’d bought my daughter several of these dresses and she wore them every single day, slept in them even.
“So, about two years pass, the pandemic hits, I get laid off and I get a message from Marla out of the blue that said, ‘Hey, I remember you once said you would love to own Sonny James and I wanted to know if that was presented to you, would you still be interested?’ Total God thing,” she continued. “That was the same week I was laid off and it was just meant to be.”
Sonny James appealed to Hunter because not only was it a local company, but the clothing, as she described it, was just easy. Additionally, the prints, all designed by Carter herself, were original and unique and, best of all, affordable.
“I literally could just throw my daughter in one of these sundresses and she was obsessed with them,” Hunter said. “Anything, as a parent, that your child is in love with and will wear without fighting with you, it becomes your favorite thing in their closet, too.”
Hunter and Carter began spending more time together to help Hunter learn about the brand and the ins and outs of textiles and design. Together, they designed the Spring 2021 line for Sonny James, staying true to the “small batch” ideals and both creative and comfortable styles for girls. Hunter said she would eventually like to expand into clothing for boys as well.
The new line, Hunter said, is “very sweet,” focusing on soft colors, florals and different types of prints not frequently found in Southern clothing lines, in designs for dresses, bubbles and bloomers, blouses, knit leggings and tees. The fact that the business is run by Hunter, a stay-at-home mom to daughter, Sloane, and son, Crosby, is something she thinks a lot of parents can relate to.
“My kids are home with me while I’m doing this. I have all the clothing upstairs. I literally took their playroom and filled it with inventory,” said Hunter, whose husband, Blake, is also an entrepreneur. “It’s crazy, but there’s this beauty in growing a small business. So, I’ll have them both upstairs with me and my son is ripping up tissue paper and I’m like, ‘As long as I can get through wrapping this gift up, I don’t care what you destroy in the meantime. Just don’t let it be the clothes.”
Hunter said she loves embracing the creative side of her new job. New patterns and color schemes are already in the works for the Fall line, drawing on inspiration from something as simple as a walk through Alys Beach, the coastal colors of Walton County or a curated Instagram feed of women that Hunter described as “rockstar moms.”
“I don’t want this to be just a Southern brand, but I want it to represent where we live because it’s such an amazing place,” she said. “I want it to look like a brand from Walton County, Florida.”
In her free time, Hunter enjoys regular beach days, running and being creative in the kitchen. After a few trying personal years for the family, Hunter said navigating two small businesses is all fun in the sun.
“When you go through the bitter parts of life, it just makes the sweet that much sweeter,” she said.
For more details, visit shopsonnyjames.com.