Three pictures line the wall at the recently opened downtown Jefferson City boys clothing store, mamasboy.
The happy faces of the three young boys displayed — 10-year-old Chase, 7-year-old Jake and 6-year-old Finnegan — belong to the sons of the shop’s owner, Tanya Lankford. They inspired her to start a quality, pre-purchased clothing boutique that caters to boys like them.
Her successful entrepreneurial vision has filled a needed youth style niche in the area, allowed her to contribute a portion of every dollar sold to the United Way and connected her with many families in a safe, fun shopping environment. However, Lankford’s business wasn’t complete until she was able to hang one more important piece of decor at mamasboy: a sign that reads “momtrepreneurs.”
The space under this sign highlights fellow mothers’ original products designed for young children and moms. Together in mutual support, Lankford and her momtrepreneurs are showing all area women that they can make their business dream a reality.
“I just wanted to have a place that I was proud of and from my heart,” Lankford said. “In my mind’s eye, this is exactly what I always pictured. For it to actually come to fruition is pretty cool.”
REALIZING A DREAM
While growing up in New York City, Lankford frequented small niche boutiques scattered across the east end. Boutique shopping was also available in south Florida where Lankford worked for nonprofit organizations like the American Red Cross in Miami and the YMCA’s foster care division.
After marrying a registered nurse, Brad, she soon became a full-time mom to her three sons and realized the lack of available, quality clothing for young boys.
“Wherever you go, it is three-quarter girls and a quarter boys clothing. My boys are special to me, and I always want to make sure that they look their best,” she said. “I care about the way they look and I care about their clothes.”
After the family moved back to Brad’s hometown of Jefferson City, Lankford found quality play clothes for her boys at department stores and clothing chains. Yet, she said nicer clothes were often more expensive and shopping online sometimes left her in a pinch if the clothes didn’t fit properly.
“If you have a wedding, a confirmation or special occasion, there are few places to outfit boys in nice, affordable clothes,” she said.
With those struggles in mind, she wanted to create a business that catered to boys and mothers, helped the environment and was philanthropic in nature. Last fall, Lankford began turning her 10-year-old idea into a real business. After finding a perfect downtown High Street location and spending more than three months cleverly designing the space with Brad’s handy work to meet her complete vision, Lankford opened mamasboy March 17.
The clothing became the initial draw, with play, seasonal and special occasion ware for boys up to 16 conveniently displayed in the store’s front space. Nike and Under Armour garments are most popular, but Lankford also carries quality clothing, suits and more with labels bearing Nordstrom, Saks Fifth Avenue, GAP, J. Crew, Brooks Brothers and notable designers from around the globe. The clothing is pre-purchased or recycled, with many items Lankford receives to resell having their original tags.
“Mothers come in and buy a pair of jeans that in a different store are $28 or $30. I sell them for $12 or $15 and they are almost brand new,” she said. “The brands that I carry are made very well; they will last you longer.”
While the clothing is a draw, the environment and Lankford’s special touches for fellow parents’ shopping experiences create return customers. Outside a fitting room with a custom-made, properly scaled height chart, the bathroom wall is lined with comic book covers and that area includes a changing station stocked with free plant-based and hypoallergenic diapers, wipes and other baby products. The “Little Man Cave” in the back of mamasboy is a safe haven for the kids and has chairs, movies, toys, a chalkboard and stocked fridge with water and juice.
“When you have small kids, having five minutes to shop is important. The boys come back here and the moms are like, ‘This is amazing.’ It gives them that peace of mind. The boys are having fun in a safe environment where they are,” she said.
FROM ONE MOMTREPRENEUR TO ANOTHER
Outside of chatting with shoppers about parenthood over tea or coffee at mamasboy, Lankford still wanted to empower fellow moms to fulfill their dreams.
“A lot of times, as women, we forget who we are. We are someone’s wife or someone’s mom. We are the daughter or the caretaker. … I want to do something to make women feel proud of themselves. But how am I going to do that with a clothing store?” she said. “I started thinking, how cool would it be if I give moms … who like to sew, like to knit or make bowties for their nephews a place to showcase what they do. To let them know … you are still valid, you are still important, what you do matters. … You have a gift to share with others.”
Lankford began finding those moms through connections, encouraging them to become a momtrepreneur. Now, three Jefferson City women have become mainstay “momtrepreneurs,” showcasing their original, unique items at mamasboy.
Abby Struemph, a full-time mom to two young boys, was the first person Lankford contacted. Struemph was a fellow parent at her sons’ school, but Lankford didn’t realize she made hooded towels for kids through her business, LoveBug Design, until seeing a little girl wearing one at the local pool and talking with the girl’s mother.
“When my first son was born, we, of course, received a few infant hooded towels as gifts, and while they were great in the beginning, we quickly outgrew them. My aunt made him some hooded towels as a gift, and we loved them so much that she taught me how to make them myself,” Struemph said. “Initially, I just made them for my kids, but soon gave them as gifts for baby showers, as well. The more exposure they got, the more people would encourage me to offer the towels for sale.”
In 2014, she opened her Etsy store and has primarily sold online or at local craft sales. Lankford then asked her to be a momtrepreneur and sell some at mamasboy.
“I’ve focused on fun colors and themes that kids of all ages love. I feel that there is definitely a market for these hooded towels because babies outgrow the standard hooded towels so quickly, but parents and kids love the design of a hooded towel,” she said, with Lankford buying one for each of her sons and two for her friend’s children.
Lankford also loved another item, a water bottle with a vinyl hydration tracker, the mother of her son’s friend made. That item became a social media hit and led Southern Boone Elementary fourth grade teacher Christina Brauner, who has 7-year-old Hunter and expecting another child this month, to create Vinyl Variations.
“I bought myself a Silhouette Cameo as a Christmas present. I always saw all of these cute vinyl projects on Etsy and Pinterest and knew I could make them myself instead,” she said. “I started out with a water bottle that had a hydration tracker on it. I shared a picture on Facebook, and it took off from there. I had so many people wanting to order them that I decided to make it into a business. A lot of my business is now based off custom designs that the consumer brings to me and I create.”
In mamasboys’ momtrepreneur area, shoppers can find Brauner’s hydration tracker water bottles, as well as tumblers, wine glasses, coffee mugs and more that boast adorable sayings like “My Mom is the (bomb symbol),” “Mama Bear” and “Mom’s off duty, go ask Dad.”
“I have known Tanya and been good friends with her since before her shop even opened. I remember talking with her about the store and her vision for it as our boys played soccer together,” said Brauner, who also started making monogram earrings. “She invited me to be one of the vendors featured, and I am forever grateful. Tanya is a great business owner and friend, and always goes extra lengths to make sure she supports the local community.”
Patrons also utilize personalized embroidered services from momtrepreneur Stephanie Osborn, owner and founder of The Little Blue House. The single mother of two daughters started the business as a creative hobby with basic intentions of designing a few items upon request and selling pre-owned items to fill financial gaps. Six months after purchasing her first embroidery machine in 2015 to make gifts for family and friends and monogram clothing for herself and her girls, she expanded her sewing and embroidery services of names and initials to include wedding handkerchiefs and numerous other products, such as Stitched Blessings for Broken Hearts (handkerchiefs for families that lose a loved one), Memory Pillows, Noggin Nesters (12-by-16 inch pillows with custom pillow covers) and, through the encouragement of Lankford, Little Bro Ties.
“She has so many different kinds of Little Bro Ties, like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Batman, trains, pizza, St. Louis Cardinals,” she said. “She also just introduced these awesome travel pillows. … I know for the moms, (the momtrepreneur program) has given them a boost of confidence, which has helped them believe in themselves more and start making more things and expanding.”
KINDNESS LEADS TO GREATER GOOD
The momtrepreneurs have seen how Lankford’s generosity and encouragement in promoting their creations has helped grow their businesses.
“The feedback has been outstanding. The opportunity that I have with the momtrepreneur program at mamasboy has increased my creative process and income, as well as offering a product that is exclusive to this area,” Osborn said. “I have also increased Tanya’s creative process and customer base, too. The opportunity to help someone grow their business and follow through on their goals is important to me. I get to be a small part of that.”
Lankford has found when you start extending kindness and not expecting anything in return, blessings of all kinds come back to you.
“This store already has given me so much. I have met amazing women, met great moms and met beautiful children,” she said. “I have been embraced by the community here. … I have been really blessed and am extremely happy.”
Stop by mamasboy at 205 E. High St., call 573-616-1326 or visit them on Facebook or MamasboyJC.com for more information.