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JANE MARIE

By Nathan Coker
In Bayou Profile
Sep 1st, 2023
0 Comments
1146 Views

article by Meredith Mckinnie
photography by Kelly Moore Clark

Born and raised in Ruston, Janie Sutton and Jeff McGehee met as kids attending school and church together. Janie is a woman defined by plans, many conceptualized when she was only 8 years old. When she set her sights on marrying Jeff McGehee, her future husband had no idea what he was in for. Not only would the vivacious and confident hometown girl become his wife, but together they would launch a national lifestyle brand that marketed small town living on a large scale. 

The youngest of four children, Janie Sutton was no fashion icon. In fact, her friends frequently mocked her fashion choices. In their defense, 7th grade Janie dressed in Looney Tune T-shirts, Esprit shorts, and braided belts. Janie didn’t care about fashion trends or name brands. She wore what was comfortable, her confidence radiating from the inside. She knew who she was and what she wanted. Janie ran track and cross country and spent most of her extracurricular time at Trinity Methodist Church in Ruston. Though social and vibrant, no one would have predicted Janie would build a fashion company from scratch. Meanwhile, Jeff was one of 5 children and on Sundays, could be found at his grandmother’s house for lunch alongside 40-50 family members. Jeff’s father was a CPA and entrepreneur. Success was impressed upon Jeff at a young age. While Janie was idealizing Jeff, Jeff desired opening his own business. In 2nd grade, Jeff voiced wanting to own his own outdoor store. He wanted to accomplish something, to put his stamp on a contribution rather than simply working for someone else. 

When Jeff and Janie were 14, Jeff’s brother would come home saying how Janie Sutton kept asking about him. Freshman year, Jeff asked Janie to the Ruston High School Homecoming dance. Elated, Janie immediately composed a letter to Jeff. She detailed how and when the couple would marry, how many kids they would have and what their names would be, how they would continue to live in Ruston, and that she knew he was the person for her. Janie wrote the proposed wedding date on her school binder and on her school locker. Jeff was amused, but not quite sold. After a two-year gap of seeing other people, Janie posed the question: “Jeff, when are we gonna get married?” Jeff, per usual, hadn’t given it much thought, but he knew he liked Janie and they began dating. In 1993, Jeff had no idea how accurate Janie’s proposed wedding date of May 2003 would be. 

Jeff enrolled at LA Tech in 1999. Janie initially went to college out of state on a track scholarship, but missed home and transferred to Tech as well. Janie majored in secondary education and planned to become a history teacher at her alma mater, along with coaching track and cross country. Meanwhile, Jeff majored in forestry, led by his love of all things outdoors, though after reconsidering his dream of owning a business, he switched to Business Administration. While in his business classes, Jeff identified his need for a specific skill, something to accentuate his budding business acumen. He finally settled on Computer Information Systems. Outside of classes, Jeff participated in track and pole vaulting, eventually landing a scholarship. He stayed active in a fraternity and spent 3-4 hours a day at sports practice. Then right on time (as Janie predicted) the couple graduated from Tech in May of 2003, and the very next weekend, they got married. 

A few weeks before graduation, life threw the McGehees a curveball when Jeff didn’t get into law school. They had planned on moving to Baton Rouge and beginning a life there. Then, a family friend offered Jeff a job as a sales manager for children’s fashion jewelry. It required traveling to trade shows and depended upon commission sales. In a college marketing class, Jeff remembers the professor asking how many people would take a 100% commission job. Jeff put up his hand and quickly realized he was the only one in the room who would. Jeff didn’t hesitate accepting the friend’s offer, and since Janie always wanted more time with Jeff, she agreed to come along. Suddenly Janie and Jeff were together 24/7, often sitting long hours in a 10/10 booth at the trade shows. They traveled together on the road pulling the trailer of merchandise, ate every meal together, and slept side by side away from home. Being so young, customers often assumed Janie and Jeff were brother and sister and that the booth belonged to their parents. Janie got 100% of Jeff’s time and learned the business, namely their customer base. For the next 2.5 years, the newlyweds embraced life on the road and identified an opportunity to start their own company. 

In 2006, Janie and Jeff launched Running Wild. They traveled all over the country, still attending trade shows, selling fashion-forward jewelry items in bulk. The name came from Janie’s love of running. She picked up a pair of flip-flops, mimed running in the air, and suggested the moniker. The lifestyle kept the couple busy for the next five years, and when Janie was about to turn 30, she knew she better get started on having those four kids. Their first child Millie Marie was born in the midst of the Running Wild madness, and she molded right into life on the road. Janie would set Millie Marie’s carrier under the table at the booth; the infant was present at a trade show in Las Vegas at only six months old. She traveled the country with her parents, and while adapting a baby into any routine is difficult, this lifestyle was one the McGehee’s had come to understand. Two years later, Maddie Lu was born, and navigating two kids on the road proved more difficult. Janie started hanging back, building a traditional home life with the girls. By this time, the McGehees had launched a second company called Cheap Chic Jewelry. The merchandise sold itself, as jewelry is easy to carry after bulk purchases. Janie and Jeff invented the $5 gimmick – everything on the table sold for $5. The concept was new to the trade shows, and the McGehees could barely keep up with the demand. 

In 2014, and contrary to Janie’s wishes, the couple started Jane Marie, a lifestyle brand suited to the customers they discovered on the road. At the time, Janie was pregnant with the couple’s third child Jack. While they had customers nationwide, their largest customer base was concentrated in the southeastern U.S. Those small-town values inspired Janie to create religious and inspirational pieces, targeting women buyers from 35-45, much like herself. In 2013, Janie had created a necklace where the charms could be changed out; they gradually added more charm options, and the necklace was a hit at the trade shows. Jeff remembers telling Janie, “This has legs.” At the time, Janie only thought about all the little legs she was chasing at home and resisted Jeff’s idea to expand. But then an investor at a New Orleans trade show spotted the McGehee’s line and called Jeff about opening Jane Marie. The McGehees embraced the opportunity and Jane Marie, the company, was born. Jeff always wanted to build a brand the people would know and recognize, and he finally had a product aesthetic that people responded to. 

Now the McGehees design and manufacture all of Jane Marie merchandise. Alongside a design team of 5 people, they produce 6000 lifestyle products every year including: pajamas, T-shirts, bags, shoes, jewelry, and accessories. As the couple was in the trenches of parenting, they decided to introduce children’s merchandise. Inspired by her own interest, Janie designed for women like her in the same stage of life. Now Jane Marie features men’s products. The company focuses on adding new twists to conventional styles, centered on inspirational messages of family and tradition. Mostly, the brand promotes fun and positivity. Early on, Janie would stash pearls in the bathroom cabinets, finding any place to store her products during the design phases. The couple eventually purchased a warehouse in Dubach and then the Arcadia mall. Now Jane Marie has showrooms in Atlanta and Dallas. For the last 20 years, the McGehees have reaped the benefits of self-employment, just as Jeff desired all those years ago. And their family has expanded as well, just as Janie predicted in that letter written at 14. 

For the first 9 years of married life, Janie and Jeff solidified their bond, both personally and professionally. They found a routine that worked for them and adjusted when necessary. When Janie wanted to be home, she stayed back. And when the business could afford Jeff’s absence, he joined her in Ruston, returning to those familial roots that launched the whole enterprise. As a dad, Jeff is hands-on, intentional with his time, and full of energy. They play softball, baseball, ride bikes, and enjoy the outdoors. Janie is the glue that keeps the family together. Her relaxed, go-with-the-flow attitude allows her to balance a design team and a home team. The couple is dedicated to one another and the growth of their family. Janie appreciates Jeff’s patience and presence in their busy life. Though with the business the couple could live anywhere, they still live in Ruston, just as Janie predicted. 

The four McGehee children are well-rounded, displaying their own unique personalities that complement the family dynamic. Millie Marie, the oldest, is engaged in the arts and possesses a passion for writing stories. She’s the observer who sits back and lets others lead. Maddy Lu is athletic and has a passion for gymnastics. She alternates between a playful and intense nature. Jack, like his father, lives outdoors. He loves cross country, baseball, and fact-finding missions. He loves collecting information, alongside hunting and fishing. And finally, Mollie Jean, whom everyone knows as Butter, is feisty and opinionated in the best way. She’s into sports and gymnastics. Her name evolved from Mollie Jean, to Butter Bean, and finally just Butter. All four children are accomplished pianists, a practice Janie encouraged for its promotion of discipline. 

In the future, Jeff hopes to grow the business, to firmly establish a legacy. What the last 20 years have taught the McGehees, apart from how to grow a business, is the importance of investing in people. They now work with 25 individuals and are responsible for their livelihoods. It’s a big responsibility and one they don’t take lightly. Janie and Jeff model the possibility of merging a professional and personal life. It takes commitment, it takes dedication, and it takes love. It means working as a team, and notably, having a lot of fun along the way. These two individuals devoted themselves to making a full life, and they love growing it every day.