Second Act

You might say art and design are in Bonnie Dudley’s DNA. Her father was an artist, and her enrollment at the University of Cincinnati’s College of Design, Architecture, Art and Planning—one of the nation’s most prestigious design schools—to study fashion design felt just like fate.

But fate had more in store for Bonnie. During her sophomore year at the University, she met Rick Dudley, who would later become her husband (and Lauren’s and Kaki’s dad!). Like many women at the time, the decision to follow her heart meant making a career plan B. “A fashion degree required a New York City co-op that would have kept us apart for six months. So I shifted gears and pursued a degree in education instead. I told my mother I’d return to fashion later, after I had kids, and she laughed.” Bonnie and Rick graduated, got married and moved to Connecticut, where Bonnie taught at the high school level and later earned a Master’s in Organizational Behavior.

But it turns out, Bonnie would eventually be proven right. Fast forward about 40 years, to a summer evening sail on the Long Island Sound. The ever-present breeze had Bonnie, Lauren and Kaki reaching for their sporty fleece layers, then shedding them when they reached their destination. “I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be nice if we had something warm to wear on the water that we’d also want to wear into a restaurant?’”

Dudley Stephens fleece Calyer cowl neckBonnie is wearing our Calyer Cowl Neck in White.

It seemed a question worth pursuing, and the next steps were right in Bonnie’s wheelhouse: She spent hours in a local pattern store, emerging with a prototype. “I had in my mind’s eye the style of Audrey Hepburn from the 1960s, that classic turtleneck silhouette made modern.” Together with her daughters, the trio sourced the high-body fleece needed to keep the Cobble Hill’s signature turtleneck standing up, found a factory and had a sample made. “Lauren put on the first sample, and the three of us just looked at each other. We all just thought, ‘We need this.’ And that’s how we knew we were onto something.”

Dudley Stephens fleece DS founders, Lauren wearing our Carroll St. Top in Black, Bonnie, and Kaki wearing our Brighton Boatneck in Island Coral.

Though Bonnie is quick to credit Lauren and Kaki with growing the brand from an affinity project—their initial manufacturing run produced just 100 turtlenecks—to a sustainable business, her keen eye is key to the design of new #dsgoods styles and the selection of new shades. “My training made me conscious of color—when you take a design-focused color class, you learn just how important the movement of color is, and what it does to your eye.”

Beyond the joy of working in tandem as a family, Bonnie says her Second Act has given her a bird’s-eye view of what it means to be a working woman in the 21st century. “It’s a different world—and it’s incredible to see the progress women have made and how we’re supporting each other to keep things evolving. And it’s so rewarding to be part of that by creating styles that transcend age and really work for everyone.”

Share your Second Act story—either your own or from someone you admire—and you could win $500 in #dsgoods and the chance to be featured on our site later this month! Send your story to by Friday, May 10th.  U.S. residents only please. Winner will agree to take photos in Dudley Stephens for a blog and Instagram post, which will go live on Tuesday, May 28th.