Going from a dream life to living your dream can be harder than it sounds.
But it’s a little easier if you do it with authenticity, integrity and passion. And if you wear your heart on your sleeve.
That’s what Lauren Raja has discovered over the past two years. Today, she’s a fashion designer. Working under the name Justin Jean Pajamas, she’s about to launch her first line of high-end, polka-dotted nightdresses and pajamas for women and young girls.
They became available for preorder on Oct. 1, nearly two years to the day since Raja’s life changed forever.
Two years ago this month, she had recently taken a teaching job in the Council Rock School District, much closer to her New Hope home than the Delaware County school where she previously worked.
Her husband, Justin, had just gotten a promotion, and they were planning to buy their first house.
“Things were really coming together for us,” Raja recalled. “I had a dream life, basically.”
Everything changed that month, however, when the happy couple traveled to Europe for a family wedding.
After a fun, relaxing plane ride with the entire bridal party on the way to Greece, Justin died suddenly a few days later during a scuba diving excursion. Raja returned home, next to an empty seat, a few days later.
The loss took its toll on Raja, who’s now 34. It took six months just to start living again, she says, and even then it wasn’t much.
A special education math teacher who was all but a minor celebrity with her husband and dog in New Hope, she resigned from her job rather try to “phone it in” as a teacher, and for a while barely left her apartment.
“Slowly, I started saying, ‘OK, enough. You need to make some changes,’” she said.
So she bought a big whiteboard and started writing out tasks — simple things like walking the dog, anything to get her mind moving again.
Soon, those small tasks turned to new ideas, then sketches and a name, It all coalesced into the clothing line that would kick off the next phase of her life, and honor some of the people who helped her get this far.
The result is the premier line of Justin Jean Pajamas. It’s named after both Raja’s husband and seamstress grandmother, “Mama” Jean, who raised her.
“There are a lot of days where I hear my husband’s voice encouraging me, and my grandmother was always my biggest cheerleader,” said Raja. “She had it rough and she led by example. That helped me pull through.”
Those influences made their way into each set’s design: the pants have three ornamental ruffles on the back. They’re made to represent authenticity, integrity and passion — traits she said her husband and grandmother possessed, and ones by which every woman should live.
The brand and logo are a combination of their names and signatures, and the heart on each sleeve reminds people to wear their own in the same place. The polka dot motif is a nod to Justin, who always wore socks sporting those patterns with his work suits.
“When people put on these pajamas, I want them to have an experience, not just an article of clothing,” explained Raja. “They tell a story.”
The story, for Raja, now has a new chapter. It was difficult to regroup after her husband’s passing, she says. But getting through it has given her a new perspective on life.
Now, she says, “I’m living my dream.”
As much as Raja loved teaching, and as much of a regimented, by-the-books person she used to be, much of that has changed.
“I don’t want to say I’m fearless, but it’s really opened my eyes to what’s important,” said Raja. “You have to be passionate about what you do.”
Justin Jean Pajamas is hosting a launch party at Hotel du Village, 2535 River Road in New Hope, on Nov. 18. For information or to browse online, visit justinjeanpjs.com.