Donna Roach always hoped that one day she might find a career in fashion.
The Tucson woman even remarked so in a newspaper article as she was poised to graduate from Purdue University in the 1960s. Now many years and two beautiful daughters later, this stylish woman with the kind eyes and loving demeanor has found that calling as a master consultant for The Carlisle Collection of New York. Though it’s a pricey line (prices range from $100 to $1,000) the luxe looks that Roach sells are impeccably made investment pieces that women throughout the region line up to buy during her four seasonal shows each year.
“People do dress up here,” she said. “The women who come here, they are women who love designer clothes.” The Carlisle lines employ the same mills used by Chanel and Prada, she says, utilizing luxurious fabrics that far outlast the blends so common today. “It is one of life’s unexpected pleasures that addresses every woman’s need to feel special,” she says. Roach recalls one of her most frugal customers who decided to invest in a gorgeous, pink Carlisle sweater. “She says, ‘I’ve worn it five times and every time I do, I get so many compliments. I stand taller and I feel so good about myself.”
It’s these moments that the stylist cherishes, as well as, the friendships she’s developed with her customers. Her fashion newsletter, Savvy Lady presents…, is stocked with outfit ideas and inspirational quotes for her customers when she’s not with them. And come show time, she rolls out the red carpet, turning her home into a chic boutique of complete outfits constructed with shoes and jewelry that Roach has procured from local vendors and artisans.
She even encourages women to come and look with no pressure to buy, knowing that they might be the best referrals for others. Yet, there’s no greater testament to her talent than this story: One of her eldest customers, who passed away recently at age 101, bought from Roach for several years. At her funeral, the bishop described the woman as the “fashion guru” of the church. Afterward, the woman’s son came up to Roach, extending his hand.
“So, you are the woman who dressed my mother.”
Beth Naughton knew her stylish, sun-wear company was taking off when she recently saw a woman wearing one of her shirts, two states away. “I was just in Denver and looked up to see a woman walking down the street in a red Uvida shirt…” said the co-owner and marketing director of Uvida UV-protective Sportswear. “When she told me how much she loved it, I couldn’t help but smile. That is my definition of success.”
Uvida has now branched well out of Tucson to reach spas, resorts and country clubs in California, Texas and Nevada; as well as, internationally, in Turkey, Dubai, Mexico and Canyon Ranch “Spa Club at Sea” cruise ships. “People are buying Uvida aboard ships that sale to Alaska, Europe and the Caribbean,” said the busy mom of two.
“It is more than a full-time job now,” she said. “I love what I am doing and still manage to keep up with my kiddos’ active lives. I just spend many late nights and weekends trying to keep up!” The brightly hued, stylishly cut sun shirts can still be found in retail boutiques across our desert city, including the University of Arizona bookstores, where they boast the distinctive “A.” Uvida has also launched a men’s line, which appears to be selling well, and its website (uvidasportswear.com) now offers a blog on sun protection and skin cancer from one of Naughton’s partners–Tucson skin cancer surgeon Dr. Michael Huether.
“We are working hard to stay true to our mission,” said Naughton. “Uvida UV-protective Sportswear offers people with active lifestyles protection from the sun’s damaging rays. I personally have been overwhelmed with the support I’ve received in the Tucson community. Friends and business associates have really helped me to grow our business and believe in our mission.”
Next stop – Oprah!
Shari Jenkins was buying fabric to create a western Christmas for her family many years ago when she saw a woman holding a boot purse. It was an A-ha! moment to be sure. “I decided that I could make those also!” says the creative force behind Custom Boot Purses in Tucson. “I loved the idea, being rather unique. Then, I made them for friends and so it went.”
Her beautifully crafted purses are now a fixture not only at Tanque Verde Guest Ranch, Arizona Inn, J Gilbert Footwear and Hacienda Del Sol Guest Ranch, but also weekend farmers’ markets and even the storied Portobello Road in London at “Jessie Western”—the shop buyers were rumored to have gone “gaga” over Jenkins’ cool, cowgirl bags.
The distinctive purses, which range from $95 to $250, are made from quality, vintage boots and fastened with a silver-tipped bolo strap and silver or gold concho details. “I find boots everywhere I travel, in thrift shops, online, antique malls and individuals sometimes give them to me,” says Jenkins. “Leather is a wonderful medium to work with, and very forgiving. I listen to my music and work away.”
A former swim instructor in Arizona and California, Jenkins has always enjoyed sewing and crafting. As a young girl, her mother had a shop making custom clothing, including mother-daughter outfits and communion dresses, and Jenkins loved working with the shop’s industrial power machine after school. After she was married and living in Malibu, she used to make custom fit bikinis and mini-dresses for a shop on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood.
“I love what I do because people are so taken with the idea and it has given me another way of having a hobby that has put me out into the community…,” she says. You can find out more about Jenkins’ purses at www.artofarizona.com.
Etsy shop owner Kelly Jean used to drop thousands of dollars on clothing at Banana Republic and Ann Taylor, until one day when the former L.A. high school teacher implored her class to try to live one year without buying anything new.
“I began to shop at thrift stores and estate sales and I had a blast doing it,” says Kelly, whose Etsy shop CowgirlintheSun is a treasure trove of vintage cowgirl duds that pack a serious, stylish punch. From turquoise jewelry to dingo cowhide ankle boots to the cutest leather vests, her shop extols the desert’s decidedly chic side.
“Tucson is a veritable smorgasbord of thrift, buy, sell and trade avenues,” says Kelly, who credits her practiced eye to a past life in retail, including a Fourth Avenue boutique. “I used to want to work for Dior and I spent lots of time working retail. I have been told I have ‘the eye’ and I’m proud of that.”
“My shop is filled with things I love, and many items that take my breath away…I love when something sells because I feel that the buyer has a similar love of the history and culture of this place…my home…the desert.”
When she is ultimately able to make Etsy her full-time job, Kelly hopes to blend her love of teaching and entrepreneurship by helping young people learn to thrift and open their own stores. “I envision teaching teens the value of recycle and reuse as an environmental necessity, and also a viable way to make a living.”
Tucson fashion designer Jaime Edwards could be the region’s rising star in couture. A past “Designer of the Year” named by Tucson Model Magazine, this former software analyst aims to perfect her love of luxurious fabrics and creative color mixes, as well as, her reimagining of the classic neckline to best frame the feminine silhouette.
“I love making couture because it highlights the individual and unique qualities that define the beauty of each woman,” says Edwards, whose namesake line JL Edwards was invited to appear in last year’s NYFW.
“What an exciting and overwhelming feeling to be on Fashion Avenue during that week,” she recalls. “Models, artists, designers and vendors moving quickly in several different directions…I was quite frightened, feeling I was out of my league, but the people, models, producers and other designers were very welcoming and encouraging.”
Edwards, who followed her longtime fashion dreams after a debilitating illness hit her head-on with life’s fragility, is hoping to expand into menswear and a creative collaboration with glassmaker Jonathan Russell. Eyeing a return to NY, she’s focused now on refining her details.
“Jonathan and I have a lot of future ideas and designs we want to use,” including a retake of the bustier. Her beautiful advice to women: “Talents lay quietly and dormant like seeds beneath the soil, feed them and they will blossom.”
Istanbul-born Burcak Tolan creates striking cuff bracelets, intricate jeweled necklaces and sculptural rings with only the finest gold and sterling silver metals that set off, like an artist’s palette, bold sapphires, citrines, topazes and diamonds.
Studying literature in Istanbul, Tolan first worked for a bank for six years before realizing her calling was far more creative. “I said, this is not for me, not what I want to do,” recalls the elegant jeweler who speaks three languages. “I was always into the arts: I paint, I photograph…and I was always designing jewelry for my family and friends.”
After living in France, Tolan and her family moved to the United States in 2013 and she now resides in Tucson. “My inspiration is nature,” she says. Hence, you will find many nuances of trees and flowers in her work, which ranges in price from $250 to $12,000. One particular jeweled cuff boasts several shades of sapphire that pop like glistening spring flowers.
Jeweled lock necklaces and stackable stone rings are also popular among her clients, which include many celebrities. Her custom work is found not only in Istanbul, but Canyon Ranch has nabbed Tolan’s line for its gift shop offerings.
Certified cosmetic chemist Christina Mercy Mahar is the incredible Tucson entrepreneur behind Sía Botanics, a skin care company that harvests the moisture-hoarding ingredients from our own Sonoran Desert for creams, cleansers and serums sold in Whole Foods Market and at www.siabotanics.com.
Working with an herbalist and making formulations for at least 20 years, Christina went on to earn her MBA in business management and launched Sía in 2012. “I love what I do,” says the blonde, radiant-skinned CEO. “It’s because I really believe in this line, it has the best of anything I can put into it.” Our desert is one of the harshest, most extreme environments on Earth, with our temperature swings and rain-starved climate. Hence, cacti, especially the prickly pear, have winning survival tactics to trap and keep moisture within and they know how to concentrate their nutrients in an efficient way.
Indeed, the prickly pear cactus contains the highest level of betalains of any plant—super antioxidants that help nourish skin cells and fight free radical damage, Mahar says. Jojoba, aloe and white sage also find supreme purpose in Sía products. Christina’s prime focus is on premium ingredients, constantly testing them to assure quality. “I’m picky,” she explains. “It has to be the ingredient that I want and sourced from where I want.” She also teaches classes with estheticians to increase that level of product understanding for their clients. “Part of my passion is education,” she says. “I hope to help them look at skin care differently, in terms of both beauty and health.”