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.”
It’s with beautiful irony that fashion designer Laura Tanzer opened her atelier in the historic depot of downtown Tucson. For the creations of this Parsons- and Fashion Institute of Technology-grad are definitively modern and forward. Yet, perhaps they do share one trait with the old train station—sustainability. “I really try to walk the talk,” says the elegant, flame-haired designer, who also holds a master’s degree in international finance and completed her dissertation at the UA’s School of Renewable Resources. “I look for natural fabrics and fibers and work with companies that don’t add toxins to their fabrics.”
Tanzer’s aesthetic is refined and architectural for the 35+ woman who values quality construction and perfect fit. A pair of luxuriously striped pants come in high and low-waisted versions. A white sculptural jacket covers as a chic, statement piece. A dress hem reaches to a distinct, flattering angle for older women. Her silk scarves, digitally printed with her colorful artwork, finish her chic, comfortable look. Inspired by her fashionable, doting grandmother as a girl, Tanzer went from sewing clothes for her Barbie dolls to attending New York’s most exclusive fashion schools and ultimately working for various designers on Seventh Avenue. Yet, in her own time, she was always freelancing, designing her own handbags, shoes and even furs. Now, in Tucson, Tanzer is building her signature design business in the desert.
She was just chosen for Phoenix Fashion Week’s Emerging Designer Boot Camp, where she will launch her Spring collection in October. She also plans to team with the UA Museum of Art for a Nov. 5 fundraiser at the museum. Sustainability will always be the soul of her business. Nothing is wasted at her atelier. “We save all scraps,” she says. Some go to her cousin who designs handbags. Others go to schools for art projects. She even sends pieces to Pima Community College’s Fashion Design Program. “We are careful about recycling anything and everything we can.” To that end, Tanzer also hosts a sustainability series on the fourth Wednesday of each month, which has lured as many as 40 guests each occasion to enjoy food, drink and valuable dialogue about guarding our natural resources. “We really get a good discussion going.”
After a stressful day, Jara Scileppi loved to pick up a bouquet of flowers on her way home from work in her native New York City. “I lived above a store that had flowers and it was just such a way to de-stress,” recalls the UA journalism graduate and former ballerina. Though she didn’t know it then, the now Tucson-based beauty had tapped into a creative passion that would eventually fuel the innovative floral design company she launched three years ago, Urban Stems.
“When I moved here, I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to do…but then I was helping friends with flowers for their weddings and a few parties and my friends were asking me, ‘Why are you not doing this?’” Now, with a growing online presence, Scileppi is finding her stride, working with regional wedding planners to add a modern sensibility to formal affairs. Her designs showcase not only lavish florals, but also bold pairings with succulents for a subtle desert nuance.
“I always want to do bigger and bigger weddings,” says the stylish new mom. “I really love working with brides!” To that end, Scileppi provides an artistic vision board with every proposal, offering up her inspiration for the event whether it’s from a piece of fabric, a fashionable image or an inventive design. “I like to offer a full vision of everything you are going to get and a sense of what the actual event might look like,” she says.
It’s a nod to her journalistic roots that she is constantly researching new floral trends and flower types. And though she’s a sucker for the lush, feminine peony, she always has the perfect backup flower at the ready. “I just want to do the best work I can.”
In this social media world, where being “seen” on a daily (hourly!) basis is crucial, missteps are frighteningly easy. When it comes to modeling, those stakes can be even higher. No one knows this more than Melissa Jump and Wendy Buono, who have been guiding young models for years through their Tucson-based agency, Arizona Model Management.
There are so many ways someone can be taken advantage of or steered in the wrong direction that can cost a career in modeling,” says Jump, a mom and former teacher who dabbled in modeling herself in high school. “These days with social media and instant gratification, it is so easy to put the wrong marketing/images out there for the world to see. That can end a career before it begins.” Jump, along with co-owner and UA fashion and marketing graduate Wendy Buono, founded Arizona Model Management 15 years ago and this beautiful duo prides themselves on serving an exclusive number of models–40 at any given time– whom they can truly mentor.
Why did you start this agency? I love working with teens/young adults and I enjoy the fashion industry. I realized there was a need for new models starting in this business to have guidance. We like to take the scariness out of the fashion industry and help models, with a potential to model in markets all over the world, a chance to succeed.
What is your vision for the company? We are a very exclusive agency. We only want to work with models we completely believe in and feel can make modeling a career. My business partner and I want to continue seeing our girls be the best they can be and enjoy every runway show they walk, every campaign they shoot, every TV commercial they are in and every magazine they grace. We mainly represent girls 12- early 20s who are 5’9” and taller and boys 15-late 20s, who are 6’-6’2″.
Do your models only do in-state work or national/international? We focus on national/ international placement for our models. Our local market is limited, so we use it as a stepping stone to gain confidence and skills to further their careers worldwide.
What do you love about your business? I love the connections I have with my models and their families. We become one big happy family. I feel such a sense of accomplishment when our models become successful models. Each success they feel, we feel just as much!