When she was a child, every day was like a fashion show for Lacey Wheatley. She'd switch outfits as much as five times a day to get the right look.
"I was just playing with clothes and having fun with it," she said.
Nothing much has changed, so to speak, except Wheatley's now making the clothes.
The 26-year-old Annapolis resident unveiled her largest collection to date at a runway show last month. The event was held at SOTA (Studio of the Arts), where she's one of the resident artists.
"There's so much value in all the arts," said Wheatley, whose husband, Winship, is a musician and also a resident artist at SOTA. "People write off fashion, but you can create beauty and speak to the culture with any medium."
Wheatley's clothing, which carries the Kalivoda label (her maiden name), features soft, feminine designs and is available online. Prices range from $100 to $250. She's also looking to expand her reach into boutiques.
Her recent collection included 22 pieces, among them one-of-a-kind looks, along with a host of dresses based on a sleeveless silhouette. Wheatley altered the basic form by adding details such as elaborate braiding, ties at the waist, or playing with hemlines. She used a combination of eco-friendly fabrics, recycled vintage fabric and French fabric.
"I'm a girl who likes surfing, snowboarding and skateboarding, and is also feminine," said Wheatley, whose been developing her line for the past couple years.
She'd like her clothing to speak to active women like herself who strive for wearability while remaining stylish. For the record, Wheatley's skateboarded in a dress.
"There's a lot of people who want that interesting handmade piece," she said.
And there's more than one young local designer willing to produce the clothing.
Another 26-year-old Annapolis resident, Patrice Gentile, also introduced her fashion line last month, showing 15 pieces. Gentile, whose clothing is under the name aliceanna (for her two grandmothers), unveiled her looks at Metropolitan Kitchen & Lounge.
Gentile's dresses, tops, shorts and pants are an updated twist on vintage clothing in a variety of fabrics. One rust-colored dress was made of upholstery material.
"Patrice's (clothes) are strong and sassy," said Brianne Leith, manager of Vivo! in Annapolis. "It's for the woman who wants to stand out, be stylish and have interesting clothes that still have a classic theme."
Wheatley and Gentile have no illusions about the fashion business.
They know how hard it is to break into the field, which is why they've been putting in megahours readying their collections and developing marketing strategies. But they're optimistic about their chances.
"There's a lot more opportunity than most people realize," Wheatley said.
Both designers have a lot in common beyond their age and where they live. They have fashion degrees - Wheatley attended a two-year program and Gentile four - and draw inspiration from their female relatives.
The designers also have a retail connection through Vivo! Wheatley was managing the store when Gentile took some of her clothes there to see about carrying them.
"As this process has gone on, it's been building my confidence," said Gentile, who used to be apprehensive about showing her clothes. "It's stressful sometimes, but the whole process is exciting. The thing that puts a smile on my face is when a girl or a model puts on my clothing and gets a smile on her face."
That was certainly the case the day before her show, as two models came by her home to try on dresses. Both loved the clothes so much they wanted to buy them. Gentile's dresses are $200 to $300, separates start at $75.
"They're a mix of old-style reworked into modern fashion," said Josie Herbst, 19.
"I think they're awesome," said Jess Cordle, also 19. "I'm very impressed."
Gentile has spent upwards of 50-to-60 hours creating a single look, first choosing the right fabric, then making a pattern and finally cutting and sewing the finished product meticulously.
Wheatley's invested as much time on a single piece, though she generally tackles design tasks for multiple outfits at once for efficiency.
Her productivity should further increase with the purchase of two additional sewing machines. Wheatley got them at heavily discounted prices from Ahni Sallaway, a St. Margarets resident who spent 25 years carving out a million-dollar fashion empire.
Sallaway is selling her equipment, fabric and remaining clothes and to pursue her first love, art, full-time.
If both Wheatley and Gentile continue to work hard, keep on top of trends and stay creative, Sallaway said there's no reason they can't mirror her success in fashion.
"You want to be on the forefront of what's going on, you can't just follow," she said. "You have to interpret what's happening and imagine something new."
Sallaway said fashion was a demanding career, but also very satisfying. "I certainly made a nice little business here," she said.