Marcia Arnsparger Santiago and Keith Garland are busy most days traveling back and forth between Santiago’s Barnegat home and Garland’s Atlantic City apartment, usually transporting different outfits for fitting or sewing.
Santiago is the founder of Kloset Slayer, a South Jersey-based clothing company that is growing in popularity both because of its clothes and the models who wear them.
The group was featured in New York Fashion Week in September as well as Atlantic City Fashion Week. Due to that exposure, more stylists are asking Santiago about her clothing. It’s something Santiago has been doing for a long time.
“I was always making people’s clothes and designing for them, and that basically turned into me saying, ‘let’s turn this into a business venture’,” Santiago said.
And business seems to be booming for the crew. Since September’s fashion week in New York, the company has seen a 34 percent increase in sales, including custom-made designs for clients.
“It’s a lot,” said Garland, who works as Santiago’s assistant and jack-of-all-trades. “I think it’s still kind of hitting us with people showing a lot of interest.”
Garland said the company is moving production up to Barnegat at Santiago’s house and speaking to a distributor to move clothes faster. Their hope is to either open a pop-up shop or expand its catalog for online.
The company is now prepping for the Taste of the Runway fashion show in Philadelphia on Dec. 2 as well as another February show in New York. And while the company is selling and making more clothes, it’s also getting attention for its cover girl, Seng Bethea.
Bethea is a transgender model from Atlantic City. She has been featured in countless photo shoots for the company. Her sister Rayuana Aleyce was the season 12 winner for “Project Runway.”
Soon after starting the company, Santiago asked Bethea to be the brand ambassador and cover girl, saying she was a perfect fit for her clothes.
“She’s a gorgeous model, but her personality is also really good for our brand. Some don’t have the spunk on the runway, but with her, you can literally see it,” Santiago said.
Santiago said she hasn’t seen any other clothing lines in South Jersey with a transgender cover girl.
“I don’t see it anywhere. (Clothing lines) will have gay men but never a transgender model,” Santiago said.
Bethea said her title as cover girl helps others who are transitioning to a new gender.
“It’s nice for the LGBT community to move to the mainstream. I think it’s becoming more popular on television,” said Bethea, of Atlantic City.
Bethea is onto something. Transgender model Amiyah Scott has 1.1 million followers on Instagram and has a role on Fox’s “Star”; Laverne Cox has found success through “Orange Is the New Black” on Netflix; and, for the first time in its 64-year history, Playboy will feature a transgender woman as its November Playmate of the Month.
Garland said Bethea is a sign the times are changing in the fashion industry.
“It’s inspiring for us to be able to set a tone for the next generation that’s coming to tell them that there are no boundaries. Fashions should be how you feel. It’s a statement,” Garland said.