BARNEGAT – As a tomboy growing up in the Pennsylvania mountains, Barnegat resident Marcia Arnsparger Santiago didn’t pay much attention to clothing styles. Even her mother now marvels at the fact that Santiago’s designs earned her a repeat spot on the runway at NY Fashion Week.
“When I go home to visit, I’m riding four-wheelers, and all of the stuff I do now is out the window,” said Santiago, 42. “My mom reminds me of what I was like when I was a kid and tells me she never expected me to be where I am today.”
Although she’s still a spitfire of a different sort, Santiago’s transition from a tomboy to a notorious designer was not immediate. Instead, she took classes to become a surgical technician and moved to New Jersey when she was 19.
Santiago’s position at a hospital in Pomona lasted nearly a decade. She and her husband, Jamaal Jackson, moved to Barnegat in 2013. Then, in 2014, Santiago went on maternity leave. The new mother hesitated to go back to her hospital job, as she found she had a hard time keeping on her feet for ten hours.
A friend’s granddaughter was in the Miss Teen New Jersey contest and asked Santiago for help in outfitting her. By this time, she had a real appreciation for clothes and took on the challenge to come up with something special for the young contestant.
“When I was asked to help to design the dress, I decided designing was something I could learn,” said Santiago. “At this point, it’s not really a sewing thing for me, although I can sew. I have seamstresses that work with me now.”
“My thing is much more about picking out all the fabrics and putting together my vision,” Santiago continued. “I sketch everything out on paper and then have people who put it together to make it work.”
Santiago admits she doesn’t have artistic training but is able to put the basics together to come up with intriguing designs. However, her big break came when one of her designs made it into the Miss’d America Pageant hosted by Carson Kressley. The contest features drag queens dressed to the nines.
One of the show’s producers learned of Santiago’s talents from a friend Santiago knew from a nightclub. The producer asked the new designer to come up with a jacket for him. Kressley himself is a fashion designer who also serves as a judge on RuPaul’s Drag Race.
“I was getting requests for designs, and my husband said I should just turn the whole thing into a business,” Santiago explained. “I got to the point where I was extremely busy.”
As Santiago considered the change, KlosetSlayer seemed like the perfect name for her new venture. Upon reflection, she concluded that those in the know refer to outfits that look good as nice “slays.”
Santiago’s designs range from loungewear to couture, like the Jackie O’ jacket she designed in honor of the former first lady. She currently works from her Barnegat home and travels into New York City for shows and photoshoots. Several fashion magazines have featured her work.
“My loungewear has been on TV shows and is very affordable,” said Santiago. “It will be featured on Season 10 of Black Ink Crewl on VH-1. There’s also a new reality show coming out on Netflix that has somebody wearing my designs. I can’t really talk about it, but it debuts in January.”
According to Santiago, her company has also outfitted several reality TV stars, well-known rappers, and football players. Klosetslayer’s participation in NY Fashion Week this year wasn’t a first – but came with some extra notoriety.
Santiago gathered all of her models in Time Square to highlight another accomplishment. Klosetslayer took center stage with an enormous billboard on Broadway, showcasing the company’s work and models.
“I like to push boundaries a little bit and demonstrated this during Fashion Week,” Santiago shared. “We did a suit jacket with a long train for one of our gay models. It was a huge hit and I already have fifteen orders for it.”
One of the things that makes Santiago’s designs unique is their universal appeal. It’s one of the things she prides herself on the most.
“I think the best part of everything is trying to make people feel good,” said Santiago. “We don’t do regular models on our runways. We include plus size because that’s what’s realistic. Not everybody is a size zero.”
The decision to move from the operating room to the design world came at a difficult time. When their son Baylon was just six months old, Jamaal received a diagnosis of non-Hodgins lymphoma. Jamaal owns a business called I.C. FireStop that does foam work for the protection of commercial buildings in New York City.
Already making the daily commute to New York City from Barnegat, Jamaal found himself going in for another reason. For a while, the young father went in-patient at Memorial Sloan Kettering. He also returned for regular treatments before going into remission for a few years.
“He’s such a great man,” said Santiago. “He even coaches our son’s baseball team, and for some time, it seemed that everything was back to normal.”
Only, it wasn’t – the drugs used in the clinical trial brought on a new cancer. Jamaal, 41, is scheduled to return to Memorial Sloan Kettering as an in-patient in the coming week. He will be there a month to resume his battle with a stem cell transplant.
New York Fashion Week continues to stand out as one of the most renowned Fashion Weeks in the world. While it’s the fourth time that Santiago’s designs made it to the runway, she feels there’s something critical that needs to be part of her success.
My husband and I do a lot of things to give back,” Santiago said. “We do food giveaways and do anything we can to donate and give others the help they need.”