BARNEGAT – As a tomboy who grew up in the mountains of Pennsylvania, Barnegat resident Marcia Arnsparger Santiago didn’t pay much attention to dress styles. Even her mother now marvels at the fact that Santiago’s designs earned her a rehearsal spot on the runway at New York Fashion Week.
âWhen I come home to visit I drive four-wheeled vehicles and all I do now is out the window,â said Santiago, 42. âMy mom reminds me of what I was like when I was a kid. and tells me that she didn’t expect me to be where I am today.
While still a spitfire of a different kind, Santiago’s transition from a tomboy to a notorious designer was not immediate. Instead, she took classes to be a surgical technician and moved to New Jersey when she was 19.
Santiago’s post at a hospital in Pomona lasted almost a decade. She and her husband, Jamaal Jackson, moved to Barnegat in 2013. Then, in 2014, Santiago went on maternity leave. The new mom was reluctant to return to work at the hospital because she had difficulty standing for ten hours.
A friend’s granddaughter was in the Miss Teen New Jersey pageant and asked Santiago to help her outfit her. At that point, she had a real appreciation for the clothes and took on the challenge of coming up with something special for the young contestant.
âWhen I was asked to help design the dress, I decided the design was something I could learn,â Santiago said. âAt this point it’s not really a sewing thing for me, although I can sew. I have seamstresses working with me now.
âMy thing is a lot more to pick all the fabrics and set my vision in place,â Santiago continued. “I draw everything on paper and then have people put it together to make it work.”
Santiago admits that she doesn’t have an artistic background, but is able to put the basics together to create intriguing designs. However, her big break came when one of her designs made its way into the Miss’d America pageant hosted by Carson Kressley. The contest features nine-dressed drag queens.
One of the show’s producers discovered Santiago’s talents from a friend Santiago knew at a nightclub. The producer asked the new designer to offer him a jacket. Kressley himself is a fashion designer who is also a judge on RuPaul’s Drag Race.
âI was getting design requests and my husband said I just had to turn it all into a business,â Santiago explained. “I got to the point where I was extremely busy.”
As Santiago contemplated the change, KlosetSlayer seemed like the perfect name for his new business. Upon reflection, she concluded that connoisseurs refer to outfits that look good as beautiful “kills”.
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 home in Barnegat and travels to New York City for shows and photoshoots. Several fashion magazines presented her work.
âMy loungewear has been featured on TV shows and is very affordable,â Santiago said. âIt will be featured in Season 10 of Black Ink Crewl on VH-1. There’s also a new reality TV show coming out on Netflix with someone wearing my designs. I can’t really comment on it, but it debuts in January.
According to Santiago, his company has also outfitted several reality TV stars, well-known rappers and soccer players. Klosetslayer’s participation in New York Fashion Week this year was not a first, but came with additional notoriety.
Santiago gathered all of his models at Time Square to highlight another achievement. Klosetslayer took center stage with a massive Broadway billboard showcasing the company’s work and models.
âI like to push the boundaries a bit and I demonstrated it during Fashion Week,â explained Santiago. âWe made a suit jacket with a long train for one of our gay models. It was a huge success and I already have fifteen orders.
One of the characteristics that make Santiago’s creations unique is their universal appeal. This is one of the things she is most proud of.
âI think the best part of everything is trying to make people feel good,â Santiago said. âWe don’t do regular models on our catwalks. We include the plus size because that is what is realistic. Not everyone is size zero.
The decision to move from the operating room to the world of design came at a difficult time. When their son Baylon was only six months old, Jamaal was diagnosed with non-hodginous lymphoma. Jamaal owns a company called IC FireStop which does foam work for the protection of commercial buildings in New York City.
Already making the daily commute to New York from Barnegat, Jamaal found himself going for another reason. For a while, the young father was hospitalized at Memorial Sloan Kettering. He also returned for regular treatments before going into remission for a few years.
âHe’s such a great man,â Santiago said. “He even coaches our son’s baseball team, and for a while it seemed like everything was back to normal.”
Only that was not the case – the drugs used in the clinical trial caused new cancer. Jamaal, 41, is expected to return to Memorial Sloan Kettering as an inpatient in the coming week. He will be there a month to resume his fight with a stem cell transplant.
New York Fashion Week continues to stand out as one of the most renowned Fashion Weeks in the world. Although this is the fourth time that Santiago’s designs have hit the catwalk, she believes there is something essential that must be part of her success.
My husband and I do a lot of things to give back, âSantiago said. “We donate food and do all we can to give and give others the help they need.”