The South Jersey Fashion Designer Making Waves
Marcia Arnsparger Santiago is making a scene in the fashion world
By Anna Lockhart

For Marcia Arnsparger Santiago, designing clothes that attract the good kind of stare is pure joy. 

Getting that wardrobe seen being worn by fashion trendsetters on their social reels, stories and TikToks has taken an entirely different skill set: dogged determination. 

“I never take no for an answer,” says Santiago, founder of fashion brand KlosetSlayer, who has been known to devote hours online to studying the wardrobes of today’s up and coming stars. “I will bug someone until they say yes because they are tired of hearing from me.” 

Stars who have been photographed wearing this Barnegat-based brand include VH1’s Rich Dollaz, Amina Buddafly, Mariahlynn and Miss Nikki Baby, as well as the rapper 50 Cent’s girlfriend Jamira Haines. Several stars of “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” including Honey Davenport, have walked in her shows. In September, Santiago will participate in New York Fashion Week for the second time. 

Marcia Arnsparger Santiago in one of her designs.

As for the brand’s signature look, Santiago describes it as flamboyant, but not frivolous. These outfits are made for a night on the town. An “Overthrow Jumpsuit” from the latest collection comes in a midnight blue sheer fabric that showcases the model’s lingerie. The “Eliminate” fringe leather set is a cropped top with a high waist that looks like a remix of a flapper dress. Her men’s collection combines the look of street wear with classic 1920’s silhouettes – think 3-piece suits and clean, sharp lines. It branches out into playful gender-fluid looks. Case in point is a male model sporting a blazer with a sheer flowing train and head covering.

Now in its eighth year of operation, KlosetSlayer started as a hobby. “I always had this thing with clothes,” says Santiago, who dreamed about a career in fashion when she was younger, but trained as a surgical nurse at her pragmatic parents’ urging. In fact a nursing job in Galloway is what brought Santiago and her husband Jamaal to Barnegat. 

Working in the operating room was exciting and intense, she says, but the long and late hours were taxing. While on maternity leave with her son Baylon, now 7, she started thinking more seriously about turning that hobby into something more.  

“I was so used to being on the go, on my feet,” she says, “I needed something to do.”

She set to work designing the kinds of clothes she wished existed. Her inspiration is often a piece of fabric that catches her eye.  She can spend an entire day ogling fabrics in New York’s garment district, or she’ll get sudden inspiration from people watching.  

“Once I see the fabric,” she says, “I know exactly what I’m going to do with it.”

She has showcased her work in local fashion shows in Philadelphia and Atlantic City, and got a surge of recognition once Mark Dahl, a friend of Santiago’s who directs the drag pageant Miss’d America, introduced her to stars of “RuPaul’s Drag Race.”

Santiago doesn’t see herself leaving her South Jersey home, even as her business grows. After long days doing business in Manhattan, she likes to come home to the peace and quiet of her shore-town home, she says, trading stilettos for sneakers and a baseball cap for Baylon’s sports activities. “I want to come home to peace,” she says. “I like the family quietness of home.”

Home is hardly quiet lately however. Jamaal has been battling cancer for the past few years, and receives treatment in New York City. As his sole caretaker, Santiago says her original plan to show her work at Fashion Week earlier this year had to be delayed. Instead, she’s prepping for the show in September and focusing on caring for him in the meantime. 

“Juggling being a wife of a cancer fighter, mother and career woman is definitely the biggest struggle,” says Santiago. 

Having her husband home for the holidays was a highlight last year. Designing clothes is actually good therapy that helps her handle the demands of caregiving, she says. Santiago has come a long way from hammering influencers with messages about her clothing line – the celebrities are reaching out to her now. In the end, she says, it’s all about having faith in the product. 

 “If you know that you have something good, they’re going to like it as much as you do.”

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