Don Worthington

Winthrop duo's jewelry collection to be sold at Belk

Emily Gonzalez, left, and Katelyn Barringer, share a laugh. The two recently were among the winners of the Belk Southern Design showcase competition. The two design jewelry.
Emily Gonzalez, left, and Katelyn Barringer, share a laugh. The two recently were among the winners of the Belk Southern Design showcase competition. The two design jewelry. dworthington@heraldonline.com

Katelyn Barringer and Emily Gonzalez are living the dream – modern Southern style.

The Winthrop University graduates and York County residents – Barringer is from Rock Hill and Gonzalez now lives in Fort Mill – are among the winners of the Belk Southern Designer Showcase 2015.

The showcase is an annual competition where Belk invites designers of men’s, women’s and children’s fashions, as well as shoes and women’s accessories to compete. About 300 or more apply, fewer than 20 are selected.

As Reece Blaire, a fashion blog drawn from their two middle names, Barringer and Gonzalez design and sell jewelry online. Soon that jewelry will be among the modern Southern style sold at Belk stores.

The relatively short journey – Barringer is 24, Gonzalez is 26 – has all the makings of a reality television series drawn, in equal parts, from “Shark Tank”, a milder version of “Bridezillas” and any two-girl TV sitcom pairing opposites who are best friends.

Gonzalez is meticulous, ordered, traditional and the creative side of Reece Blaire. Barringer is edgier, more chaotic, the business side of the business, and in the mornings, often can’t even find a pair of matching shoes.

They are so close that Gonzalez says she talks with Barringer more than she does her own husband.

Barringer and Gonzalez met at Winthrop through a mutual friend who felt they ought to be friends. Barringer was a business major and Gonzalez initially majored in interior design before changing to education. They were sisters in the Zeta Tau Alpha sorority and shared an off-campus house as well as clothes.

Gonzalez graduated before Barringer, got engaged, married and is a new mother to Ella Reece Gonzalez.

Her 2011 wedding is one of the pivotal points in their relationship.

Gonzalez could not find the perfect jewelry for Barringer, her maid of honor and others in her Lowcountry South Carolina wedding. Gonzalez, who admits she can be slightly compulsive, designed and made the pieces herself.

In 2012 the two started their fashion blog. They soon realized their interest in fashion could be more than just a blog when there were posts from people wanting the jewelry seen on the blog.

The location of their design studio varied between the Gonzalez living room to the dining room. Each design is hand drawn. Sometimes, Barringer’s “wilder” ideas are reined in by Gonzalez. Sometimes Barringer take one of Gonzalez’ ideas and tweaks it to make it a more salable product.

They learned of the Belk competition from AnnaBelle LaRoque who had designed Gonzalez’ wedding dress. Their entry featured some of Belk’s modern Southern style.

When the two were rebranding their Reece Blaire website, they went shopping for new clothes – at the Belk store at SouthPark Mall in Charlotte. Gonzalez remembered as well that her first pearl bracelet was purchased at a Belk store.

“We told them those stories,” Barringer said.

Before they made their presentation to Belk executives, the twosome created their own version of the television show “Shark Tank” in the Gonzalez living room in Baxter Village. Friends quizzed them on all aspects of the business to prepare them for their 15-minute interview at Belk.

After the interviews came the waiting. Gonzalez got the news first, calling and texting Barringer with the news that they had won.

Barringer was at the gym. When she finished a workout and checked her phone, there were 76 text messages and 15 Facebook notifications. Barringer wondered what had gone wrong.

Instead a whirlwind began.

Soon they will learn what Belk has planned for them. They are confident, not only because they live, eat and breathe their product, but they embrace the modern Southern style Belk seeks.

Most importantly, they know it is just another step in the best-friends-forever journey.

“Whether this is short lived, or long into the future, I’m doing this with my best friend,” Barringer said. “I can’t put a price on that.”

Don Worthington •  803-329-4066 dworthington@heraldonline.com

Want to know more?

To learn more about Reece Blaire go to www.reeceblaire.com. For information about the Belk Southern Design Showcase, go to http://belkdesigncontest.com

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