Accessories designer and Tampa native Carley Holtsinger knows the unpredictability of the pandemic better than most. Within the span of two weeks in March, her life had completely changed.
When coronavirus hit and things in New York, where Holtsinger was living, “started feeling really apocalyptic,” she and her husband, who grew up in the area, decided to come down to Sarasota—with a “just for two weeks” caveat. Two weeks quickly turned into two months, and now the couple have decided to live here for the foreseeable future.
New York’s loss is Sarasota’s gain. Holtsinger—a fashion industry veteran who previously managed international store displays for Marc Jacobs and worked in visual merchandising for Louis Vuitton—is bringing her fun, beachy lifestyle and accessories brand, Sparkle Diva, to the area. She hopes to capitalize on the weather, the thrift shopping and, of course, the beaches.
To fully understand Sparkle Diva, you have to understand where it began: with a couple of fur koozies.
Holtsinger was inspired to replicate a fur koozie her mom had made from vintage mink fur. She freshened the design by using faux fur in a rainbow color. The creation eventually sparked so much organic interest that a friend asked if she could start selling the koozies in her art-object store.
Now, six years later, Holtsinger has definitively turned her “lifestyle into a shop,” as one of her friends recently put it. Sparkle Diva accessories have a decidedly Floridian flair, with palm-tree and shell-shaped hair clips and bedazzled and fuzzy sunglasses that are right at home for a kitschy beach day.
We sat down for a socially distanced phone call with Holtsinger call to learn more about her work, moving to Sarasota and what the future holds.
It can’t be easy making a major life change—like moving from New York to Sarasota—during a pandemic. What was that like?
I feel like I’ve learned so much through the past six months. It’s been a pretty wild experience. I think everything happens for a reason. My husband and I have been working so hard our entire lives. In New York City, you live to work. It’s been nice to step back from all of that. And I am so tan!
You’ve worked at some of the biggest names in fashion, like Marc Jacobs and Louis Vuitton. Did you always have the dream to work for yourself, or did Sparkle Diva happen by chance?
It was always in the back of my head that I wanted to work for myself, but of course, you also feel like you want to work for brands that are making an impact in the community and the fashion industry. Once you’re working for yourself, it’s much more rewarding. But it’s harder than it looks.
What is your design process like for Sparkle Diva?
When you’re buying a product, you’re not just buying someone’s design—it’s hours and weeks of trial and error. Whatever is in my head when I sit down and start always ends up being something different. You learn from the process.
I also rely on friends and people I trust to give me their honest opinion. There are people who are always going to tell me something looks good, and people who are always going to give me an honest critique. I like people that can rein me in.
How do you feel you’ve incorporated Florida into your brand?
I think the whole aesthetic of Sparkle Diva wouldn’t exist if I hadn’t been born in Florida. It’s very Florida grandma-chic. I grew up going to thrift stores and finding all these wacky, fun, sparkly things that I have never seen any other place. My croakies and koozies were very Florida, but I tried to make them more modern and still fun. And honestly, when I’m taking my pictures, I’ll go out and say, ‘Let’s go find a pretty spot.’ Usually it ends up being the beach.
What’s the biggest difference between coming back home to Florida on vacation and actually living here?
I made a conscious effort to say, 'If we’re going to move here, what are the good things about living here?' To me, one of them is being more surrounded by nature and the water and the beach. I want to make a conscious effort of doing things outside at least once a week, so every Saturday we go to our little secret beach spot. I want to see if I can keep that up.