‘National Dress Day’ Founder reflects on her Stetson Experience
“Dresses aren’t going to change the world. The women who wear them will.” ~ Ashley Lauren Kerr
This is the powerful mantra for the 3rd annual “National Dress Day” on Wednesday, March 6 – an event founded by Stetson alumna and fashion designer, Ashley Lauren Kerr ‘07.
On this day, women are invited to post their favorite dress memories using #nationaldressday on social media. With more than 74 million impressions to date, the event is a hot trend.
“We share such powerful memories in our beautiful dresses. And when we post ourselves in our dresses, we get to relive our most special memories,” explained Kerr.
Kerr started her designer dress business, ASHLEYlauren, from the ground up a little more than a decade ago. Her creations have graced everyone from Eva Longoria to Miss Universe and Miss World contenders and are sold in specialty boutiques across the globe.
A native of Old Orchard Beach, Maine, Kerr chose to attend Stetson starting in 2002 so she could visit her ailing grandmother in Miami on the weekends. She graduated with a degree in communications and a minor in marketing in the spring of 2007.
Reflecting on her time at Stetson, Kerr remembers her experiences with the business fraternity, Alpha Kappa Psi, as exceptional.
“As president (of the AKPsi chapter), I felt it was my responsibility to bring everyone together and to be a leader on Stetson’s campus. I met my closest friends through this organization, and these are people to whom I am still connected,” she said.
Kerr added that what she thought was best about Stetson is the small town feel with big city resources.
“Stetson gave us the ability to learn not only from textbooks but how to translate that learning to real world experiences and relationships. Our Alpha Kappa Psi members would travel all over Central Florida to learn different things from different companies and we would host some great events on campus. I learned so much from working with this group that are foundational to what I do today,” said Kerr.
“Stetson has amazing organizations on campus that allow you to grow outside the classroom in a group setting. Once you’re outside of Stetson and in the real world, you need good communications and team-building skills to succeed and you can learn these through belonging to an organization,” she added.
Putting Business First
Her talent and passion resonate in knowing that every woman is unique in what looks and feels best. She unequivocally has a gift for helping them find a great balance and proportion, much like she does in her own life.
Her parents, George and Cynthia, instilled a strong work ethic through the family restaurant business, and also imparted their strong sense of compassion for community. Kerr gives back through school partnerships, by donating dresses to the economically disadvantaged, and through the Operation SMILES program in Nicaragua.
“My dad was in the (Maine) state legislature for eight years and made giving back to our community a priority, so I always make time to do the same. I spend time with students with disabilities, for example, that’s my little piece. As a dress designer, I can give dresses to people who couldn’t afford them.”
“There’s more than just your studies to be an entrepreneur,” Kerr explained. “For me, it was putting a lot of things in my life not as a priority. In my 20s and early 30s, I put my business first. Some people don’t understand how much time and work goes in to running a business. They see the sparkles that come out, but an entrepreneur has to sometimes give up the fun to make their business the most important, especially if you have employees. They are depending you.”
‘A Sense of Power’
So what’s next for this entrepreneurial powerhouse? A major event in June 2020 – her wedding. One can only imagine how amazing her dress will be on this momentous day.
She travels about three weeks out of every month. The week she is home, she savors family time as her number one priority with her fiancé, Michael, as well as her parents and sister, Alexandra, who live only minutes down the road from her. Kerr’s team is a close second and she’s quick to give them credit for helping to build her brand and find success on the competitive stage of fashion design.
“The most rewarding thing is seeing the dresses on women. When a woman feels confident, she’s at her most powerful. There’s a sense of power that comes with wearing a beautiful gown. If I can play a small part in making that lady feel that confident, that is magical.”
– Trish Wieland