The coat racks along the walls are filled with luxury.
The black, white, gold and other finished dresses were once abstract ideas until designer Symone Gaither, 28, made them real.
Gaither moved from Baltimore to Hanover just as she was beginning high school. Her mother taught her how to sew when she was part of a dance group in Baltimore where her mother would assist with the costumes.
It was a class at South Western High School, though, that sparked her passion.
“I was obsessed with it. I was obsessed with the idea of making my own clothes. I was obsessed with seeing something from a pattern or sketch come to life,” Gaither said.
She graduated from South Western in 2010 and made her way to the Art Institute of Philadelphia to pursue fashion design. Gaither said she would make clothes for herself and her friends for nights out.
Making prom dresses is how her business got started, gaining clientele in Philadelphia, Hanover, and Baltimore.
She worked mostly out of a second bedroom to fulfill orders, but then the pandemic set in and many of the proms were canceled.
Here come the brides
People were still getting married during the pandemic by means of small, innovative weddings. Once she started receiving alteration requests for wedding attire, it all seemed to click.
Gaither said she doesn’t know why she never thought about doing bridal wear before. In high school, she refurbished her mother’s wedding dress to make her own prom dress.
She took “a leap of faith” and decided to head back to Hanover to open Amelia Symone, a bridal and evening wear shop, in December 2020. Amelia is Symone’s middle name, which she shares with her mother. It was passed down from her great grandmother, Melia.
She makes all of her items in-house at the storefront in the 100 block of Baltimore Street. It is one of the very few Black-owned businesses that have resided in downtown Hanover, according to Executive Director of Main Street Hanover Justine Trecksess.
Gaither discusses the outfit concepts with her clients and buys the fabrics and materials to make the design. She loves getting the supplies for a client’s vision, but that experience is runner-up to one of her favorite parts of the process.
“When they first look at themselves in the mirror when they have that dress on, that’s the part that I live for…that ‘yes’ moment,” she said.
Gaither is a one-woman show for now, providing “a luxury lifestyle” for her clients in a process that usually takes at least five to six months for each individual.
But, that hasn’t always been the case.
The pandemic pushed back Taneisha Cotton-Perez’s destination wedding in Cancun by at least two years, so she decided not to wait. In roughly 50 days, she had to plan an intimate ceremony in Delaware (she’s originally from Philadelphia) and she wanted a custom, white jumpsuit to get married in.
She was referred to Gaither and was immediately impressed by her professionalism and her willingness to take her on as a client on such short notice.
Cotton-Perez reached out to Gaither in January, and her wedding was in February.
She made the hours-long drive for fittings and on one occasion Gaither drove to her and even brought her flowers.
By the third fitting, the jumpsuit was wedding-ready with a little less than two weeks to spare.
“When I came out of the dressing room, I cried…she really brought my vision to life,” Cotton-Perez said.
Navigating the no’s
As a young designer, Gaither said she is often up against veteran designers who could appeal more to potential clients because of their experience. And with social media, there are plenty of options to choose from.
“Anyone can say ‘no’, but you gotta keep going,” she said.
Gaither uses rejection as fuel to persevere, knowing that she is always a student and she’s receptive to coaching. Her 1-year-old son also keeps her motivated so she can create a better life for him.
There are eight brides, so far, that Gaither is making dresses for in 2021, and she has already started getting brides for 2022. Gaither is accepting inquiries through her email address: Ameliasymone21@gmail.com.
Eventually, she would like to get a few extra hands to help her out and keep an inventory in the shop for clients to pick from.
She’s excited to be closer to family and looks forward to impromptu visits from them as she continues to establish her shop and grow her clientele.
Jasmine Vaughn-Hall is a reporter for the USA Today Network in central Pennsylvania. Contact her at email@example.com or (717) 495-1789. Follow her on Facebook (@JasmineVaughnHall), Twitter (@jvaughn411), and Instagram (@jasminevaughnhall).