Sommers created nationally recognized fashion brand, inspired her customers and community
Understated elegance with a warm spirit and relaxed sophistication — Kathleen Sommers wore it well in life and in style.
A New Jersey-born fashion designer who started her own bikini line in Mexico in the 1970s, she opened a store in San Antonio, attracted a following and eventually reached retail and wholesale customers across the U.S.
Sommers, 73, died Oct. 20 from cancer. She had built her brand and business from the ground up, with a self-named boutique that has been a San Antonio fixture in women’s wear for more than 30 years.
Friends gathered late Tuesday at the Monte Vista shop on Main Street, where a memorial of flowers surrounding photos of Sommers had been added to the carefully curated array of blouses, scarves and other fashions, handmade jewelry, luxury soaps and other eclectic wares.
Blanquita Sullivan first fell in love with Sommers’ shop as a child. She later turned that passion into a profession as Sommers’ store manager and buyer.
“Kathleen has created a legacy here in San Antonio,” Sullivan said. “And she is very much present in San Antonio women’s closets.”
Sullivan noted Sommers designed and sold only what she liked, never following trends and opting for rich yet muted earth tones in natural fabrics. It made women feel beautiful as well as see themselves at their best, friends said.
“I think she brought this really smart and direct expression for women, and gave them an aesthetic sense that embodied some of the cultural sense of San Antonio but also the real feminist side of it,” said Sylvia Martinez, who enjoyed many a lunch and tamale-making party with Sommers and had frequented her shop for the past 20 years.
Renowned San Antonio poet and novelist Naomi Shihab Nye was among the many friends Sommers attracted in her time as a retailer. Nye has played a huge hand in assisting with Sommers’ Poetry for the People, a one-of-a-kind poetry writing event they hosted annually at the store, to benefit refugee charities.
“I can’t even imagine how it’s going to feel without her. We’ll be doing it in her honor. I hope people will come in her honor,” Nye said of this year’s Poetry for the People, set for Nov. 28 at the store.
“Even in this, what I consider to be a very dark time of lies and ugliness in our country’s government, she was a positivist. She would have urged us all to do more positive work ourselves, wherever we are, every single day,” Nye said.
Sommers’ daughter Kate Sommers-Dawes, along with staff of Kathleen Sommers Inc., released a statement via the company’s Facebook page, detailing the importance of Sommers’ effect on the community and everyone she encountered throughout her life.
“The joyful experience of helping dear friends find an irreplaceable piece of jewelry or an unexpected gift, in a space where they could gather and celebrate life and each other, fueled Kathleen.”
“Her deep commitment to justice and the larger social good of her community — and the world — was inspiring to us all,” the statement read.
Sommers-Dawes, who was expecting at the time of her mother’s death, gave birth to a healthy child Wednesday.
The Facebook statement further asked patrons who felt moved by the loss of Sommers, and her legacy of socially aware philanthropy, to make donations in her honor to the Center for Refugee Services of San Antonio and Planned Parenthood South Texas.
“Over the years, we became friends, and I found her to be very involved in her community, politics and helping others,” said Joan Frederick, a longtime customer of the boutique who would visit often along with her friend Sandra Cisneros.
“She fashioned a salon of people from all walks of life who gravitated around her grace, charm and philanthropy. She was constantly organizing events that would bring us all together for the good of some worthy organization or outreach to women or marginalized people around the world,” Frederick said.
René Guzman is a staff writer in the San Antonio and Bexar County area. Read him on our free site, mySA.com, and on our subscriber site, ExpressNews.com. | email@example.com | Twitter: @reneguz