"I'd always been interested in clothing and costumes, but my training was limited to classes in the basics of design," she recalls. "In 1979, a National Geographic article about the Samii featured a photograph of the tribe's traditional winter coats. The colorful, intricately patterned designs inspired me to craft one of my own. The result was so well received that I began developing adult and children's wear based on the Samii style."
The popularity of Gay's designs led her to start a small company called Samii Clothes and, eventually, make the fateful trip to New York. Returning home with orders from buyers across the country, Gay realized that expanding Samii Clothes from a home-based sideline into a full-fledged business would require expertise in finance, marketing, and human resources—skills that she simply did not have. "My instincts had helped me find a niche where I could apply my design talents," she says, "but I knew nothing about the nuts and bolts of building a business." Fortunately, Gay found a resource where she could get the answers she needed—SCORE.
Gay received a loan through Vermont Economic Development Authority, enabling Samii Clothes to exceed everyone's expectations. Since Gay incorporated the firm in 1992, annual sales have surpassed $1 million. The company's products are now featured in several well-known catalogues such as the Museum of Fine Arts of Boston and Orvis of Manchester, VT. Samii also provides employment for more than 10 people in northeastern Vermont.
The experience has broadened Gay's horizons in more ways than one. In 1995, she became involved with Aid to Artisans, a private organization funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development, which helps overseas craftspeople find markets for their talents. Samii Clothes has since added a new line of clothing accessories called Lanya, which are based on beading and appliqué techniques found in Eastern Europe. Gay has also worked as a paid consultant to Aid for Artisans, advising textile groups in the remote villages of Uzbekistan.
And there's more to come. Gay is preparing to launch a line of bed throws, accent pillows, and other home furnishings based on her Samii designs, as well as a Web site that will keep the retail community up to date on the company's news and products. She also hopes to begin marketing Samii products in Europe. The company's growth has been almost dizzying, but Gay never forgets how her SCORE mentors provided both the advice and flexibility to make her dream come true.