Fashion forward: Kay Folsom

Founder of Kay's on the Beach Kay Folsom enjoys planning fashion shows for local charities.

Photo by Erik Kellar

Founder of Kay's on the Beach Kay Folsom enjoys planning fashion shows for local charities.

Kay Folsom is about the most fashionable soon-to-be 88-year-old that you’ll ever meet. She arrives for our interview in a smart outfit—bright slacks, a crisp shirt and a sleek blazer—her hair and makeup impeccably done. She sits down, crosses her legs, and hands over a rather lengthy list.

The list is a compilation of as many of the fashion shows as the octogenarian can remember doing in her career at the helm of beloved Southwest Florida boutique, Kay’s on the Beach. It’s a lengthy accounting and it includes some shows she’s orchestrated for more than 30 years. As we talk, she remembers handfuls of other shows that she forgot to include.

Doing style shows is an integral part of the marketing strategy for Kay’s on the Beach; but it’s also an integral part of many local organization’s fundraising efforts. When asked to estimate how much money the shop’s shows have raised for local organizations over the years, Folsom can only estimate the number as in the hundreds of thousands.

“We’ll probably do 30 to 40 style shows this year,” says Folsom, adding, “We do them all the way from Marco all the way up to the airport.”

Which means Folsom and her daughter, Jeane Hilt, are constantly on the road, heading from one show to the next. Not that they mind all the together-time, the two are best friends. In fact, Hilt says her favorite thing about doing the shows is, “getting to work with my mother, we’re a great team.”

And they’ve been a team for quite some time. Kay’s on the Beach has been open since the late 1970s, when Folsom’s late husband declared to his wife—who was working retail at the time—that if she was going to work as hard as she was working, then she might as well be working for herself.

With that declaration, the store—which is now five stores—was born.

And daughter, Jeane Hilt, has been there for most of it.

“I remember when I would come home and visit, my mother would put me into the shows, so I remember the early shows at the Marco Marriot,” says Hilt. In 1983, after the passing of Folsom’s husband, Hilt took over the store from her mother, but the two still work hand-in-hand on the shows.

Though Folsom calls the fashion events her “secret weapon,” she never, ever profits off the shows—at least not directly. The events are done gratis, to help different causes around town draw crowds to their fundraisers. Usually, the models are volunteers from within the organizations, and often, they can’t help but want to buy the clothes they’ve modeled.

“The models come in, they get to pick what they want to wear and they get 20 percent off of everything. Usually we have between 10 and 12 models and they show three outfits, casual wear, an afternoon look and evening wear or mother of the bride formalwear,” says Folsom.

Once the outfits are selected, Hilt will often give the models a crash course on walking the runway, showing the gals just how to strut, and how to sassily throw a hip as they pose at the end of the catwalk. And while occasionally models will feel shy about strutting their stuff, Folsom insists that once they get out there—hair and makeup done, with the music thumping—most of them take right to it.

“There’s a real kick to getting on the runway,” says Hilt.

Her mother adds, “For the finale, they’re in this fabulous dress and everyone’s clapping for them and the music is going, there’s a real rush to it.”

But it’s a rush for the duo’s charity partners too. A recent event at for the Sunlight Home, a Christian residential maternity home, raised over $41,000. Delores Sire Sullivan, the vice president of Sunlight Home’s board, attributes much of the funds raised at the home’s event to the draw the fashion show created.

“It was so very well received, there were so many great remarks about the show that we’ve already picked a date to do it again next year,” says Sire Sullivan.

And that’s fine for Jeane Hilt and Kay Folsom. The two have no plans to stop—or even slow down—anytime in the future. Sure, over the years the shows have changed a little (they now end the show with a Lady Gaga song, instead of “When The Saints Go Marching In” which was the standard for many years), but the important things have remained the same. Hilt and Folsom love working together as a team, and they love to help organizations through their stylish fashion shows. Two things that, like a basic little black dress, will never, ever go out of style.

© 2012 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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