At a glance

COMPANY: Megan Masters LLC

SPECIALTY: Dress designer

OWNER: Megan Masters

LOCATION: Mount Pleasant

AGE: 28

FROM: Raleigh, N.C.

RESIDENCE: Mount Pleasant

FAMILY: Husband, Rob; expecting first child in March

EDUCATION: Needham Broughton High School in Raleigh; Appalachian State University, Boone, N.C.

WORK EXPERIENCE: Assistant buyer, Belk in Charlotte; buyer, Ben Silver in Charleston; visual merchandiser for Cynthia women’s clothing shop in Florence.

WEBSITE: www.meganmastersdesigns.com

Megan Masters didn’t have a name for the line of dresses she was designing.

She hadn’t sold any of her products in a store.

And she didn’t have a website.

But those are three of the things department store chain Belk wanted to know on an application for its Southern Designer Showcase competition.

The Charlotte-based retail chain sent out an email blast last spring seeking entrants from across its 16-state territory in the South to compete and be featured as part of its 125th anniversary celebration this year.

Masters, a former assistant buyer for Belk in Charlotte and women’s buyer for Ben Silver in Charleston, had dabbled in dress designs while working at the latter but had never formally put it into practice.

When she started filling out the application, she felt a bit overwhelmed.

“I was a little in over my head,” the Mount Pleasant resident said.

With the encouragement of husband Rob, however, she stitched together enough material to complete the application.

Masters bought a mannequin at a yard sale, took it to a park in Florence, where she was living at the time, dressed it in some of her creations, took photos and submitted them with her application.

“Here I was with a yard sale mannequin taking pictures in a park,” she said. “I didn’t think I had a chance going up against people with years of experience.”

But she did. Among the more than 170 applicants from across the South, Belk chose Masters as one of the 15 winners of the contest.

Her line of dresses will debut in March, six at first followed by four more in April, at more than 40 of Belk’s larger stores in its 303-store chain. They will not appear in any Charleston area stores, Masters said sadly.

As soon as the line hits the sales floor, she plans to go to Charlotte at the South Park Belk store to see her creations with her label hanging from the garments. She might not make it for the debut, though.

She is due to deliver a baby girl the same week the line comes out.

“I’ll be there as soon as I can,” she said. “I’m excited to see it on the floor.”

Threading the needle

First in high school, then college and afterward, Masters worked in retail and always loved being around clothes.

“I really saw the retail side and then, working with Belk, I got to see the wholesale side of the business,” she said. “In my spare time, I began playing around with all of this.”

“All of this” was doodling out sketches of dresses she had in mind and buying fabric. She would see a dress in a shop or being worn and start thinking how she could make it different or better.

When she got the notice from Belk telling her she was a semi-finalist, she figured she would never make it to the finals but that the experience of going through the process would help her pursue a career as a designer. She had made several dresses, but she needed more.

“I had to make 10 new samples in eight weeks,” Masters said of the time she had between being notified and presenting her work in person before a panel of Belk judges in Charlotte.

“I was really busting it to get it all done,” said Masters, who was also working part-time last summer at Cynthia, a women’s clothing shop in Florence.

Still learning

Her husband had been transferred there from Charleston a few months earlier, and that’s when she left her job as a women’s clothing buyer for Ben Silver in Charleston.

Last summer, he was transferred back to Charleston and the couple returned to the Lowcountry.

Her original patterns for Belk involved silk, but the major retailer thought her showroom pieces would be a bit too pricey and expensive to keep cleaned for its customers, so they selected fabric blends, sourced the materials and had her dresses made at an overseas production factory.

“Belk knows its customers well and knows what will sell,” Masters said. “The final fabric is as close to the original as they could get.”

With the success of having launched a dress line in a major department store, Masters plans to use the resume booster to return to designing silk dresses for fine women’s apparel shops.

“Any money I get I will use toward my next line,” she said.

Masters calls the exposure of having her wares in a major department store priceless.

“I don’t know how I would have done it all on my own,” she said. “There’s a lot that goes into it, and I’m still learning.”

Reach Warren L. Wise at 937-5524 or twitter.com/warrenlancewise.