Old Orchard Beach native Ashley Lauren Kerr has spent much of her life serving customers at her family’s coastal restaurant Surf 6. These days, she’s more likely to be flying coast to coast, dishing with fashion designers and beauty contestant clients as part of her management business Ashley Lauren Kerr LLC. 

Q: Your job sounds quite varied; tell me about it.

A: This is really a niche business I started in 2008 … My company manages international fashion designers and pageant preparation or lifestyle coaches, as well as artists who provide expertise in fashion, jewelry, hair and makeup for pageant contestants. I sell couture gowns to select stores around the country. And this August, I’ll be releasing my own exclusive line of dresses. 

Q: How did it all begin? 

A: A friend from college, Miss Florida USA 2008, encouraged me to enter the 2009 Miss Maine pageant. I didn’t win the title but I did win Miss Congeniality and gained a lot experience and connections to start this business. It started when I flew to Puerto Rico to meet with a fashion designer who made my pageant gown. I saw great potential in his designs and wanted to introduce them to the U.S. fashion market. So, I sponsored him for the Miss USA and the Miss Universe pageants to promote his fashions. We sold his custom gowns to exclusive stores in the U.S. and debuted his line at a fashion show at Mar-A-Lago Club, the Donald Trump estate. My niche is that I exclusively represent Latin American designers. In fact, I was invited to judge the Miss Venezuela 2010 Pageant as a known representative of Latin designers. My entire team is Latin American, including my makeup and hair stylists, who have worked with pageant winners on the international stage.

Q: Why that particular bent? 

A: Latin American designers have a different style that is fresh, new and embraces a woman’s curves, adding a bit more oomph and attention to detail. Their designs are continuously the best in pageant circles. 

Q: Can you tell me about the creation process?

A: The gowns are one-of-a-kind couture dresses that are hand made by the designers to reflect each girl’s personality. My clients are paired with a designer, who creates some sketches and then creates a toile or mold of their body so that the gown is an exact fit.

Q: How long does it take to make the gowns?

A: From four to 12 weeks, depending on the style and the amount of beading or detail on it. 

Q: How do you connect with the girls you coach for pageant?

A: They are recommended to me through their director or one of the stores that I sell to. 

Q: Tell me about the coaching aspect of your business.

A: I work with Grace Fontecha, who is from Puerto Rico and the top pageant preparation coach in the world. She has trained more international winners than any other coach … She has a background in psychology and works with clients to perfect grace, poise, “the killer walk,” how to hold yourself and be a presence when you enter a room and how to conduct yourself at a pageant. Pageant winners usually come to me after winning a state title and want help to compete at a higher level. Ashley Underwood (Miss Maine USA 2009) approached me after her win to dress and prepare her for the Miss USA Pageant. 

Q: Where is your base of operations?

A We train for pageants in Old Orchard Beach. But I travel a lot too. I have a showroom in New York City to showcase the designs, two (clothing manufacturing operations) in Latin America and China, and I also meet with clients in their home states. This week, I’m working with Miss Connecticut Regina Turner to fine tune her stage presence for the Miss USA Pageant. 

Q: How long do the girls train with you?

A: We recommend five to seven days of one-on-one training. 

Q: How is the client fee determined?

A: We charge per job and based on a daily rate. 

Q: Does your team provide the hair and makeup services during pageants?

A: No. We train them to do that themselves as they’ll be required to do their own hair and make-up at pageant. 

Q: Do you attend your clients’ fashion shows and pageants?

A: Yes. Whenever I can, I like to support my clients from beginning to end. Right now I’m coaching seven girls for the Miss USA Pageant on June 19. 

Q: Does that present a conflict in your loyalties?

A: No. Our job is to train each girl to be the best that she can be. Our goal is not to change her but to develop her individual personality and style. It’s all about confidence and projection. We teach the girls how to better present themselves in public — how to enter a room with energy and poise; shake someone’s hand with confidence; and conduct themselves with proper etiquette and manners. 

Q: Tell me about your forthcoming clothing line.

A: I’m working with a team of contracted designers to develop a line of affordably priced dresses, sized 0 to 18, that are in the $300 to $1,200 range. Not all of my clients compete in pageants. Some are looking for (bridal or evening wear). Right now we’re working on about 80 designs that will be manufactured and launched under the Ashley Lauren label this August in Atlanta, Ga. I’m talking to a few select stores about picking up the line. 

Q: What’s the most challenging part of your job?

A: Keeping everyone on task to deliver a quality product on time and one that reflects my vision for this company — which is not to be No. 1 in sales but No. 1 in delivering the most beautiful dresses. 

Q: What’s your favorite part of the job?

A: Watching the transformation from start to finish — whether that is seeing a client try on her gown for the first time and seeing her face light up or the confidence she projects when properly prepared to take the stage for competition. That is very gratifying.