For Toma Thelma Holley, childhood summers were filled with stitching, spittoons and her grandmother, Lottie D. Holley.
"In between dodging the spit from the snuff, I learned how to stitch from my grandmother,” Holley recalls. "She was the Schiaparelli of the South. I always wanted to sit underneath her and listen to the old ladies gossip."
Later, those skills turned into a career and the passion that led Holley to own boutiques in Manhattan, France, San Tropez and Nyack.
A brief history
Born in Birmingham, Alabama, Holley moved to Brooklyn when she was about three-years-old; summers were spent back in Birmingham with her grandmother and the spitting stitchers. Her first job was working on Bleeker Street making sandals.
"I then met my husband," she explained. "I was 19 and he was from Denmark. And I started making dresses. A friend suggested that I take my dresses to Henri Bendell—so I put them in a bag and I brought them over and met a buyer."
The buyer was pleased, and Holley's first company, 52 Bond, was born.
She managed 52 Bond for eight years, then moved to France for the next eight years and operated her first European boutique, Toma's Avocado. But when her house burned down —and she decided she wanted to be closer to home—Holley came back to the United States. She landed back in SoHo on Canal Street and opened a boutique and small factory called Street Chic. Not long after, she established a connection with Nyack.
"Around 1987, my son—who was then a teenager—was having some trouble,” Holley explained. “His godmother, Veronica Jones—who owns Grandview Boutique on Broadway—offered for us to stay with her."
And for ten years Toma worked for Jones at her boutique. After Grandview, Holley opened a boutique in the old St. George Hotel for five years, and then opened Toma on Burd Street.
"I was never conscious that I could not succeed,' she recalls. "I always made money with my craft and am always doing new things. I turn 68 on my next birthday and I am still reinventing myself."
For fifteen years Toma has been donating her time and talent to , designing and creating the dresses for the annual . She was also on the board of the Nyack Center for ten years, and is one of the founding members of the architectural review board.
"Lee Hancock rounded me up off the street years ago," says Toma "She said, 'you are going to be on the Board of the Nyack Center,' and I said 'yes ma'am.'"
"I feel so blessed to live in Nyack," Holley added. "I am not just making clothes here."
Currently, Toma has an atelier on Burd Street where she makes designer dresses for "off the rack" prices. She sees clients on a private consultation basis and works for theaters and makes dresses for moms, grand moms and everybody in between.
Lottie D. Holley would be proud of her granddaughter—a one-of-a-kind female dynamo of creativity and charisma.
Toma is also is planning an autobiography—a fashion cocktail book in collaboration with her eldest daughter, who teaches English in Los Angeles.