Maureen Kyle leads the way into the guest bedroom of her Bay Village home, a pretty pale-blue space that doubles as a workshop.
A Brother sewing machine, complete with computerized embroidery function, and Janome serger, used for stitching knits, sit atop a desk in a corner alcove. Nearby, a child-sized mannequin with a wooden base displays a sleeveless A-line muslin dress with the beginnings of a ruffled neckline.
With her 7-month-old daughter Etta on her hip, Kyle picks up a sleeveless muslin dress with a pleated waistband from the desk.
“This was a sample that I did, and I decided not to go with, at least for now,” says the WKYC morning show anchor and reporter, eying it thoughtfully. “I don’t know what it’s going to be.”
As daughters Scarlett, 5, and Millie, 3, dart in and out of the room, Kyle walks to a closet.
She pulls out a sleeveless golden-yellow A-line finished with a huge bow at the bottom of a modest V-back. It’s a polyester-blend predecessor to the creation she calls the Kindness Dress.
Over the next hour, she covers the bed with girls’ dresses, final results of samples she designed, cut and constructed herself. Kindness Dresses in fuchsia and lilac ponte knit. Woven-cotton Friendship Dresses — one in pale pink and coral, the other in yellow and Easter-egg purple — with empire waists and sleeveless bodices, each punctuated by an offset bow near the neckline. A short-sleeved V-neck Brave Dress in light-blue cotton featuring a charming park scene printed on the gathered skirt.
On the Brave Dress, Kyle points out jazz vocalist Billie Holiday singing in an amphitheater, ancient Egyptian ruler Cleopatra walking down a path, primatologist Jane Goodall playing with a chimp, activist Rosa Parks waving from a passing bus, suffragette Susan B. Anthony riding a bike, all while aviator Amelia Earhart flies overhead in her red plane.
“It’s almost like a history lesson,” says the 38-year-old Kyle, who began sewing in high school.
The dresses, along with T-shirts screen-printed with images of either Holliday or Earhart, represent the first collection for Kyle’s Lionheart Lamb, a business launched with $6,000 in savings.
Since the line for girls, in sizes 2T to 6, debuted online in late May, Lionhart Lamb has produced fall and holiday counterparts. The items, priced around $50 apiece, are tagged with an inspiring message to be kind, friendly or brave that corresponds to the name of the design.
Rather than pictures of imaginary princesses, they bear images of real women who made history. And almost everything, from tags to clothing, is produced by women-owned businesses such as Esperanza Threads, a nonprofit that teaches the unemployed how to sew so they can find permanent jobs.
The fact that a married mother of three little girls with a full-time job — one that gets her up at 1:30 a.m. and puts her on the air at 4 a.m. every weekday — found the time to start a business is enough to stun some. But the dresses laid out on the bed are the realization of a vision too powerful to ignore.
“I felt like it would accomplish something,” she says, “whether it was helping other parents, helping other kids who were like mine, even if it was just helping my own child.”
For Kyle, Lionheart Lamb was a “Field of Dreams moment,” as she describes it. It unleashed her creativity, sense of female empowerment and commitment to social justice to create what she’s always looking for to help further her daughters’ emotional development.
“It was the thought that would not leave me alone,” she explains days later while driving home from the station. “Things kept popping up, pointing me in that direction. And I knew if I didn’t try it, it would bother me for years.”