Maureen Kyle and her daughters Maureen Kyle and her daughters
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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.”

Lionheart Lamb was spawned by the challenges of motherhood.

Back in 2016, Scarlett wanted to dress as Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz for Halloween. Although Kyle searched and searched, she couldn’t find a blue gingham dress that didn’t look “highly flammable” or “way too adult,” as she puts it delicately. 

So she pulled her high school sewing machine from the spare-bedroom closet — the first time she’d done so in years — and made one with a store-bought pattern.

“It took me two weeks of whatever spare time I had,” she recalls. “But I MacGyvered together a Dorothy Halloween costume for her. And she loved it — she loved it!” 

Kyle found satisfaction in it, too. 

“It was so cool for her to see that I made something and she’s wearing it,” she says. “She never thought of where clothing had come from before.”

Then one day after preschool, Scarlett was unusually quiet on the ride home. After a few questions, Kyle eventually learned why. Two of Scarlett’s classmates had told her, “You’re not my best friend anymore, and you can’t play with me.” 

While such moments can be as traumatic for parents as they are for their children, Kyle thought she might have a way to ease her daughter’s pain. It was something she’d cooked up when Scarlett tearfully insisted on wearing her dress shoes to preschool rather than her sneakers. Kyle told her the sneakers were “fast shoes” that would make her quicker on the playground.

“She would believe it,” Kyle says. “She’d run around the house and show me: ‘See Mom? I ran faster. Did you see that? I ran faster because I have my fast shoes on.’ ”

Kyle decided to “cloak her in confidence,” instructing Scarlett in the ways of friendship and telling her certain items in her closet made her braver, better able to make friends or whatever skill she needed. 

It worked. At the end of the year, Scarlett received the Most Compassionate Classmate Award. “If a friend got hurt, she would run and get a Band-Aid,” Kyle says. “If a friend was sad, she would go sit next to them to see what was wrong.”

Conversely, Kyle discouraged talk of becoming a princess — a goal she believes was inspired by the Disney merchandise Scarlett was accumulating — by exposing her to historical figures. For example, Scarlett fell in love with Amelia Earhart after Kyle dressed up as the aviator on Channel 3 News Today for Halloween 2017.

“I just thought, Why are there not messages out there about confidence? Why are there not women in history on dresses?” she remembers.

At about the same time, Kyle was surrounded by friends taking on passion projects and side hustles. 

As the second-oldest child of St. Ignatius High School football coach Chuck Kyle and art teacher Pat Kyle, she was raised in the Jesuit tradition of serving others and came from a family of strong, independent women. 

Her mother, who provides the images for her designs, taught her how to sew. Her 102-year-old maternal grandmother, a local actress who played soccer, ran track and captained the girls’ basketball team in high school, even learned how to box and shoot before attending Oberlin College. 

Maureen recalls her mother teaching the Kyle kids how to draw and offering creative crafts to keep them busy. 

“If she gets an idea in her head, you just do not try to get in her way,” Pat says. “You just say, ‘Go for it!’ ”

For her part, Maureen says her parents strong work ethic made an impression on her. “It was how I was brought up,” she says “I want my daughters to see that, too.”

So in September 2017, she enrolled in a nine-week business boot camp for aspiring female entrepreneurs offered by the nonprofit Aviatra Accelerators. She did so with the vague notion of learning how to turn a profit on her blog.

“I was kind of thinking I’d just audit the classes,” she says. “When I could go, that would be great. And if I couldn’t go because I had to wake up or I had to work, then whatever, no big loss.”

The boot camp, however, turned out to be transformational. During a week off from work, Kyle drew on maternal experience and a vision of what a 6-year-old Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis might wear. She sketched, cut, pinned and stitched samples of the Kindness, Friendship and Brave dresses. 

“I wanted to see what it looked like before I invested all this money,” she explains. “I didn’t want to come up with a sketch but then, when I see it in person, I’m like, ‘Ugh. I can’t believe I just paid somebody to come up with my bad idea.’ ”

Although she learned later that most designers show up with a sketch, producing a sample actually provided a valuable test run. Scarlett received rave reviews when she wore the golden-yellow Kindness Dress prototype to the Cleveland Museum of Art. 

“A lot of women were stopping her and saying, ‘I love your dress!’ ” Kyle recalls. 

For the Brave Dress, Kyle and her mother discussed historical female figures to include in the vignette, while her husband, Mark McDougall, a patent-attorney, researched usage rights regarding their images. 

Pat drew the scene by hand, scanned it into a computer, then retraced and colored it digitally so it could be printed on fabric. “I would do some drawing,” Pat says. “Mo’d yes or no, yay or nay, on things.”

By the time the boot camp ended in early November, Kyle had contracted with Forma Apparel Manufacturing, a female-owned-and-operated business in Beachwood. 

Forma made patterns and professional samples of the dresses, along with a flared tunic-style T-shirt that accommodated rounded “toddler tummies” and subsequent growth — a garment Forma recommended and helped design. 

Kyle even had a name for the clothing line. “I was trying to think of a name that would embody bravery — bravery, but they are still little,” she says. “It just kind of popped in my brain: Lionheart Lamb.”

The accelerated pace of development continued, even after Kyle learned she was pregnant with her third child in late 2017. 

Mountain Street Arts, a Massachusetts wife-and-husband makers of custom clothing labels, created twill labels for the 150 dresses and 50 T-shirts. Fellow Bay Village mom Jennifer Minor Krueger’s Minor Details CLE, a designer of custom invitations and paper goods, did her tags. 

One features the company name, Pat’s portrait of Amelia Earhart and the tagline “Clothing for Future Trailblazers.” The other type bears one of several messages of empowerment, such as: “This dress will make you into a great friend! You will have the power to ask every kid to play. Your games will have room for all boys and girls, short and tall, older and little. If you see someone playing alone, be brave and ask them to join in. Be a great friend, Little One!”

In July, Kyle met with Patrick Kellett of Lakewood-based Black Label Clothing about screen-printing her mother’s Lucille Ball-inspired doodle on a jersey-knit girls’ dress and women’s T-shirt. (“I had friends who don’t have daughters that wanted one,” she says.) 

When Kyle told him an all-female team was making Lionheart Lamb clothing, Kellett replied, “Oh, you mean Esperanza Threads?”

“I forgot that I did a story on Esperanza Threads years ago, before I had kids,” Kyle says. So she contacted them. 

Founded in 2000 by Ursuline Sister Mary Eileen Boyle, the nonprofit has grown into a training school and manufacturer housed in a former Gordon Square bakery. It offers a free three-week class that teaches industrial-production basics such as sewing a straight seam, turning corners, stitching knits, matching plaids and putting in zippers. 

It begins with an English-as-a-second-language course in sewing terminology for those just learning to speak the language. Enrollees have included migrant refugees — now primarily from the Congo, Sudan, Somalia, Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria — to those recovering from addiction and the homeless. 

“We were right down the street from Catholic Charities, [so] we were able to connect with people right within that area who needed training in order to get jobs,” says Boyle. “We really became job developers for industrial sewing.”

Kyle initially contacted Esperanza Threads because she didn’t think Forma, with its base of larger clients, would be willing to produce limited runs of two holiday dresses. 

So Esperanza made the Joy Dress, a red version of the Kindness Dress with three-quarter-length sleeves, and the Merry Dress, a three-quarter-sleeve, red-sashed iteration of the Brave Dress, made of black-and-white buffalo-check cotton shirting. 

But Kyle was so pleased with the quality, so touched by Esperanza Threads’ mission, that she’s working with the nonprofit to produce her Spring 2019 line.

“There are women [at Esperanza Threads] who are trying to create a life,” she says. “If my investment helps, then that’s awesome.”

The holiday dresses quickly sold out, both online as well as at the Home for the Holidays pop-up boutique in Lakewood, and Jeannine’s Gifts, a Rockville Center, New York, boutique that a friend living in the area recommended. 

The combination of positive messaging and high-quality, distinctive-yet-classic girls’ apparel is appealing to customers and retailers alike, says Michelle Kalinyak-Adams, co-owner of Shed Boutique and Wellness, a Chagrin Falls gift shop that carries the Lionheart Lamb line.

“The feedback from the people that have bought [items] has been wonderful,” raves Kalinyak-Adams. 

Still, Kyle faces plenty of challenges as a novice designer. 

She laughs while describing the puzzled faces of WKYC viewers who watched as she hauled boxes into trunk shows at Banyan Tree in Tremont and Pinecrest in Orange Village — the same boxes she digs through to fill online orders in the spare bedroom where she sews up samples. 

The experience made her realize the importance of getting out to more boutiques, talking to their owners and ensuring consumers can “see, touch, feel the quality” of the garments.

Kyle points to a holiday boutique she participated in at Pinecrest. “The moms weren’t even looking at the price,” she recalls. “They just picked up a dress and would buy it.”

Although she designed Lionheart Lamb’s website, Kyle has consulted with Banyan Tree founder Christie Murdoch, who developed the Figwood women’s clothing line, about sourcing fabric, manufacturing timelines and how much inventory to order. 

Like most startups in their infancy, however, Lionheart Lamb has yet to turn a profit.

“I don’t know what my endgame was with this,” she admits. “But TV — I mean, you see it — it’s not forever, and it’s not forever for everyone. I don’t know when it will end.”

But Kyle does know one thing for sure.

“I’m not a stay-at-home type,” she says. “So I’d want to have something else to work on. And this is a hobby that turned into much more than just a hobby.”

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