Tucked away on the south side of County Road 30A, just off Seaside's Cinderella Circle rests a shop that can boast of its own Cinderella story.
Once upon a time, there was a young girl growing up in the small town of Brundidge, Ala., who says she was always creative.
"You had to be if you grew up in a small town," says Stephanie Carter. "You had to make your own garments to get what you wanted because there weren't that many options. I grew up doing creative things and even did some modeling."
Carter studied marketing in college and was given an assignment her senior year (2003) to create her own company. She created Deja Vu fashion line. No particular reason for the name, she said, "I had to come up with something quickly and it was French, so, I chose it."
To fund the project she sold the Mustang she got when she was 16 for $4,000.
Carter discovered that there was a market for her unique fashions and she began selling to country clubs and sororities.
She obtained her degree in marketing in 2004 and continued establishing Deja Vu.
She spent that first year working on her line and her first shipment sold out.
That New Year's Eve Carter was in South Walton and looked for a top to wear, but couldn't find what she needed.
She wondered if her clothes would sell here.
She came down to the next West Indies Market at Rosemary Beach, put up a tent and sold out.
In 2005 she opened Deja Vu in a kiosk at Seacrest, but her clothes were so popular that she had to restock three times a day.
With the demand being centered here, Carter moved to the beach to be closer to her business in 2007.
From Seacrest, Deja Vu then opened at Pier Park, then Seaside, which now serves as Carter's base.
Not one to feel secure with all her eggs in one basket, however, the designer felt she needed another outlet and a plan B in addition to her retail venture of Deja Vu.
She founded her wholesale line "Judith March" in 2009, which she now sells to 1,100 stores around the United States and ships 15,000 garments a month under that label. March is her birth month and Judith is her mother's given name.
Carter typically sells to a target market from college-aged to mid-30s, but she also has found fans in the younger junior set and among the mod moms.
"We sell to ages between 13 and 60, and over. It just depends," she said.
A popular seller, especially during football season, is her game day collection of dresses.
In the 10 short years since she founded Deja Vu, 31-year-old Carter now has 87 employees, four physical stores, and one warehouse on County Road 393 North, which serves as the company office.
Carter's childhood best friend, Christy Smith, has moved here from New York to help her friend and is now CEO for Carter's new umbrella company called Southern Fashion House. In New York, Smith worked for Kay Unger Corporation.
The women will be unveiling a new line in spring: Jaques and Janis.
"Women like to dress in different styles and not the same style all the time. These are throwbacks to the looks of Jackie Kennedy and Janis Joplin. Some days you might want to be Jackie, and some days, you might want to be Janis. This line gives you the option," she explained.
Jaques will be a more tailored look and Janis will feature more embroidery and beadwork.
For more information about Deja Vu, visit www.shopdejavu.com.
"I didn't always want to design, and I absolutely could not have seen this coming," said Carter. "I didn't have time to think about it. It's been a blur. I worked hard opening doors and God put it in front of my face. I love my job and we are all one big creative family."
A BIG REVEAL AT SOUTH WALTON FASHION WEEK
Designer Stephanie Carter will debut her new line during South Walton Fashion Week in October.
"I am thrilled to be involved with the inaugural South Walton Fashion Week as an Exclusive Runway Sponsor," she said. "This show will give me the opportunity to showcase 30 unique looks from my company Southern Fashion House's two clothing lines Judith March and Jaques and Janis."
Carter will also host a trunk show and party in conjunction with the events Oct. 10 at 5 p.m. called "Boots and Bubbly," offering guests an insider sneak peek of her headquarters while shopping, sipping champagne from mason jars and listening to live music by Duke and the Bulls.
"It is going to be an amazing opportunity for not only myself as a local designer, but other local designers, boutiques, emerging designers and our area as a whole to gain regional and national recognition," she said.
South Walton Fashion Week will be at Grand Boulevard Oct. 11 - 13. The multi-day event celebrates fashion by featuring rising regional designers and models, chic local boutiques, runway shows, retail shopping experiences and VIP parties.