"Build an Empire!"
These are the words written in red lipstick on Shyra Ely-Gash's master bathroom mirror. It's not a coincidence that the message is right next to her favorite room in the house -- her walk-in closet.
Inside is her "collection" of high-end, vintage and thrift-store finds, which she intertwines to create her signature style.
"I'm still a tomboy, so I like to juxtapose feminine and masculine pieces. I also like to throw an element of surprise into my look," says Ely-Gash, a 6'2" forward who played for six years in the WNBA, including a year with the Indiana Fever. "But my style also changes with my mood."
To say that Ely-Gash is a female basketball player and a fashionista might sound like an oxymoron to some, but for her it's simply being true to who she is.
"I knew I was going to have a career in fashion before basketball," says the Indianapolis resident, who was a standout at Ben Davis High School and the University of Tennessee, and rocked a long, flowing ponytail, lashes and painted fingernails on the court.
"I just happened to be good at basketball."
Since 2009, Ely-Gash has been building an empire in the fashion and beauty industry. She started Styles By Ms. Ely, an image consulting business that offers wardrobe styling, personal shopping, closet organization, closet revamping and event styling for clients from all walks of life.
But in true form, she also found a way to incorporate her love of fashion with basketball. For the past several years, Ely-Gash has styled WNBA and NBA players, as well as NCAA coaches.
"I knew that (after my playing days) I didn't want to coach, but I wanted to be close to basketball in some kind of way," says Ely-Gash. "I wanted to merge basketball and fashion."
She styles former Fever teammate Tamika Catchings for all of her special events. She even pulled together the clothes that Fever players Shavonte Zellous, Erlana Larkins and Sasha Goodlett wore for their 2013 visit to the White House after winning the 2012 WNBA Championship.
Her manicured reach also extends into the NBA, with clients such as friend and Indiana Pacers guard C.J. Watson, who also played collegiate basketball at the University of Tennessee.
However, her work is probably most visible thanks to Louisiana State University head coach Nikki Caldwell. To say that Caldwell is arguably the best-dressed coach in college basketball is probably an understatement.
She's known for wearing tailored pantsuits with stilettos, and animals prints (in honor of the LSU Lady Tigers).
"Each year, we try to focus on the looks she (Caldwell) will wear. Sometimes we look at the full year or focus on specific games," says Ely-Gash. "What we choose depends on her team and how she needs to interact with them."
Simply put, the looks need to be fashionable but also comfortable enough to move around in. "Nikki loves edgy shoes. We have very similar tastes, so it's easy to dress her."
Ely-Gash also styles LSU assistant coach Tasha Butts, a former teammate during their days at the University of Tennessee. And she's proud of her work.
"When Nikki or Tasha or whoever is on TV, I'm looking at them to make sure that they are wearing the looks the way that I put them together," says Ely-Gash. "I'm looking at my work. I'll go on social media and read the comments to see what people are saying about what they're wearing.
"Once, someone said that they only watch LSU basketball to see what Nikki is wearing."
Although Ely-Gash has always loved fashion (as a little girl, she used to sit in her room with her fashion magazines and catalogs, circling the clothes she wanted, and sketching), she really didn't show that side of herself until middle school.
"I would always wear my brother's clothes up until eighth grade," she says. "I would wait until he went to school and then sneak into his closet. I felt like wearing boy clothes made me a better basketball player."
It wasn't until after an AAU (Amateur Athletic Union) trip that she decided to reveal her true sense of style. "During the trip, we were going out one night and everyone on the team was dressed up but me."
Since then, she's added touches of her femininity and love of fashion into everything she does.
"I'll go to my deathbed saying that we can be awesome athletes and coaches and still be fashionable."
Ely-Gash, who received a degree in fashion merchandising from the University of Tennessee ("they didn't have a major in fashion design"), says she finds inspiration in everything and everywhere. But her initial love for fashion and beauty comes from her Great-Aunt Tutz.
"Fashion is in my blood," she says. "My granny was a seamstress and my great aunt, too. My Aunt Tutz was just a trailblazer. She was way ahead of her time."
To pay honor to her aunt, Ely-Gash created an online boutique called Tutz Glam, where she sells pieces from her personal collection. The site also houses her blog.
Every so often, Ely-Gash goes into her walk-in closet and purges. The items that she painstakingly lets go of ("I really don't like to let things go") are either sold through her online boutique or go to local vintage or thrift stores.
But don't think for one minute that there's a free inch of space left in her closet, even after the purging. Her closet is filled with 70 or 80 pairs of jeans, lots of accessories, and at least 100 pairs of shoes ... including multiple pairs in the same color family. She's quick, however, to point out that not one pair is alike.
And at 6'2" barefoot, you'd think that she would favor flats instead of heels, but she doesn't. When asked how high her tallest heels are, she doesn't hesitate to respond. "Oh, 6 inches -- I will wear your tallest heel. I don't have a problem with being 6 foot 9, and my husband (Rich "Pee Wee" Gash) is only 5'11"," said Ely-Gash, with a laugh.
For her, fashion is like works of art.
"I view myself as an artist. I consider my clothes my art, and my body is the canvas," says Ely-Gash. "It's self-expression; it's how I express myself."
Fashion and the art of putting looks together is also a form or relaxation for Ely-Gash. It's where she finds her happy place.
"Some people like to sit on the couch with a cup of tea and read a book. For me, I can sit in the middle of my closet and pray. That's my sanctuary."
Want to learn more about Shyra Ely-Gash's fashion empire?
Styles by Ms. Ely is an image consulting business that offers wardrobe styling, personal shopping, closet organization, closet revamp, fashion show styling, photo shoot styling, event styling and style scheduling and wardrobe planning.
Tutz Glam is her online clothing boutique featuring new, gently-used and vintage pieces from her personal collection. It also includes her fashion blog.
Ely-Gash's Favorite Pieces
With more than 70 pairs of jeans, 100 pairs of shoes and a walk-in closet to die for, Shyra Ely-Gash showed us a few of her favorite pieces in her collection.
"I don't have clothes, I have a collection," she said.
Vintage Gangsta Fur Cape
"I named her GiGi for Gangsta Girl," said Ely-Gash about this brown fur cape she purchased from "More than a Boutique," one of her favorite local vintage/resale shops in Indianapolis.
The cape is from the 1920s and was worn by female gangsters. "The pockets of the cape are where they would keep their guns," she said.
Faux Fur White Full-length coat
"I call this my madame fur."
Full-length Sweater Coat
"This was my favorite pick up of the fall," said Ely-Gash. "This fall it was all about the big oversized sweaters with the rounded shoulders."
**All of her favorite pieces came from More Than a Boutique.
Ely-Gash's Fashion Tips
To help all women put their best foot forward, Shyra Ely-Gash offers these fashion tips.
-- When shopping, I always like to try everything on in the store and do what I would be doing in the clothes. So if you will be sitting in the clothing or bending over, do that while trying the clothes on to check to see how far it will ride up while sitting down or how far it hikes up in the back if you have to bend over.
-- For your off-the-rack statement pieces (blazers, suits, slacks), get them tailored to fit your body. "I do this with all of my statement pieces because my body is not proportionate."
-- If you are afraid of color but want to add it to your wardrobe, start by adding pops of color with accessories.
-- Be aware of your body type and what works for your body, because that will make getting dressed more enjoyable.
-- When it comes to trends, understand that trends are not for everybody. Again, pay attention to what works for your specific body type.
-- Leggings are NOT pants. They are NOT a substitute for pants. When wearing leggings you should always cover your butt with a tunic or long shirt. Leggings are not fashion.
-- When wearing color, always go with a neutral shoe. A nude heel also elongates your legs and doesn't make you look chopped off at the ankles. They make you look like you're floating along.