- Michelle Smith, Contributor, espnW.com
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Charde Houston emerges from the Phoenix Mercury locker room after the game, wearing a black-and-white striped jumpsuit with cap sleeves, elastic waist and capri-length pants.
Her teammates roll out the imaginary red carpet for the team's resident fashionista and hand out a few teasing compliments.
"They know if they see me in something that's a bit unconventional, well, 'That's just De," Houston said. "It's not an approve or a disapprove from them, that's just me."
In fact, when some of her teammates hit the road to do some shopping of their own, it is Houston's voice -- like a personal style conscience -- they sometimes hear in their heads.
"They've told me they will look at something and think, 'Would De wear that?'" Houston said.
The 27-year-old forward who grew up in San Diego and played collegiately at Connecticut has a distinctive, even unmistakable, style on the floor. She has shaved her head nearly clean much of the time, though she sometimes dyes the stubble that's starting to grow back on top, everything from gold to platinum blond.
She's heard from fans through the years who want to emulate her look and her choices, and she decided this year to create a shopping website made up of pieces of clothing, jewelry and shoes she finds interesting.
The site is called Body Karmah and includes dresses, blouses, shoes and skirts. It also features beading combinations for the custom bracelets and jewelry that Houston first started making for herself, and then for others.
Houston's online store has largely been a do-it-yourself operation. She designed it herself, several times over, in fact, and she selects all the pieces she's selling. Houston's business independence fits right in with her personal story of a girl who has always had to take care of herself.
Houston was 12 years old when her family lost their home in San Diego and was forced to live in their car for a brief time. Her mother remained homeless with Houston's younger brother, while Houston relied on coaches and friends to transport her to practice and give her a place to sleep.
Houston cared for younger siblings while her mother worked three jobs to support her three children, bringing her brothers along to basketball practice.
More than most, she understands the importance of making your own way. Her experiences led to the creation of her foundation, called Project Y.O.U., which stands for Youth Opportunities Unlimited, which educates, motivates and empowers youth to excel in school and life. Using social media, Houston has raised money for holiday gifts for families in need and won the WNBA's Dawn Staley Leadership Award in 2010.
Her new adventure in fashion is an offshoot of her nonprofit work in the sense that she is again following her passion -- this time for style and fashion.
Houston was playing in Israel last winter and admittedly "kinda bored." A friend took her to a craft store, where she found intricate crystal beads. She bought some, came home and made herself a bracelet.
"Then I thought I could start selling them," Houston said. She started making them for team staff members, even a fan who showed interest. That gave her the idea to set up an online store.
"I thought I could put up things that I would wear," Houston said. "I didn't have a complete vision of it, but it kind of fell together."
And so she began building it from "the ground up." Website design, products, market -- it's all Houston.
"I want it to be the way I want it," Houston said. "If someone can't give that to me, then I'll do it myself."
Houston admits her style can be unconventional, sometimes even improvised.
"I feel like my style is bold and confident and just different," Houston said. "A lot of the things I wear, I don't know that people would put them together. I don't know if the things I wear sometimes are meant to be put together, but if I'm confident, I'll wear it. Once I leave the house, I keep it on."
Houston said she's spending a couple of hours a day during the season on the site, but works hard to make sure it doesn't interfere with her basketball obligations. She said she's always carrying her tablet with her, looking for new ideas. She tries to get out and shop on WNBA road trips, and winters spent overseas have exposed her to fashion from around the world.
"But basketball is No. 1. The minute I feel like I have two jobs, I have to cut back [on the website]. That's why I brought in a couple of people to help me, to alleviate the stress and the time," Houston said.
Her immediate goal is to fully launch her site and put more products up.
"I want people to have options," Houston said. "What I have up there right now, everybody might not like it, but I want people to have choices.
"I want it to be kind of like Amazon, where it's one-stop shopping," Houston said.
Charde Houston has been turning heads with her distinctive, yet confident, style. Now, the do-it-yourself fashionista is turning her off-the-court passion into a business she’s slowly building from the ground up.