Baseball to ball gowns: Former UCSD pitcher finds career as designer

SAN DIEGO -- In 2008, UC San Diego senior pitcher Derek Barham was on top of the world and ready for "the show."

"I threw a complete game shutout my senior year at UCSD," Barham said. "Coach came up to me on the bus and said, 'you just got yourself drafted.' I was on cloud 9."

But fate had other plans. Barham suffered an elbow injury shortly after that game. He rehabbed and transferred to his hometown college, Fresno Pacific, for one season. Following a throwing session in front of major league scouts, the Los Angeles Dodgers came up to Barham and told him something wasn't right.

"I got Dr. Andrews, who created the Tommy John surgery, on speaker phone out of Alabama and he looked at my MRIs and said, 'son, you've torn everything in your elbow. You seem like a smart kid, you've got a good head on your shoulders, a good degree. If you were my son, I'd [tell you] find a new career.'"

That night, Barham returned to Mia Bella in Fresno to help close up his mom's dress shop.

Later that year, his mother became bed-ridden because of chemotherapy and Barham felt driven to take over the family business -- and seemingly found a new career.

"It was tough," Barham said. "You're thinking about running a business, a family business, keeping it successful, keeping it rolling in a time in 2008-2009 when it was a down economy."

Once his mom made a full recovery, in 2012, Barham opened a second location in Del Mar.

And he's more than just an owner, he's also a designer.

"Sure enough I had to go through the school of hard knocks and seamstress work and learn how to do that," Barham said. "I'd go to my seamstress sometime until 12 a.m. or 1 a.m. and watch her take apart dresses and put them back together and learned how to sew that way. I'd sit there, thread needle, just watch her take it apart and learn the ins and outs of the dresses."

Now Barham and his fiancé are launching their own line of gowns.

"She's actually been an inspiration for a lot of this stuff so I decided to name it after her middle name, which is Rene, so it's Rene Atelier."

"It's fun actually because I get to try on a lot of the dresses first and tell him, 'this is itchy' or 'we need to use a different fabric' or 'it's not stretchy enough' or things like that," said Barham's fiancé Daryl Bonham. "He knows all the fabrics, he knows all the designs, the patterns, the cuts, all that. I just get to put all the pretty dresses on, tell him this is what I like, this is what I don't like."

From baseball to ball gowns, Barham has a message for other athletes.

"There is life after sports. Sometimes it might be selling dresses," Barham said.