Fashion industry evolves in Detroit

Last November, at the Design Define Detroit gala, the fashion community was talking about their emerging industry in Detroit. Seven months later, the question becomes what kind of progress has this effort made?  There is an astounding amount of entrepreneurship going on right now, and a lot of it centers on fashion and design. So fully aware this subject could fill a book, I’m offering a few rapid-fire case studies that point to the fashion industry’s resurgence in the region.

One of this summer’s more recent launches was Christina “Ris” Tena’s honeyBOOM line. She combines vintage sportswear, bgirl and bboy gear, streetwear, art and custom pieces to create a wildly colorful online shopping experience. She tries to capture “the golden age of hip hop,” (as she calls it) in her aesthetic, reminiscent of urban 80’s fashion. She grew up in the Bay Area around the bboy/bgirl scene and saw someone selling windbreakers out of his trunk one day. “I sat on that idea for awhile,” she recalls “and started collecting around 2007.” Moving to the Midwest and meeting other people in the fashion industry helped her long-coming August launch. “In Detroit, you’re able to work from the ground up. In New York or other places, you have to jump on something already established,” she explains. For now, the honeyBOOM line is available on the web. “If it goes well,” Ris explains “then I’d like to open up a physical space too.”

One of the concerns about the industry’s growth that was brought up last fall was access to cheap studio space. “This can’t just be virtual,” said Brian Heath, founder of Detroit Fashion Week. For the time being, a lot of designers have been working out of their apartments and selling their goods online. But there are a growing number of options for them.

Moving to Midtown right as Design Define Detroit was happening last November, Emily Thornhill launched another small start-up called Homeslice Clothing. She calls it a mix of big city fashion and down-home sensibility… similar to the vibe so many people get from Detroit. She creates everything out of 100% organic, American-grown cotton. “I do women’s apparel and they’re all one of a kind originals,” Emily says. “They’re hand painted, so I like to think of them as art pieces as well as clothing.”

Homeslice Clothing

She was recently featured at 71 Pop, a showcase for artists of all sorts to sell their work. In addition to setting up virtual shop at 71 Pop, designers also get brick and mortar pop up retail (hence the name), marketing consulting, shop display, design consulting, and even a launch party. Alongside 71 Pop, Emily is also involved in the Creative Ventures program at the Detroit Creative Corridor Center. “Being an artist through and through… having business people reach out to me is really exciting,” she says. “I’ve found the area is a great incubator and breeding ground for micro-business.”

On a larger scale, Somerset just opened CityLoft, another pop up retail spot downtown. After an explosive success at their grand opening in July, they decided to expand to the next storefront over. At that point, it was being used by the Studio Couture gallery, whose co-founder and director, Blake Almstead, has since become an enthusiastic collaborator with the CityLoft project.

So in addition to carrying nationally renown and luxury brands, CityLoft also sells local and hand crafted items. Their screen printing set up is still in the store, enabling them to create custom t-shirts and bags for shoppers. Those who purchase any Made in Detroit products, will receive a screen printed bag free. Otherwise, they’re $5.

What’s different about CityLoft is the fact that they don’t just cater to the usual suspects (20-somethings plus who are more often women). Since their expansion, they’ve been able to include more men’s apparel, and children’s clothing. You’ll find a lot of Detroit-specific products too: Motown hit CD’s, t-shirts, Pewabic pottery, and a lot more you would find in their Detroit Shoppe.

So there you have it: a quick and easy glimpse into the evolution of Detroit’s fashion industry. What do you think, Detroit? What other stories are out there? What else do we need to make this happen?

The nice thing about design — especially the fashion industry — is its seasonal nature. I am already looking forward to seeing what pops up next season in this increasingly fashion-friendly and forward Detroit.

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