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Story By Wensdy Von Buskirk
When you think "made in Detroit," cars instantly come to mind. But the Motor City is fast building a reputation for producing something else — trendsetting fashion. Clothing and accessory designers are doing cutting-edge work in The D, and their individual efforts are resulting in an exploding grassroots industrial movement.
Leading the charge is Joe Faris, a Project Runway contestant whose sportswear carried him to the top six in the hit TV design show's 2008 season. The ranking on the show marked a new beginning for Faris' career.
He returned to Beverly Hills (Michigan, not California), where he's helping drive the fashion industry by developing high-profile fashion shows, establishing his own line, mentoring emerging designers and manufacturing in Detroit.
Beginning his design career with Rochester Hills-based Pelle Pelle, Faris has worked for Bugle Boy, Ralph Lauren, Perry Ellis and Schott NYC. Now, he's focused on Motor City Denim Co., his own line of jeans, skirts, dresses, western shirts, tees, outerwear and accessories inspired by Detroit. "I like to call it ‘industrial couture,'" Faris says. "It takes the industrial elements of work wear and adds high-fashion elements."
Faris partnered with local automotive suppliers hit hard by the recession to manufacture Motor City Denim apparel. Sterling Heights-based TD Industrial Coverings (TDIC), which has a 25-year history crafting "clothing" for robots, retooled a portion of its factory and retrained staff to produce Motor City Denim items.
Taylor-based Arrow Uniform does the denim wash, and local screen printers and embroiderers round out the all-Michigan production team. The Motor City Denim line is currently available at Showtime Clothing in Detroit and Caruso Caruso in Birmingham and is projected to expand nationwide this year.
Made In Detroit, a popular line of T-shirts, hoodies, jackets and accessories owned by musician Kid Rock, will also be manufactured by TDIC thanks to Faris' helping hand. The Made In Detroit line is available at dozens of area retailers, including Incognito in Royal Oak and Detroit Outfitters in Warren.
Fashion In Detroit (FID), a runway event that shines a national spotlight on metro Detroit talent, is another Faris-inspired creation. The ultimate goal of FID, Faris notes, is to set the stage for manufacturing here so designers don't have to move away or take the red-eye to see their work brought to life on the coast.
Since 2009, FID has staged three days of parties, networking events and runway shows featuring emerging Michigan designers. The events, held first at the Detroit Zoo and then at MotorCity Casino Hotel, have drawn attention from CNN, Time Magazine and Women's Wear Daily.
You can find Stone at Starring "The Gallery" in Northville, and at occasional trunk shows at Nordstrom in the Somerset Collection upscale retail center. Stone, who is self-taught and the daughter of factory workers, credits her success to the Detroit work ethic. "There's so much creative talent here," she says. "And as a small company starting out, I get to capitalize on that talent."
In 2010, FID featured Geftaki, a Southgate-based swimwear design company that's making waves nationally. The company's sexy suits, characterized by bold patterns, cutouts and flashy hardware, are favored by celebrities such as Paris Hilton, Kim Kardashian, Jessica Simpson, Brooke Hogan and Teri Hatcher.
Since its founding in 2003, Geftaki swimwear is now carried across the U.S., as well as in Mexico, Canada, Germany and China. Locally, Geftaki items can be found at Brothers Fine Jewelry in Southgate, Poshh in Ann Arbor and Essence in West Bloomfield.
Owner Trisha Geftos uses a local pattern maker and then has her designs made in LA. She says she has chosen to live in Rochester so she can have the best of both worlds. "It's important to me to try to keep jobs in the state," she remarks.
Fotoula Lambros, who showed at FID with her former company Femilia, is now at the helm of her own label, Fotoula Lambros Design. Lambros, educated at the International Academy of Design & Technology Detroit (IADT) and part of Ferndale's DIY scene, hopes to keep all her production in Michigan. Her line, using American-made organic materials, is available at Flo Boutique and The Style Gallery, both in Detroit.
Other standouts from FID, according to Faris, include menswear designer Jeff Hooton, and FID winners Adriana Pavon and Natalia Villafana.
The Rail District
While FID is helping to establish clothing manufacturing in The D, Terrance Sullivan is working to create a fashion district.
Sullivan is developing a complete ready-to-wear collection. At the center of his brand, 25 styles of jeans expertly cut for a woman's curves. Already spotted on a bevy of A-listers from Taylor Swift and Beyonce to Kristen Stewart and Halle Berry, Terrance Sullivan jeans are available at Fred Segal and Satine in LA, along with Tender in the Detroit suburb of Birmingham.
Sullivan began his training in design and fashion illustration at Detroit's Cass Technical High School and honed his skills working for designers in New York City. He returned to his roots when he decided to start his own collection. "It was definitely more cost effective to be Michigan based," he says. "I have learned that you don't necessarily have to live in New York to compete in the fashion industry."
Sullivan credits the Internet, FedEx and cheap airfare for allowing him to conduct business in New York or LA, and still be home for dinner.
But he's realistic about growing Detroit's fashion industry. "It's going to take a concerted effort from media, designers, manufacturers and on down to hair and makeup and models," Sullivan explains.
For his part, Sullivan wants to help build The D's community and champions the Rail District in Birmingham, where inexpensive rent is drawing in designers. Sullivan's airy, light-filled studio on Cole Street is two doors down from lifestyle magazine Ambassador and Denise Ilitch Designs. Bonnie Foley, who designs under the label Christiane Larue, moved in next door and jewelry designer Stone also works nearby.
"I for one would love to see more designers come to this area, even this courtyard, who are serious and committed and to the level where they need a place of business," Sullivan says. "I think there's strength in numbers."
According to Beckie Thompson, president of Fashion Group International-Detroit (FGI-Detroit), momentum is building in the Michigan design industry. "There's a big movement going on," Thompson notes, adding that Michigan schools are churning out a whole new generation of talent.
Fashion design classes are offered at Eastern Michigan University, Western Michigan University, Wayne State University, Michigan State University, Northwood University and the IADT. Additionally, the College for Creative Studies and Cranbrook Academy of Art have textile programs.
"Fashion is becoming more and more popular as a career path," Thompson says. "People are realizing they don't have to go to Chicago or New York to get a good fashion education."
FGI-Detroit, which marked its 65th anniversary last year, is focused on providing business intelligence to industry professionals. Thompson says FGI-Detroit, 50 members strong and growing, serves as a resource to help designers connect with the resources they need to bring their visions to life, from writing a business plan to understanding trade shows and buying cycles. The more the fashion community pulls together, says Thompson, the more successful it will be.
"We want to help people realize they can build their fashion career and stay right here," she adds.
While many creative designers from metro Detroit are poised to emerge on an international stage, some have already become household names. Here's a look at four design stars from The D.
To learn more about some of the designers, fashion organizations and apparel/accessory lines mentioned in this article, feel free to visit their respective websites.
Fashion Group International – Detroit
Fashion In Detroit
Made In Detroit
Motor City Denim Co.
View Dressing Up The D in a larger map
Brothers Fine Jewelry
Christiane Larue Showroom
Starring “The Gallery”
The Style Gallery
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