Dressed to the Nines

Designer Kiya Tomlin always dreamed of creating custom apparel. Now, armed with scissors, fabric and creativity, she brings her one-of-a-kind pieces to Pittsburgh.




Photo by Becky Thurner Braddock
 

Let’s face it: We Pittsburghers don’t always rise to the fashion challenge. A Steeler jersey paired with sweatpants is not, in fact, “business casual.”

But designer Kiya Tomlin thinks the city’s sartorial future is bright. There’s a growing interest in high style here, she says, and a new generation of clothing designers who might just make fashion a viable local industry.

New Jersey native Tomlin, 38, arrived in 2007 as the quietly beautiful wife of new Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin. These days, she’s creating apparel for women and children. Through her meticulous work process, Tomlin produces clothes that flatter any figure; her designs meld current fashion trends with the timeless and traditional elements she finds most appealing, with creations ranging from everyday chic to red-carpet glamour.

Having a growing client list, Tomlin recently moved her workspace from the Shadyside home she shares with Mike and their three kids to a studio in East Liberty. Currently, her company, Kiya Tomlin Pittsburgh, is a one-woman operation — but has significant expansion plans in the works.

You’ve been in your studio for a few months. How has it impacted your work?
It’s more comfortable! Working from home, I was contained. And I was always multitasking. I’m more productive now.

How do your clients come to you?
Mostly word of mouth or referral. It takes a certain kind of client to appreciate what I do — I don’t just have clothes here to try on, which is the way we’re used to shopping. It has to be someone who’s open-minded about the process and collaborating. I set up an initial consultation. Then I listen to what their needs are — and what they’re looking to get from the process.

Your method is similar to that of old-fashioned couture houses, where designers worked closely with clients to create highly individualized pieces. So is there an education process involved with some of your clients?
Yes. Custom clothing design is quite rare now, so not everyone understands the mix of creativity, skill and technical knowledge required. Some might not want to pay the cost of custom work. Clothing that’s mass-produced can be inexpensive, but mass-production yields “fast fashion,” similar to fast food. And my designs are based on an individual’s figure. If they’re willing to rely on my expertise, [it’s] an awesome project!

What is your design aesthetic?
I love textures — and [also] mixing them. I want to create unique yet traditionally elegant looks, and I want my clothes to feel comfortable. Fashion’s cyclical, so I do follow trends — I just adapt them or make them a little more timeless so [they can be worn for more than one] season.

You began making clothes at a very young age.
I was 10 when I asked my mom for my first sewing machine. I think I made one stuffed duck, and the next thing I made was a jumpsuit — and that’s what I’ve been doing ever since. It was partly out of necessity; I was very small and couldn’t buy the styles I wanted because I was shopping in the children’s section even as I got older. I never stopped making clothes. Even in college, I was making dresses while studying for exams.

There seems to be a growing energy and creativity in Pittsburgh regarding fashion.
If we could manufacture locally, Pittsburgh could really take off as a fashion city. A lot of designers think they can’t do it here, so they go elsewhere. And there’s not a lot of fabric selection here, so my work involves traveling to New York for that. But if you look at how the movie industry is building up here — if we could do that with fashion, Pittsburgh could really see some growth.

What are your future plans?
Moving into a studio was only the first step of my vision. My next [goal] is to create designs that are more readily available. I’m in the process of creating a collection of ready-to-wear designs for fall, which will be debuted in a runway show and sold in local boutiques. So, my dream is developing — and I’m loving every minute of it!

Given the ubiquity of Steeler gear in Pittsburgh, have you ever been asked to make a black-and-gold ensemble?
Yeah. *laughs* One woman worked on Sundays and wasn’t allowed to wear a Steeler jersey to show her support. She said to me, “Wouldn’t it be great if you designed dresses that were black-and-gold and ‘Steeler-esque’?” But I don’t want to be known as the wife who designs Steeler gowns — besides, there are probably all sorts of trademark issues with the NFL!  
 

Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow Tags

Hot Reads

Chuck Noll: A Man for All Seasons

Chuck Noll: A Man for All Seasons

Two years after Chuck Noll’s death, University of Pittsburgh Press prepares to publish the first definitive biography of the legendary Pittsburgh Steelers coach. Pittsburgh Magazine is proud to share an interview with author Michael MacCambridge and an exclusive excerpt of “Chuck Noll: His Life’s Work,” scheduled for release in October.
The Changing Face of Campus in Pittsburgh

The Changing Face of Campus in Pittsburgh

Renovation is under way at nearly all of our area colleges and universities. For students heading back to school this fall — and their parents — we offer this crash course on the highlights of these projects and their projected benefits.
Fall Fashion: In the Black

Fall Fashion: In the Black

The little black dress, and shirt, and pants, never go out of style. Add mystery to your wardrobe with these easy-to-accent autumn staples.
Apteka: A Taste of Home

Apteka: A Taste of Home

Kate Lasky and Tomasz Skowronski bring top-notch vegan, eastern European cuisine to Bloomfield.
Edit ModuleShow Tags

The 412

Turning on the Tap: You Now Can Buy Beer at Pitt Home Games

Turning on the Tap: You Now Can Buy Beer at Pitt Home Games

It’s the first time beer will be sold stadium-wide at University of Pittsburgh games at Heinz Field.
Southwest Airlines Planning More Flights from Pittsburgh

Southwest Airlines Planning More Flights from Pittsburgh

The Allegheny County Airport Authority has been lobbying for more direct service from Pittsburgh to the West Coast.
Zing Basket Promises Speedy Grocery Delivery to Your Door

Zing Basket Promises Speedy Grocery Delivery to Your Door

The online grocery delivery service opened this week, promising delivery in 45 minutes or less to selected neighborhoods.
Old Farmer’s Almanac: Winter in Pittsburgh Will Be Warmer, But…

Old Farmer’s Almanac: Winter in Pittsburgh Will Be Warmer, But…

In its 225th year, the reference book on weather suggests we tune up our snow-removal equipment.

Sign Up for the 412 e-Newsletter

 

Our daily e-newsletter is curated by the editors of Pittsburgh Magazine and is designed to give you the very best Pittsburgh has to offer -- delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign me up!
* Email
 First Name
 Last Name
  * = Required Field
 
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Hot Reads

Chuck Noll: A Man for All Seasons

Chuck Noll: A Man for All Seasons

Two years after Chuck Noll’s death, University of Pittsburgh Press prepares to publish the first definitive biography of the legendary Pittsburgh Steelers coach. Pittsburgh Magazine is proud to share an interview with author Michael MacCambridge and an exclusive excerpt of “Chuck Noll: His Life’s Work,” scheduled for release in October.
The Changing Face of Campus in Pittsburgh

The Changing Face of Campus in Pittsburgh

Renovation is under way at nearly all of our area colleges and universities. For students heading back to school this fall — and their parents — we offer this crash course on the highlights of these projects and their projected benefits.
Fall Fashion: In the Black

Fall Fashion: In the Black

The little black dress, and shirt, and pants, never go out of style. Add mystery to your wardrobe with these easy-to-accent autumn staples.
Apteka: A Taste of Home

Apteka: A Taste of Home

Kate Lasky and Tomasz Skowronski bring top-notch vegan, eastern European cuisine to Bloomfield.
Talk of The Tahn: City of Beer

Talk of The Tahn: City of Beer

There are plans afoot for a international museum of beer to be built and staffed right here in Pittsburgh.
Pitt vs Penn State: Resumption of Hostilities

Pitt vs Penn State: Resumption of Hostilities

After an extended hiatus, the storied rivalry between the Pitt Panthers and Penn State Nittany Lions returns in September to Heinz Field.
Edit Module

Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow Tags

On the Blogs


Turning on the Tap: You Now Can Buy Beer at Pitt Home Games

Turning on the Tap: You Now Can Buy Beer at Pitt Home Games

It’s the first time beer will be sold stadium-wide at University of Pittsburgh games at Heinz Field.

Comments


Pittsburgh, only cooler
PittGirl: How You Should Grade A Squishy Tongue

PittGirl: How You Should Grade A Squishy Tongue

Kennywood Park opens soon and new this season is the return of the famed whale at the entrance of Noah’s Ark. In the name of science, PittGirl paid an early visit to test the squishiness quotient of the whale's all-important tongue.

Comments


All the foodie news that's fit to blog
Where to Go at the Three Day Blow

Where to Go at the Three Day Blow

Our dining critic (and Three Day Blow organizing committee member) has a roundup of some open to the public events.

Comments


Not just good stuff. Great stuff.
The 5 Best Comic Shops in Pittsburgh

The 5 Best Comic Shops in Pittsburgh

These comic book shops offer more than just your casual Batman or Spider-Man choices.

Comments


New Industry Public House Location Up to Par

New Industry Public House Location Up to Par

If you’re in need of a dining option that’s not a national chain while visiting the Robinson area, this is one to keep in mind.

Comments


Mike Prisuta's Sports Section

A weekly look at the games people are playing and the people who are playing them.
Le'Veon Bell Talks The Talk But Can’t Walk The Walk

Le'Veon Bell Talks The Talk But Can’t Walk The Walk

The Steelers running back emphasized his latest suspension resulted from missed random drug tests, and not a relapse into the marijuana-induced haze that got him jammed up last season. But if you lack the maturity to grasp the consequences of your actions (or, in this case, inactions), does it really matter?

Comments


Style. Design. Goods. Hide your credit card.
Custom Made: The Surmesur Suit

Custom Made: The Surmesur Suit

Straight out of Canada, the custom menswear store opens its first U.S. location in Pittsburgh.

Comments


Sean Collier's Popcorn for Dinner

The movies that are playing in Pittsburgh –– and, more importantly, whether or not they're worth your time.
'Hands of Stone' Keeps the Boxing Movie Genre Strong

'Hands of Stone' Keeps the Boxing Movie Genre Strong

Reviews of "Hands of Stone" and "Don't Breathe," plus local movie news and notes.

Comments


Everything you need to know about getting married in Pittsburgh today.
Not Your Typical Bachelorette Party, This One Had a Purpose

Not Your Typical Bachelorette Party, This One Had a Purpose

Bride-to-be Jessika Baldwin didn’t want a traditional bachelorette party — so she hosted a day out that benefited women other than herself.

Comments


The latest tips and trends to refresh your home.
Put a Lid On It! The Container Store Coming to Pittsburgh

Put a Lid On It! The Container Store Coming to Pittsburgh

The store famous for carrying storage and organizational products is set to open at the revamped Block Northway in Ross Township.

Comments


The hottest topics in higher education
Two Events Planned for Prospective Waynesburg Students

Two Events Planned for Prospective Waynesburg Students

A fall visitation day and a Saturday information session aim to allow interested students a look into life at the university.

Comments