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 ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow Tags

Hot Reads

Top 10 Things to Do in Pittsburgh in December

Top 10 Things to Do in Pittsburgh in December

This month's best bets in The 'Burgh.
50+ Things That Will Make You Enjoy Winter in Pittsburgh

50+ Things That Will Make You Enjoy Winter in Pittsburgh

Love it or hate it, winter is upon us. Because some of us may think there's a lot not to like, we bring you 50+ things to eat, drink and do –– and some helpful tips –– that'll keep the blues at bay.
Excellence in Nursing: Meet Our 2016 Honorees

Excellence in Nursing: Meet Our 2016 Honorees

Pittsburgh Magazine presents the honorees from its inaugural Excellence in Nursing awards. Meet our judges' choices and learn what makes them remarkable in their field.
Choreographed Style: Winter Fashion with The Pittsburgh Ballet

Choreographed Style: Winter Fashion with The Pittsburgh Ballet

A regal ruggedness characterizes the season's menswear looks.
Edit ModuleShow Tags

The 412

Welcome New Year With New Things At Pittsburgh's First Night

Welcome New Year With New Things At Pittsburgh's First Night

The annual New Year’s Eve event features food, fireworks, music and more.
Antonio Brown Makes Catch on the Field but Loses the Pizza

Antonio Brown Makes Catch on the Field but Loses the Pizza

The Steelers wide receiver stars in a new commercial where he first loses out to a Patriots' cornerback, but gets his revenge when it counts the most.
Never Wait in a Long Line For a Drink in a Crowded Bar Again

Never Wait in a Long Line For a Drink in a Crowded Bar Again

A new app developed in Pittsburgh, is designed to get more customers served more quickly when the bartender is swamped.
Sweet Surprise: Kelly Frey Awarded for ‘Sharing Her Heart‘

Sweet Surprise: Kelly Frey Awarded for ‘Sharing Her Heart‘

The mother of a child with special needs, Frey tirelessly shares what she has learned with other families in similar situations.
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Hot Reads

Top 10 Things to Do in Pittsburgh in December

Top 10 Things to Do in Pittsburgh in December

This month's best bets in The 'Burgh.
50+ Things That Will Make You Enjoy Winter in Pittsburgh

50+ Things That Will Make You Enjoy Winter in Pittsburgh

Love it or hate it, winter is upon us. Because some of us may think there's a lot not to like, we bring you 50+ things to eat, drink and do –– and some helpful tips –– that'll keep the blues at bay.
Excellence in Nursing: Meet Our 2016 Honorees

Excellence in Nursing: Meet Our 2016 Honorees

Pittsburgh Magazine presents the honorees from its inaugural Excellence in Nursing awards. Meet our judges' choices and learn what makes them remarkable in their field.
Choreographed Style: Winter Fashion with The Pittsburgh Ballet

Choreographed Style: Winter Fashion with The Pittsburgh Ballet

A regal ruggedness characterizes the season's menswear looks.
Restaurant Review: B52 in Lawrenceville is a Levantine Lifter

Restaurant Review: B52 in Lawrenceville is a Levantine Lifter

Omar Abuhejleh taps deep into his roots at his vegan cafe that's focused on Levantine cuisine.
Why You Can't Beat The Weather in Pittsburgh in The Winter

Why You Can't Beat The Weather in Pittsburgh in The Winter

I’ve traveled a lot of miles, and I still stare in bewilderment at people who tell me they’ve moved to a place because “You can’t beat the weather.”
Edit Module
Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow Tags

On the Blogs


Welcome New Year With New Things At Pittsburgh's First Night

Welcome New Year With New Things At Pittsburgh's First Night

The annual New Year’s Eve event features food, fireworks, music and more.

Comments


All the foodie news that's fit to blog
Miracle on Liberty Pops Up in Pittsburgh

Miracle on Liberty Pops Up in Pittsburgh

The holiday themed cocktail bar is one of around 20 international Miracle popups.

Comments


Not just good stuff. Great stuff.
Best of the Burgh: Pumpkin Patches in the Pittsburgh Area

Best of the Burgh: Pumpkin Patches in the Pittsburgh Area

We’ve compiled the best pumpkin patches for fall family fun.

Comments


Why Wait For Summer? Head to Kennywood's Holiday Lights

Why Wait For Summer? Head to Kennywood's Holiday Lights

The park's winter celebration is great for families and a fine choice for anyone who loves Christmas (and/or funnel cake).

Comments


Mike Prisuta's Sports Section

A weekly look at the games people are playing and the people who are playing them.
Pittsburgh The Heart of the NFL? Yinz Got that Right

Pittsburgh The Heart of the NFL? Yinz Got that Right

At the NFL Scouting Combine, at the NFL Draft and wherever NFL games are played, there’s often something of a Western Pennsylvania reunion taking place.

Comments


Style. Design. Goods. Hide your credit card.
Locket Full of Joy

Locket Full of Joy

The handcrafted piece opens to hidden treasures.

Comments


The movies that are playing in Pittsburgh –– and, more importantly, whether or not they're worth your time.
Ten Upcoming Flicks Every Oscar-Watcher Should See

Ten Upcoming Flicks Every Oscar-Watcher Should See

PM film critic Sean Collier picks ten forthcoming flicks likely to rake in nominations for the 89th Academy Awards.

Comments


Everything you need to know about getting married in Pittsburgh today.
Real-Pittsburgh Weddings: It was Not Love at First Sight

Real-Pittsburgh Weddings: It was Not Love at First Sight

These romances were years in the making.

Comments


Weekly inspiration for your home from the editors of Pittsburgh Magazine
Seasonal Shopping: CMOA Store Holiday House, J.Crew Mercantile Opens Doors

Seasonal Shopping: CMOA Store Holiday House, J.Crew Mercantile Opens Doors

The Carnegie Museum of Art is full of Christmas cheer — and great deals. Plus, get the scoop on The Block Northway’s latest retail offering.

Comments


The hottest topics in higher education
Tuba and Euphonium Players Invited to Join in Christmas Concert

Tuba and Euphonium Players Invited to Join in Christmas Concert

Waynesburg University will present a TUBACHRISTMAS concert on Dec. 9.

Comments