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Western Pennsylvania clothing designers find inspiration from children

JoAnne Klimovich Harrop
| Thursday, Jan. 23, 2014, 8:55 p.m.

Moms and dads don't have to search far to find clothes for their children.

There are plenty of area designers who create adorable apparel for little boys and girls. Fun fashion items include onesie cardigans with bow-ties, colorful dresses and patterned skirts, logo T-shirts and comfortable leggings.

“It is great to deal with local companies,” says Bernadette Santucci, co-owner with sisters Natalie Welsh and Jill Stiehler of Principessa Boutique in Washington, Pa. “If I need something quick, they will get it to me. Plus, I am a local business, so it is important to support other local businesses.”

The number of local children's designers who sell at area boutiques is staggering. Here are a handful:

Depression Couture

Kathleen DeMartino's grandmothers instilled in their granddaughter the importance of recycling. So, when she started designing children's clothing, she reused materials.

Her company, Depression Couture, takes its cue from the farm women and housewives of the Great Depression. That thrifty and creative bunch was able to elevate hand-me-downs and feed-sack dresses with a bit of creativity.

DeMartino, a mother of two, embraces the saying “Waste not, want not.”

The Fox Chapel resident designed her first outfit eight years ago. In the past four years, she has done more with the business. She started making outfits for her daughter, which created interest when others saw them. She finds re-purposed materials everywhere. People often give her pieces that might be torn or that they don't want anymore, and she uses them to create new items. She loves using cashmere and merino wool.

This venture started as a hobby. DeMartino, who has a fine-arts degree, first created a skirt made from chocolate-milk-stained shirts.

“Remaking something into something else just made sense,” DeMartino says. “I will find use for even the smallest piece of material and create something like a flower detail. I love doing this. It is nice to show my children that everything has value and can be used again.

“We don't need to throw things away. We can find a use for them.”

Her pieces (skirts are $48, t-shirts are $26 to $38, and sweater coats are $128) are available at So Me in Gibsonia, Lullabye Landing in Upper St. Clair, The Picket Fence in Shadyside and Rosebud's in Aspinwall. She also sells online and on Etsy.

“You shouldn't be afraid to wear these items,” she says. “They are durable — and have to be if kids are going to be wearing them.”


Yo Bro Apparel

Yo Bro Apparel's tag line is “clothing for little dudes.” That name sums up the two sons of owner Marybeth Mahoney.

“They love to say the word dude, and I try to create pieces inspired by urban artwork,” says Mahoney, who also has two daughters. “I try to design what boys will like, such as animals and nature and constellations.”

People think boys don't care about what they wear, but they do, Mahoney says. They will offer feedback on what they like or don't like.

Launched in 2012 by Mahoney and fellow mom Lori Sipes, Yo Bro offers affordable apparel (long-sleeve shirts are $20, and short-sleeve shirts are $18; hoodies and sweatpants are available) for boys from 6 months to size 10. Besides the fresh look that the line brings to the boys clothing market, some proceeds are donated for children's charities. Mahoney sells at Principessa and online.

“I looked at some of the choices for young boys' clothing and thought, I can do better than that,” says Mahoney, a Marshall resident. “You have to believe in what you are doing. And you have to be able to accept feedback and make changes accordingly. It's hard work but fun when you see the boys and their moms smile when wearing Yo Bro.”


The Humble Lemon

When their son Owen was born nearly two years ago, Katie and Nick Barber found there weren't many choices for dress clothes for boys. So, the couple founded The Humble Lemon and turned basic onesies into stylish cardigans. They taught themselves how to sew on a 1950s Singer machine. The couple from Ross use in-house patterns and designs and make pieces from scratch.

“We try to make clothing that is functional and comfortable and that looks cute,” Katie Barber says. “Clothing that can be worn for everyday or for special occasions.”

The onesies come with snaps so bowties can be changed ($37 for a cardigan onesie with bowtie). The closures are thoroughly checked to make sure they don't come loose, and everything is pre-washed. They are made from durable 100-percent cotton.

“Owen is our tester,” Nick Barber says. “He is extremely active, so we make sure the clothing meets his standards.”

They hope to expand into making dresses or coordinating items for girls. They sell at Principessa and at events, including the I Made It! Market's Valentine's event from noon to 5 p.m. Feb. 8 at the Waterfront in Homestead.

“We never thought we would be doing this full time,” says Nick Barber, who worked in corporate relocation while his wife was a math teacher. “It's a blast working together. Many people ask how we can work together every day, but we get along. Our personalities complement each other. It also allows the three of us to be together.”


Miss PRISS Kids

Heidi Pusateri of South Fayette wanted to keep her daughters young as long as she could. When she would shop for clothing, most of it was a little too grown up. So she decided to design girls clothing that was trendy, but still age-appropriate.

Her company, Miss PRISS Kids, creates one-of-a-kind, vintage-inspired girlie pieces. Designs are patterned and constructed by Pusateri from her studio in Oakdale, where she holds trunk shows, but a lot of sales come from Facebook and Principessa. Her sister, Holly Zarabi, helps with the business that was started in the spring of 2010.

“My sister is big part of the business,” says Pusateri, a mother of two daughters and a son. “I could not do it without her.”

Pusateri was inspired by her two daughters, and each collection draws on some specific inspiration. She has a background in performing and directing musicals, so each time she creates a collection, “it almost becomes its own little show,” she says.

Her designs are feminine and unique, and the patterns are whimsical and fun (leggings are $25; dresses start at $40).

“Our culture puts pressure on little girls to grow up too fast,” she says. “Miss PRISS seeks to slow them down. They are only little once.”

Pusateri plans to release a new collection in February. “It's a labor of love,” she says.


Grace in Abundance

Beth Trax's daughter, Grace, is the inspiration behind the company Grace in Abundance. It started as a hobby because Trax wanted to create baby items.

“I had always stitched, created, quilted for fun,” says the Peters resident and mother of two. “I have always loved fabric and had reached a point where I needed a creative outlet to balance the stress of two children, a part-time job. So I took a leap of faith with Grace in Abundance and have never been happier.”

She creates skirts and dresses, little boy bow ties, diaper covers, appliqué onesies and shirts, quilts, burp cloths, tag blankies, baby blankets, bobby-pin barrettes and camo accessories (burp cloths are $16 for a set of three; quilts and blankets range in price from $15 to $50; skirts are $25; and dresses range from $32 to $36).

Being a small-business owner, she says she has received a lot of support from other children's designers and that they are willing to help in any way. Parents can find her items on Etsy.

“We all try to keep our prices reasonable,” she says. “I think people who buy from local designers appreciate that they are getting something handmade and that it has value.”


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