Fashion designer Kiya Tomlin moving Uptown to Etna
With her company’s relocation to Etna, fashion designer Kiya Tomlin is changing how she runs her women’s clothing business.
Tomlin has closed her East Liberty retail space and Homewood production facility and is opening a space combining retail, design, manufacturing and production under one Butler Street roof. At the new home of Uptown by Kiya Tomlin, she and her employees will provide complimentary tailoring of her reimagined sweatsuits.
“My background is custom design, so I’m pretty obsessed with trying to fit and design for different body types. That’s what guides my design,” said Tomlin, wife of Steelers coach Mike Tomlin.
The move to the 5,700-square-foot facility will allow Tomlin to control stages of production she previously outsourced. She also aims to reduce clothing waste through vertical integration – she will only produce items that are selling and will reuse her signature bamboo and cotton blend fabric for additional designs.
Meanwhile, Etna is undergoing its own revitalization. Borough Manager Mary Ellen Ramage said Uptown’s relocation reflects the borough’s larger transformation.
“The Etna Economic Development Corporation has been dedicated to this revitalization, and it is awesome to see the changes that are happening and all side-by-side with our long-standing businesses,” she said. “This fall, we will be celebrating our 150 th birthday, and what a great time to see transformation and rebirth in our river towns.”
After relocating to Pittsburgh for her husband’s career, Tomlin started Uptown in 2014 when their youngest child, Harlyn, now 12, was in kindergarten.
She viewed the venture as a means to fulfill her design passion while occupying her time once her children, also including Dino, 17, and Mason, 16, eventually leave the nest.
“I still want to raise my kids — that is my primary job — but when they are ready to leave the house for college, I am ready to roar,” she said.
The Morristown, N.J., native’s fashion interest started around age 11, when the petite Tomlin couldn’t find clothing in her size.
She received a sewing machine for Christmas that year. Eventually, she would design everything from her prom gown – a “hideous” short black dress with multicolor metallic, off-the-shoulder flowers – to her college gymnastic leotards, her coach’s maternity clothes and friends’ sorority formal dresses.
Even though relatives encouraged her to pursue fashion design in college, Tomlin chose to study pre-med at the College of William & Mary. It was there she met her husband, now of 22 years.
When Mike coached at the University of Cincinnati, Kiya took fashion design courses at the school. She opened a custom wedding gown business in 2001 when the couple moved to Florida for his position with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Eventually, she branched into evening and children’s wear.
“I liked to learn the business of it. I liked to get better,” Tomlin said. “I liked to travel and do workshops on couture and fitting and that kind of stuff all over the country.”
She had functionality and comfort in mind when developing her Uptown collection after moving to Pittsburgh. She said she wanted something practical to wear while on the floor hemming garments and crawling atop cutting tables, running errands with her children and attending events with her husband.
Her first design, the sleeveless sweatshirt, “signature dress,” retails at $199.
“You can wear it with tennis shoes and a big T-shirt under it, or you can wear it with a belt and stilettos and jewelry,” Tomlin said of her brand’s most popular item. “You can go from cocktail to a soccer game.”
Uptown is located at 388 Butler St., Etna. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays; 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Thursdays; and by appointment.
Erica Cebzanov is a Tribune-Review contributor.