When we last interviewed her in 2015, Roslyn Karamoko, owner of fashion brand Détroit Is the New Black, described her then-new retail space in the G.R. N'Namdi Gallery as a "pop-around" — that is to say, she planned to stay, even if it wasn't necessarily at that particular location. That much wound up being true. After a year and a half in Midtown, DITNB relocated to Corktown's Ponyride, and then later moved again to a spot on Woodward Avenue downtown.
Karamoko says that location was only supposed to be temporary; the 6,000-square-foot space was a former QLine streetcar construction office that became vacant once the project was completed, and Karamoko was able to work out a month-to-month arrangement.
"The initial plan was to block off the front portion, maybe 1,000 square feet, and kind of just sell the shirts there for a bit," she says. "We still were trying to figure out what the future of the business was."
Then the Shinola Hotel project got underway next door, bringing a high-end boutique hotel, restaurants, and bars to the block. Karamoko wanted to stay. "We were kind of over the small guys that really kind of got that block started before everything was there," she says. "And so through several conversations, and by the grace of God, we were able to solidify the space."
DITNB once again relocated, this time to another temporary spot across the street while a permanent space was renovated. On Friday, the space will officially open to the public, and the local brand finds itself in what is shaping up to be a hot retail district. The original space has been carved into three different shops, with Madewell clothing on one side and Le Labo perfumes on the other. A new Shinola retail shop is right next door, and across the street are Lululemon, Nike, Underarmour, Moosejaw, and G-Star Raw stores. Also on the way is Dan Gilbert's new Hudson's site project, which will be the tallest skyscraper in the state once construction is completed.
The distinction of having a Detroit brand situated among such retail giants is not lost on Karamoko, a Seattle native who moved here in early 2013 after stints working in fashion merchandising in New York City and Singapore.
"I'm really proud to just be in that lineup of national retail, and having sort of a homegrown brand that really started out of my truck, just like, selling T-shirts," she says.
In its new form, Karamoko says DITNB will prominently feature brands by designers of color. Those include Brother Vellies, a bohemian-style brand that sources many of its products from Africa, and Tracy Reese, a Detroit native whose work focuses on sustainability. It will also feature an accelerator program, where local businesses and designers can apply for an opportunity to sell their products in the store.
"It's about carving out a space in a quickly moving retail district to have opportunity for local businesses who couldn't afford it otherwise, to just get exposure in front of this sort of customer that's coming into the city to see what's happening in the arts scene," Karamoko says.
As with previous iterations of the shop, Karamoko says the new Détroit Is the New Black will host art exhibitions and other events; the first exhibition features art by interdisciplinary artist Scott Vincent Campbell and florist Mother of Pearl Flower & Design. There will also be a cafe and fashion and art magazines for sale.
Then, of course, there are Détroit Is the New Black's products. Its flagship is a simple black T-shirt in the tradition of local city pride T-shirts (think Detroit vs. Everybody and Detroit Hustles Harder), which plays off of the city's hipness while celebrating its dual identities as a French city and a Black city. The brand is also expanding into denim, and a line of essential oils.
"It's been almost five years now, and it's been a brand that's been so well received and supported by Detroit that I just feel grateful to be able to do it," Karamoko says. "And the fact that we've made it to a place where we're a permanent fixture downtown is really on the strength of the community and the partners that came together to make it a collective. That's the Detroit spirit that we want to see ... I think this is an example of what things can look like when we aggregate our resources."
Détroit Is the New Black will host an opening reception from 6-9 p.m. on Friday, May 10 at 1430 Woodward Ave., Detroit; detroitisthenewblack.com.
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