Sarah Lurtz and Sarah Lapinski are done fucking around. The two young women have given this guy every opportunity to pay up and he's still making excuses. As the designers of Wound Menswear and founders of Motor City Sewing, "the Sarahs," as they call themselves, have a business to run two, actually. They made the man's clothes, now it's time to settle up. They deal with him swiftly, in shifts, the way a colony of bees might exhaust an intruder. After a solid 30 minutes of haggling, Lapinski finally collects the loot and gets him out of the shop, her assessment of the situation serving as a perfect reflection of the pair's business philosophy: "We're not gonna start your little project with just some promises and some teardrops," she says, without a trace of smugness. "Show me that you care."
Lurtz, 25, and Lapinski, 29, care a lot. At Motor City Sewing, located in the Russell Industrial Center, "DIY" is much more than just a hipster catch phrase it's the difference between failure and success. The pair opened the facility, a utilitarian 800-square-foot industrial loft appointed with 15 sewing machines, mounds of fabric and patterns, and a huge cutting table, after manufacturers in Los Angeles failed to deliver on Wound's flagship order. Though Motor City Sewing was instituted specifically in response to a lack of manufacturers for Wound, the facility now boasts 13 additional paid clients (everything from prototype production to an order of fancy aprons) and a range of services that includes sample sewing, fabric and material sourcing, and consulting for other designers. Not bad for a business that has only been open since January.
"One of the most important things as a clothing company is to find reliable, dependable production," Lurtz says. "That's why we had to start our own company. In the first months, we were just paying people with our tips (both Sarahs still wait tables at night). We learned everything ourselves, basically through blogs, books and traveling."
When Lurtz and Lapinski met in 1999, the two Wayne State students were headed down distinctively different paths Lurtz into fashion design and Lapinski into labor and urban studies. Now, sitting beside each other and behind the broad front desk at Motor City Sewing, the confluence of their strengths seems perfect. Lurtz, the likable, sunny "face" of Wound handles the press and incidentals while the wisecracking Lapinski works her ass off behind the scenes managing the short-run sewing factory and its three employees with the help of a floor manager, Trinidad-born tailor Julian Paul. The Sarahs design the clothing; stripped-down, proletarian creations mixed with playful patterns and fabrics and the occasional rude dash of yellow or pocket lined with oversized houndstooth print. The result is a very wearable urban style that never gets too fussy or showy. The Wound logo, which incorporates the pair's Chinese astrological symbols (the cock for Lurtz and the snake for Lapinski ) is a fanciful tribute to the women's shared vision: "We want it to be classic menswear," says Lurtz. "We want it to be somber enough that men will wear it, but we want it to have its own flourish."
Like Lurtz and Lapinski themselves, the clothes are charming and sensible. Inspired by the close-cut, no-nonsense attire favored by denizens of Detroit's noise, alternative and electronic music scenes, the seed of Wound began when Lurtz went to work as director for Pure Detroit Design Lab (a division of downtown, Detroit-centric retailer, Pure Detroit). Lapinski would come in and hang out.
"Initially, we bought vintage pieces and reworked them," says Lurtz, "which is really where 'Wound' came from. We were ripping them up and resewing them, burning them ... it was fun." Designing menswear came as a natural response to what was happening in the shop. "Men were coming into the design lab and saying, 'Where are the clothes for me?'" Lapinski says. "Pretty soon, it took over our lives."
Once the designs started coming, the Sarahs faced a new challenge: How do you get the clothes from the sketchbook to the cutting table? Designer Sean Bilovecki, who owns the Cleveland label Wrath Arcane with partner Brian O'Neill, proved to be an invaluable resource. "We went through the whole 'L.A. experience' with him," Lurtz says. "They're like our big brother label." A few years deeper into the business than Lurtz and Lapinski, Bilovecki shared his knowledge and experience with the upstart Detroiters, as well as his fashion instincts. "We would call him and say, 'Is this passé as a guy?'" Lurtz says. "We'd scratch each other's backs." Motor City Sewing is currently manufacturing pieces from Wrath Arcane's upcoming collection, and O'Neill's Cleveland boutique, Brigade, will feature items from Wound's new line.
For the most part, Lurtz and Lapinski plan on selling their collection online and via direct-to-consumer events, like the People Mover fashion show they threw last March. The unorthodox launch party, which featured models parading the length of the elevated rail cars while riders looked on, is typical of Wound's peculiar ingenuity. While a retail strategy for the label is still in the works, Lurtz and Lapinski's savvy designs have already begun creeping into local specialty boutiques, like Ferndale's House of Chants. Owners Linda and Cindy Robbins have featured Wound's T-shirt designs previously and plan on stocking items from the new collection once it's unveiled.
"It fits into our store, definitely," says Cindy Robbins. "Their cuts are good really slim. Indie rock people like that." And customers also like Wound "because they can support local artists by buying it."
Perhaps the greatest selling point is the Sarahs themselves. Their enthusiasm is infectious and their eagerness to incorporate the art and music communities into the development of their creations has made them a welcome and trusted presence in Detroit. Locals Jamie Easter, Vaughn Tormina and design duo Secret Pizza Party have all contributed T-shirt designs, and the women claim local bands Pas/Cal and the Genders as influences on the new collection.
And, just like Detroit, Wound comes by its art-damaged aesthetic honestly.
"Nobody wants to look like they're trying, but they're all trying," says Lapinski. "And they all look good."
"Launch," a party celebrating Wound's premiere collection, with DJs Capt 20, Mike Anthony and Scott Zacharias starts at 9 p.m. Friday, May 11 at Eastern Market's FD Lofts, 3434 Russell St., Detroit. Call 313-658-6400 for more info.
Wendy Case is a Detroit-area freelance writer. Send letters to firstname.lastname@example.org