How a local fashion designer went from playing dress up on Detroit’s west side to designing clothes for professional athletes.
By Amanda Rahn
Photography by Sacred Overstreet-Amos
Rarely does a third-grader beg her mother for a sewing machine, teach herself to use it, then construct a dress from scratch, but that’s exactly what designer Dom Sutle did at 8 years old.
“The dress was this golden yellow color,” says Sutle, now 33. “I remember my friend begging me to give it to her and her saying, ‘When you’re a famous fashion designer I want to tell everyone that I own the very first thing you made.’
“I didn’t even want to be a fashion designer at the time! I was like, ‘Sure, go ahead, I don’t care,’ ” Sutle laughs.
Sutle is fashioning herself a local design empire. She’s dressed Detroit Pistons player Langston Galloway and Detroit Lions player Devon Kennard, cut her teeth under the tutelage of Rami Mona — the luxury sportswear designer behind Renzo Cardoni — and ran her own brick-and-mortar storefront for a year.
Despite the years she spent dressing up her dolls and cousins on Detroit’s west side, the realization that fashion was her true calling only struck her after a stint studying medicine in college. To pursue her dream, she moved to Chicago, enrolled in fashion school and graduated from the Art Institute of Chicago in 2009.
Now, she works out of her own studio in Ferndale and has been designing her own line as well as fielding custom orders and constructing them by hand.
She describes her designs as “sophisticated and classic” and says she gravitates toward simple and neutral colors paired with an interesting texture or silhouette. One of her recent pieces is a play on a classic trench coat, with layers of organza falling from the sleeves.
“I do use prints and bright colors, but I love whites, nudes and blushes,” she says. “For men, I tend to stick to darker colors — burgundy and dark green looks so good on them.”
She allowed a brief deviation from her typical men’s colorway for Pistons guard Langston Galloway’s custom red, white and charcoal tracksuit.
“I made the bomber jacket out of a ponte fabric for the body and a satin sleeve paired with a jogger pant,” she says. “It was beautiful. Some people sketch a design first, but I let the fabric inspire me.”
Galloway, 27, is known for his love of fun sneakers on the court, so when a mutual connection suggested Sutle could design something specifically for him and his polished, sportswear formal aesthetic, he jumped at the chance.
“I got in touch with Dom because I was looking to do a jacket and I was told, ‘You know, she could really design some cool stuff for you,’ ” Galloway says. “When you’re able to put a piece together like that — it makes you feel good. Going to a game, if you look good, you feel good and you play good.”
“The material I choose, the way it feels, it gives you confidence,” Sutle says. “My fashion should allow you to walk into a room wearing one of my designs and not have to say a word to make a statement.”
Professional sports players aren’t the only ones looking for a Dom Sutle original — she had so many custom prom dress orders last prom season that she literally slept in her office.
Her clients come in to approve not only the fabric, but also the fit of the garment — twice. She describes herself as a perfectionist but admits it’s a bit of an understatement.
“Not only should people be able to wear my garment open, they should be able to wear it inside out,” she says. “I want to bring back the real meaning of fashion designing. The craftsmanship. It takes hard work.”
Her attention to detail is another reason she’s becoming a sought-after designer for athletes. She notices the way fabric moves on a body, especially the super-muscled figures of sports stars.
“As a designer, you have to be able to dress different bodies,” she says. “When I dressed the Lions player Devon Kennard, you know, he has large back and shoulder muscles, and the curve of his shoulders are different from another person’s, and you have to be aware of that.”
Don’t be surprised to find her designs on more Detroit athletes in the future: She says she doesn’t plan to move to fashion hot spots like Los Angeles or New York City to build her brand.
“I love where I’m from,” she says. “I want to do things differently — I want to ‘make it’ here at home and then go to other places.”