Roslyn Karamoko’s brand Détroit Is the New Black represents the spirit of the city. Find out how she got started in the fashion industry and found success in the Motor City.
By Arianna Smith
Photography by Sylvia Jarrus
To say that something “is the new black” typically implies something is trendy, desirable and on the rise. According to Roslyn Karamoko, founder and CEO of the fashion brand Détroit Is the New Black, the positive connotation was not an accident.
“The phrase ‘Detroit is the New Black’ represents the spirit of Detroit city,” Karamoko says.
Karamoko, a Seattle native in her early 30s, spoke to students, journalists and fellow businesswomen at the National Association of Black Journalists annual convention in August. This was the first time in over 20 years that the convention was held in Detroit, and Karamoko was invited to speak on a panel that highlighted local women entrepreneurs.
“I came here for love,” Karamoko says, “and unfortunately that didn’t last. But I found a new love. I fell in love with the city of Detroit, and I’ve been in love ever since. Life takes you where you need to go in one way or another.”
Détroit Is the New Black (the accent not optional) is a locally sourced and based fashion and accessory line that Karamoko started in 2014. Originally, she designed and copyrighted the phrase to begin selling handmade T-shirts and stickers to her family.
The brand appeared at a pop-up shop in Midtown, which was Karamoko’s first location. After a few years of success that led to her being named “Motor City’s Hottest Designer” by Time magazine, Karamoko opened the larger-scale Détroit Is the New Black downtown on Woodward Avenue in 2016.
Karamoko’s designs are simple, yet powerful. She says her inspiration comes from the different cultures she has experienced in her travels, as well as the vibe of Detroit and its residents.
“Detroit has a very palpable style. It’s a mix of old-world sophistication, gritty endurance and elegance. Detroit is a microcosm of the United States as a whole,” Karamoko says. “I wanted my clothes to be a sort of uniform for the city and a representation. In the same way that Ralph Lauren is seen as representation for a certain kind of person, I want this line to represent what it means to be a Detroiter.”
Karamoko sells other made-in-Detroit brands and products at her storefront, such as The Lip Bar, Douglas & Co. and Detroit Rose. She frequently opens it to workshops, mixers and creative think tank events meant to stimulate and support up-and-coming businesses and ideas, particularly those that are black- and women-owned.
“We have to tell our own stories,” Karamoko says. “We need to make black business hip, cool and fashionable. If we want to be role models, we have to pioneer that wave.”
Detroit Is the New Black shopper Jordan Banks, 20, of Detroit says she supports Karamoko’s mission. “Detroit Is the New Black is a fashion line unlike anything else,” Banks says. “The owner doesn’t just want success for herself, she wants it for everyone following in her footsteps.”
Karamoko says her experience hasn’t been without hardship or sacrifice, as she’s struggled to be recognized and taken seriously in the industry.
“It was very hard, at times, to get respect and notice. People would look at me and what I was trying to accomplish, and they would judge me based on their own stereotypes and misconceptions,” Karamoko says. “They saw me as just a little black girl with a T-shirt business.”
Karamoko says she overcame those hurdles by remaining faithful to her purpose and staying confident in her methods.
“I had to be self-assured, and I could not waver in my business model. I knew what I wanted to do for this city, and how I needed to do it,” Karamoko says. “Ultimately, this city is our city. It has to be us. There’s so much talent here. There’s no better place to make this economic change.”
Détroit Is the New Black
1426 Woodward Ave., Detroit