Detroit Sewn opened in Pontiac with one sewer and one client in 2015. It’s now manufacturing clothing for retailers nationwide.
By Melissa Burden
Photography by Rachel Woolf
Detroit Sewn is a proof point for Karen Buscemi.
Her sewing factory has become a successful business that’s steadily grown since opening its doors in August 2015 in downtown Pontiac with just one sewer and one client.
“I wanted to be able to prove that manufacturing apparel can work in Michigan,” says Buscemi, founder and president of Detroit Sewn.
Buscemi, former editor of the defunct StyleLine magazine, founded the nonprofit Detroit Garment Group in 2012 after meeting fashion designers who needed entrepreneurial help. Detroit Garment Group is working to launch a Garment District in Detroit, and Buscemi hopes Detroit Sewn will attract others to the Motor City.
“With the Garment District, I want to be able to bring other companies from New York to Michigan,” she says.
Today, Detroit Sewn has 10 employees and serves more than 100 clients, including Tierra Reign, a children’s clothing line run by Tyler and Catelynn Baltierra from the MTV show “Teen Mom OG.”
Many of Detroit Sewn’s clients are based in Michigan such as Crypton, a stain-resistant fabric company in Bloomfield Hills, and Third Man Records in Detroit. But some come from around the country, such as Lauren Gabrielson, a women’s clothing designer in Brooklyn, New York.
“We get about five inquiries every single day of new business, which is amazing,” says Buscemi, 48, of Rochester Hills.
Since last summer, the home base for Detroit Sewn has been a former bank along Saginaw Street at M-59, complete with large windows providing lots of natural light. Inside, two dozen sewing stations, work tables and shelving with supplies and finished goods fill the space.
On a recent visit, sewing machines hummed as employees made patterns, created samples, cut fabric and digitized patterns for different apparel sizes. Some worked on the Tierra Reign line and others on aprons, scrub caps for a health care company, waterproof bags for a New York brand and eye masks for a product called Hangover Helper Plus.
Detroit Sewn specializes in knitwear such as T-shirts and hoodies, baby items and home goods such as pillows, tablecloths and napkins. It’s also dipped into other industries, even making kayak covers and sail prototypes.
For its first job, Detroit Sewn made covers for robots for an automotive supplier. The sewing company is now working with another automotive company on a prototype Buscemi can’t talk about yet.
With some clients, Detroit Sewn simply makes a pattern or sample. But for others, Detroit Sewn works with a client from conception through production.
“A lot of them have nothing to do with fashion. They’ve never been trained. They just have an idea, or they’ve figured out a solution to a problem, and they come to us and we help them figure out how to bring that idea to fruition,” Buscemi says. “That’s really fun to see that happen and just to see all the great ideas and the talent that’s here.”
Kandis Noe has been a Detroit Sewn client for about two years. Her sewing hobby had grown into a business, making modest swim dresses for friends and a list of customers.
“I needed help,” says Noe, 34, from Grand Blanc Township. “(One) month, I had like a stack of 40 orders for swim dresses on top of being in full-time ministry and a stay-at-home mom with four kids.”
Detroit Sewn made her a pattern and sample and began to produce items for her online MarianLous brand, which sells toddler to women’s plus-size clothing and swim dresses.
Detroit Sewn currently makes nine pieces for MarianLous, giving Noe time back.
“My passion is really designing, creating, having customer interaction,” she says.
Buscemi expects Detroit Sewn to continue to grow. She says she’s working with her sales director, MarCy Cyburt of Novi, to launch another company that will tie into Detroit Sewn.
Buscemi also wants to open a Detroit Sewn sample room in Detroit’s Garment District, planned near Holden and Lincoln streets in New Center, just south of Henry Ford Hospital. Tenants are lining up for the district’s first phase, including fashion brands, a bakery and coffee shop, Buscemi says. Some could move in this spring, she adds.
The Garment District is the latest creation of the Detroit Garment Group. In 2013, the nonprofit launched FashionSpeak, an annual business of fashion conference. Last year, it started Verge, a trade show to put fashion designers in front of buyers.
It also spearheaded an industrial sewing certificate program to train people for entry-level sewing jobs with automotive interiors companies, clothing manufacturers, upholstery businesses and more.
The program, covering safety and machine operations to stitching, finishes and troubleshooting, launched in 2014 at Henry Ford College in Dearborn. Jan Artushin, who coordinates the six-week program, says 66 students — a mix of men and women — have earned certificates.
Graduates have been hired by companies such as Detroit Sewn, Shinola and Lear Corporation, Artushin says. The certificate program also has expanded to other Michigan colleges such as Grand Rapids Community College.
“As we get manufacturers to move into the state, one of the great selling points is a skilled pool of workers that they can draw from and hire so they can get going right away,” Buscemi says.