In the midst of a creative movement in Detroit, clothing is becoming a prominent facet of the city. Many of the younger citizens are taking risks in the realm of personal style. What is offered on the shelves and racks of traditional retailers can seem stale, bland or monotonous at times. Craving something counter to the norm, many Detroiters are choosing to forgo the convention of glitzy brands and passing trends. Instead, they are opting to curate a creative wardrobe built on utilizing intriguing pieces with a past.
Vintage and repurposed clothing allows for more interesting and individualistic ideas in dressing. The garments have a story, and are reinterpreted in accordance with personal interests and aesthetic. This is why the recent explosion of resale, vintage and consignment shops in the area is no coincidence, and is rather an effect of this growing subculture. These shops bring style-hungry Detroiters the sartorial sustenance they crave in providing them with garments just waiting to be reimagined.
Every establishment approaches selling differently, either by exhibiting pieces that are donated or consigned, or by adding new aspects, ideas, details and designs to an old garment. It is about more than just clothes. It is about the idea of recycling, turning what was old into something new. The philosophy that a garment has never truly run its course, just because the original owner has lost use for it.
These are the stories of four such shops, each of them approaching the subculture of vintage and repurposed fashion in their own way, and helping to push this culture into the forefront of Detroit.
Detroit Clothing Circle
Snugly situated among the aged, rustic brick buildings of Midtown at the intersection of 2nd Ave and West Alexandrine stands a fascinating house. Its unique architecture is complete with dual porches and an old-school brick finish. Blending in with the beautiful ambiance of the neighborhood, most passersby would be unaware of the home’s true identity at first glance. However, inside this seemingly normal abode is actually one of the most unique shopping experiences one can have in the city.
Detroit Clothing Circle was established in 2015 by owner and curator Michael Dedenbach, who wanted a unique space for Detroiters to get affordable, stylish clothing.
“It just sort of fell into my lap,” says Dedenbach. “I set my mind on opening something brick-and-mortar in Midtown, but the storefronts were getting taken up left and right. It’s sweet though, because the house is unique.”
Indeed it is. A walk up the porch and through the front door reveals a retail space unlike any other. The store area is divided into rooms: one for womenswear and the other for menswear. Hardwood floors and bare brick walls create an air of coziness and familiarity. The clothes are hung with care on re-worked pipes, and most of the wall space is covered with art referential to hip-hop and streetwear culture. Dependent on the day, the music playlist ranges anywhere from smooth, melodic music to hard-hitting trap bangers.
The clothing selection ranges from ‘70s to contemporary-style garments. While DCC is mainly geared toward streetwear, there is something for everyone. Vintage button downs and flannels are on racks near a selection of old, boxy knitwear and sweatshirts geared toward a more skater aesthetic. Blouses and dresses with incredibly elaborate prints are near washed denim and workwear. Adjacent to the front door is a rack devoted to some of the more hyped and harder to attain brands in streetwear like Supreme and Bape. Sprinkled in are accessories and one-off pieces from local artists. Not to mention a slick selection of sneakers and boots.
DCC is a hub where the edgy, cultured residents and college demographic of Midtown flock to get their wares.
“I could sell online, but that’s not the point. I want it to be a place for people who work, live and study in the city,” Dedenbach tells me. “I want them to come in, touch the fabrics, have an experience, find something that looks cool and not have to pay an arm and a leg for it. That’s what it’s all about.”
Over on Gratiot Avenue, just outside the central hustle and bustle of Eastern Market, many of the most hip small businesses in Detroit are convening. Among them is Boro, a consignment shop with an eye for the elegant and the eclectic, featuring one of the finest selections of designer garments anywhere in Detroit.
Founded in May 2017 by Miriam Planschke, Boro has quickly become a hotspot for Detroiters to get a high-fashion fix for a great price. In 2013, Miriam decided to move back to Detroit to be near family after attending school in Grand Rapids. An avid thrifter herself, she wanted to open a store based on her philosophy of eliminating waste and achieving a fashionable look for less.
“Consigning and vintage shopping really lets you experiment and create your style for a fair price,” Planschke told me. “I’m obsessed with that idea. I love when clothes have a story.”
The retail space features the bare bones of the original room, but done in a new, chic way. Designed and rehabbed by Planschke’s architectural designer/husband, Breck Crandell, the store features hardwood floors, high ceilings, and beautiful crown molding that has been chipped and scratched with age. The exposed stone, cracked cement walls, and molding have all been given a fresh coat of white paint which adds a crisp, modern touch that highlights the vintage design of the room. The clean, simple showroom design serves as the perfect canvas for the one-of-a-kind clothing selection.
“I wanted to embrace the imperfections, and let the space tell its story,” says Planschke.
The store boasts a collection of clothes geared toward a more elegant aesthete. Classic, well-made basics share hanging space with special garments from glamorous designers, as well as clothes from lesser-known, more niche labels. However, each piece is priced within 30-50 percent of the original retail price. That means one can find a top from J. Crew for under $15, A.P.C. denim for around $80, a plaid blazer from a custom tailor in Grosse Pointe for $45, a bomber jacket by British tailoring legend Sir Paul Smith for about $100, or a classy pair of pumps by Ferragamo or Jimmy Choo for a steal. Planschke also has great deals for the consignors, giving them 40 percent of the profit on their pieces.
“That’s what’s great about consignment. It highlights the stories of not just clothes, but their owner as well,” she explains. “As a consignor, you aren’t just donating something to me, you are an active part in the sale.”
On the same block as Boro, under a minute’s walk down Gratiot, is the flagship location for a streetwear brand that is as edgy as it is artistic. Started by friends Andrew Davis, Vince Troia, and Justin Fishaw in the early 2000s, SMPLFD has recently taken off as one of Detroit’s marquee-style representatives.
Davis and Troia met while studying at New Center’s College for Creative Studies, and Fishaw joined in when he met Davis while working in a soccer equipment store. Stylizing one of Fishaw’s old internet usernames, the brand SMPLFD was born. For some time in the beginning, it was merely a side project as the gang moved around the world. In 2007, they settled back to Detroit, and started working on SMPLFD more consistently.
From there, the label has blossomed. The group built a following based off clever visuals printed on tees, jackets, sweatshirts, and patches usually representative of Detroit sports and pop culture. Their graphics consistently nod toward the ‘80s, ‘90s and early-2000s style.
As the prevalence of their online store grew, they decided to to open up a flagship location in September 2016. The atmosphere of the store itself matches the odd-ball, nostalgic air of the pieces on display. The space is eccentrically decorated with potted plants, and random accoutrements such as a SMPLFD-branded basketball net behind the counter, or a mannequin arm lying alone on a shelf. There is slick white tile in the fitting room, and a circular, shaggy red rug. Giant, black box TVs from the ‘90s add to this real-life Web 1.0 experience by either playing old VHS movies as background noise, or simply a crackling black-and-white test screen as chillwave electronica music flows through the shopping space.
The gang’s knack for nostalgia is why it is no surprise that the brand’s newest pieces aren’t even “new” at all. Recently, SMPLFD have been repurposing locally sourced old work shirts, uniforms and lab coats and are breathing new life into the pieces by sewing interesting patches onto the garments.
“It’s like a nod to those old workshirts my dad used to wear,” Davis explains. “It’s tied to that blue-collar, Midwestern mentality, and that style suits Detroit.”
Each shirt is one-of-a-kind, as the guys hand sew each shirt’s new detailing. Each piece of clothing is either printed or sewn on location, with a workshop in the downstairs portion of the shop.
“The great part about thrifting is the uniqueness and the story,” Davis continues. “And how cool is the story for these shirts? Real Detroit factory workers have been sweating in that shirt.”
SMPLFD is not a one-trick pony, and has proven that it is a brand that can push the boundaries of creativity in more ways than one.
“I think we are ready to be Detroit’s representatives for what streetwear is over here,” Troia tells me as he finishes embroidering the word “DETROIT” onto a shiny blue varsity jacket. “I think this is gonna look really sick.”
A skip across the bridge on East Fisher Service Drive and into the murals, sheds, and aromas of Eastern Market, beautiful clothes are being cooked up. High-fashion and sports have been in a symbiotic relationship for years. While many hyped brands are generating attention in the major fashion tabloids for their sports-inspired pieces, one small label from Detroit — Renzo Cardoni — is steadily rising as well, hand-creating repurposed sportswear cool enough for the sports and music elite.
A few years ago, Rami Mona wanted to start a brand that perfectly amalgamated his love for sports, fashion, and pop-culture.
“I saw [luxury cut-and-sew sportswear leader] Don C was putting snakeskin on the brims of hats, and that just inspired me,” Mona tells me. “I was like, ‘Yo, what if I did the snakeskin thing, but on a jersey?’”
Investing his own money, Mona sourced in the materials, and used a connection in New York City to create the first batch of NBA jerseys both lettered and numbered in snakeskin.
Mona’s work was a smash, and he quickly found himself forging relationships with sporting and cultural icons like Odell Beckham Jr, Fabolous, Big Sean, 21 Savage, The Weeknd, and Jarvis Landry, all of whom currently wear Cardoni while warming up on the field or on the stage performing. With his high-powered clientele, Mona has been hard at work creating custom orders of the luxe gear for celebrities and their friends. He recently decided to move back home to Detroit to create full collections and satisfy the custom orders.
With a tight-knit crew of assistants and seamstresses, the brand has been churning out apparel from an old factory in the heart of Eastern Market. Like many studios and workshops in Detroit, the space has a rustic, industrial-chic aesthetic. The floor plan is open and spacious. There is exposed piping in the ceiling and red bricks peek out from behind a white paint job that has faded in some areas. Windows boasting a glorious view of the famous murals of Eastern Market are a highlight, as well.
“The place just has a great vibe. As a creator, that’s really important,” Mona says. “Detroit is full of gems like this place. We originally were looking to go downtown, but this place has more character.”
The clothing itself is quite extravagant. Mona sources team gear such as jerseys, warm-up jackets, shorts and sweatshirts, and remixes them in his own way. He has taken jerseys and hoodies that are two different colors, cut, and re-sewn them at the middle, then completed them with snakeskin detailing. Recently, he has been experimenting with making whole jerseys out of denim or leather as the base material. Shorts are retouched by mismatching the team’s colors on each leg or by making the primary portion of the legs camouflage. Vintage starter jackets and warm-up gear are given the snakeskin treatment on the team’s logo. Mona is also in the process of designing a line of Cardoni-branded apparel, inspired by his favorite sports gear. The hard work and luxurious materials put into each piece comes at a price — most garments have a price range from $400-$600, and even higher for custom orders.
Renzo Cardoni is pushing the culture of Detroit fashion to a national level, outfitting various jet-setters in his opulent garms. He has an eye for innovation, and champagne taste.
“There’s so much you can do with sports apparel,” Mona believes. “I can retool it into something dope. I can make it that statement piece.”