“I think our landlord is saying, ‘What are you guys doing?'” said Cassidy Tucker, who sat next to her sister Kelsey on a Zoom call from their Detroit studio last week. Surrounding them was a stack of 50 original artworks, with several 8-by-4-foot mural-style sculptures meant to approximate the pages of a giant storybook. The art had to be squeezed into the eight-foot truck they rented to transport the lot from Detroit to New York City for an exhibit called “Don’t Sleep on Detroit.”
Cassidy, 27, and Kelsey, 25, are the founders of Deviate, a playful, unisex streetwear and workwear line launched in late 2018 and produced entirely in Detroit. The sisters love and believe in the creative energy in their hometown so much that their entire business model is built around nurturing and sharing it.
They recruited more than 50 local artists — fashion and textile designers, muralists, painters, graphic artists and ceramicists — to contribute work to the “Don’t Sleep on Detroit” showcase, which will also serve as Deviate’s fall fashion presentation. 2022.
The idea behind the exhibition, which will be held in New York on February 2 and 3 as a press and industry event, is a fundamental Mohammed/mountain conceit: take Detroit’s creative world to the big leagues. The showcase will return to Detroit and open to the public later this year.
Detroit has been in the fashion world for a long time. Highly influential retailer Linda Dresner, credited with bringing the likes of Jil Sander, Martin Margiela and Comme des Garçons to the United States, had stores for decades in New York and Birmingham, Michigan — about half an hour from Detroit. Tracy Reese, one of the few black designers who is a mainstay on the New York scene, moved back to Detroit in 2019 to start her sustainable collection Hope for Flowers. Carhartt, the workwear brand increasingly associated with street and hype fashion, was founded in Detroit in 1889.
Over the past year, interest in Detroit has been rekindled by global players: Gucci introduced a partnership with hometown label Detroit Vs. Everybody, founded by Tommey Walker Jr., for a capsule collection of T-shirts and announced the opening of a new store in downtown Detroit; Hermès opened a shop in town; and in October, Bottega Veneta hosted what would be creative director Daniel Lee’s last fashion show before the Detroit home.
In March, Michigan’s first historically black college, the former Lewis College of Business, reopens as the Pensole Lewis College of Business & Design, with an emphasis on design.
“When people think of Detroit, they don’t think of much of the positivity that the city has to offer,” says Cassidy Tucker. “It is often overshadowed by some of the more sensational components of its history – struggle, triumph, struggle.”
The New York showcase is set up as a storybook written by Deviate creative director Kesley Tucker, titled “A Bird Trusts Its Wings.” A metaphor for non-traditional creative careers, the story follows the protagonist who, entangled in self-doubt, wakes up in an animated world to which all her ideas have been banished to live the rest of their days.
When she visits them again and comes into contact with them, she realizes that she wants to share them with the world. If the story provides a dreamy backdrop for the showcase, its subtext is scrappy DIY tenacity.
“There’s always a lot of pressure, like, ‘You have to be here. You should do this,’” Ms. Tucker said of her decision to walk a path off the beaten track to fashion capitals like New York, Los Angeles, London, Paris. “The showcase is really where we put our feet down and say, ‘We can do this from Detroit and bring it to you.'”
Ms. Tucker studied fashion design at Wayne State University in downtown Detroit. After an internship with Vera Wang in Los Angeles, she realized she was not interested in the work of big brands. “What I’ve learned the most is that fashion is a drag,” she said. “Whatever you do in this life is a grind, but you have to choose your job.”
Hers went home and teamed up with her sister, who, after graduating from Princeton, had been involved in a ride-sharing start-up called Splt and wanted to get involved in social entrepreneurship.
“We were on a mission to put Detroit on the fashion map,” Cassidy said.
How do you do that? They had no idea.
They started reaching out to people in the community and gathering mentors, including Ms. Reese. There’s also Christina Chen, who handles public relations for Deviate and has fashion experience at Saint Laurent, Alexander Wang, Shinola and StockX, and Ben Ewy, the vice president of design, research and development at Carhartt.
“People here create their own scenes and have been doing it for a long time, whether it’s the auto industry, Detroit techno or workwear,” said Mr. ewy. “People think differently here and make unique products.”
An environmental awareness is built into Deviate’s ethos – the Tuckers produce almost everything locally and use scraps of material to trim their clothes whenever they can – but the social impact component is greater. Kelsey cited the Antwerp Six, Motown, and the Wu-Tang clan as collectives that started in overlooked places and enhanced their talents through the power of numbers.
Deviate also partners with the Industry Club of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Southeast Michigan to offer paid internships. And last year, the company started the Lost Artists Collective: a series of house parties where artists had to bring a piece of their work to enter (they could leave with someone else’s), which has become a community resource and the starting point for “Don Sleeping on Detroit.”
Marlo Broughton, 34, a painter and illustrator who helped introduce Detroit Vs. Everyone with his cousin Walker, first heard via direct message from Kelsey and Cassidy, invited him to one of the artist collective’s house parties and then to participate in the showcase. “They showed me everything and had a whole blueprint,” he said.
The sisters also contacted Sydney James, 42, a muralist and visual artist, who contributed a photo of her 8,000-square-foot mural, “Girl With the D Earring,” a reinterpretation of Vermeer’s painting Girl With a Pearl Earring”, featuring a black woman wearing an earring with Detroit’s signature Old English D.
“I didn’t necessarily understand what it was, but I liked the ‘why’,” Ms. James said of being approached for the showcase. “It’s like, ‘We’re going to have them look at us.'”