Inspiring Lives Magazine Spring 2017: Issue 4 - Page 90

KIYA TOMLIN Designer Creates Sophisticated Uptown Style That Can Handle Whatever Your Day Brings by Jen Forsyth 90 INSPIRING LIVES SPRING 2017 lege of Design, Art, and Ar- chitectural Planning. While she didn’t graduate, she was able to take the core classes she needed, tuition-free, for two years until the Tomlin family moved to Tampa, Fla., for Mike’s first NFL job. Kiya had looked into other schools, but since college was no lon- ger free and the couple had recently had their first child, she decided to concentrate on Kiya Tomlin actual design. “So I just started making stuff,” Tomlin remembered. “I did baby stuff, and I just loved to do it, so I would do it for free. Probably after the third free wedding gown my husband was like ‘You will not do another free thing!’” Tomlin laughed. “So I was forced to start a business.” Tomlin started a business making wedding gowns in 2000. She kept that going for about two years, but the stress of designing wedding dresses was compounded after the arrival of the Tomlin’s second child. Not long after, the family moved to Minnesota for another NFL job, and their third child arrived. Then the Steelers’ head coaching job brought the Tomlins to Pittsburgh, Pa., a decade ago. Tomlin was busy for quite some time just being a mom to three young children, but as they grew older, she realized she wanted something for herself. “After we moved to Pittsburgh, I kind of put it aside for a little bit because I had three kids in a new city, and a new lifestyle with Mike being more in the public eye and, you know, tending to the kids. Then after my last one was getting ready for kindergarten, I started looking around like ‘What am I going to do with myself? You know, it’s time to start doing what I want to do.’” So she decided to get back into design “just lightly. It will give me something to do. Something to focus on, and then by the time the kids are grown and ready to go off to college, I’ll jump in full-time and full-force. I guess I was preparing for the empty nest. I had a lot of people around me at my husband’s job who were much older than us, empty nesters…The husbands work so much [coaching], K iya Tomlin was born to be a designer. The New Jersey native has tried many dif- ferent things, other things she felt at times she “should” be doing rather than something that she wanted, but ultimately, fate put her in the place that made her the happiest. The owner of Pittsburgh-based Uptown Sweats re- counted the long road that brought her to owning her own fashion line and retail store. “I started sewing and designing when I was 11. Nobody else in my family sewed or designed or even cared about fashion, but I had this interest in it. So I got a sewing machine, and my mom dusted off her eighth grade home economics knowledge and taught me how to use it, and we did one project together: a little mallard [stuffed duck]. After that I was like, ‘I want to do a jumpsuit!’ So I’ve been making clothes ever since.” Tomlin quickly went from pattern books to forcing her own images together. She eventually attended design school at the University of Cincinnati’s College of De- sign, Architecture, Art, and Planning (Cincinnati, Oh.), but that was only after she got back on track from a de- tour in her design path. “I went to college on a pre-med scholarship to William and Mary (Williamsburg, Va.). So when I went to design school, that was my second round of school. I already had an undergraduate degree. When I got married right out of college, I decided not to go the med school route. I’m not really sure why. It didn’t fit into the life we were living at the time.” “So I still designed and did stuff on my own. When my aunt had breast cancer and lymphedema, her arms swelled really big. So I did a fashion show for patients with lymphedema, and I made stuff for them because they couldn’t buy.” “We were living in Arkansas at the time, and my hus- band [Pittsburgh Steelers Head Coach Mike Tomlin] was coaching at the University of Arkansas in this really little tiny town of Jonesboro, only 50,000 people. I was having a hard time fitting in and finding something to do.” It was then that Tomlin began researching design schools. When her husband was hired as a coach at the University of Cincinnati, she was able to attend their Col-