Kiya Tomlin Finds Fashion Success in Pittsburgh

Article excerpt

Kiya Tomlin wanted to be a doctor.

She never made it to medical school, but another passion took her down a path where she uses some of the same skills.

Tomlin is a women's clothing designer.

"Surgeons and designers both deal with the human body, and their jobs involve cutting and stitching and even figuring out how everything fits together, kind of like a puzzle," says the wife of Steelers coach Mike Tomlin.

Tomlin, 38, has mastered putting the puzzle together, clients say. Her dresses, skirts, jumpsuits and jackets conform perfectly to a woman's body.

"It bothers me when people wear things that don't fit," Tomlin says. "I know how hard it is to get something that fits, because I am 5 feet tall."

Tomlin, who works by appointment, specializes in custom designs that are chic and flattering. She creates one-of-a-kind garments that complement a woman's figure.

With a preference for fine fabrics, Tomlin creates everything from day wear to red-carpet extravagance.

"I have trouble with things being mass produced," she says. "I also like to create the design and create the pattern. I like to do it all."

Tomlin works in a process similar to old-time couture houses. She creates designs, which clients can have them made to fit their bodies. She does a limited number of each design and seldom in the same fabrics.

"That way, the designs are still one-of-a-kind, and I can take into account fit, proportion and minor design adjustments to better flatter different figures and preferences," Tomlin says. "My design aesthetic is simple, clean, well-fit designs that showcase the woman. I want the woman to look beautiful wearing my clothes, not my designs outshining the woman."

The prices for Tomlin's work range from pencil skirts, which start at $300, to sheath day dresses, starting at $500, and evening gowns and tuxedo jumpsuits starting at $1,100.

She doesn't intentionally set out to follow trends, but says it is usually inevitable because she studies current styles, along with fashion history and forecasts.

Tomlin juggles her passion around the schedules of her husband and the couple's daughter and two sons, ages 5 to 11. Being able to work at her own pace is perfect.

"I absolutely love what I do, and I am blessed to be able to shape my business to suit my first priority -- my family," she says.

"I like the way it is where I do as much as I want to do when I can," she says. "I like to design for real people. I work more like an artist and less like a businesswoman."

Tomlin is easy to work with, clients say, and is knowledgeable about body types.

"Kiya is amazing, and such a wonderful person," says Susan Leff, 54, of Squirrel Hill, who had Tomlin design a plum dress for the Cinderella Ball and is having a sheath dress and matching coat made. "She is a great resource for women my age who have a hard time finding garments that fit and that are age-appropriate. The dress she made fit me perfectly. Kiya really has an eye for fashion."

Leff was introduced to Tomlin's work through some "Sex and the City"-type skirts at Carabella in Oakmont.

"Kiya is so gracious," Leff says. "She came to my house for fittings, and offered to come back the night of the Cinderella Ball to help me get dressed. That is how much she cares. In the future, I plan to give her carte blanche when she makes something for me, because I totally trust her."

Tomlin doesn't flaunt who she is, clients say, but has created a name for herself because of her talent.

"She is her own person," Leff says. "I feel like I have a new friend, because I feel so comfortable talking to her."

Tomlin is incredibly talented, says Carol Kinkela, owner of Carabella.

"She is able to balance being a mom and a designer," Kinkela says. "When she designed our skirts, she was amazingly patient when it came to scheduling fittings. …