Many know Kiya Tomlin as the wife of Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin, but her entrepreneurial prowess in fashion speaks for itself.
Having found a passion for fashion at a young age, Tomlin has a decade’s worth of experience and formal training in custom design. Her extensive history constructing custom pieces for many body types has allowed her to seamlessly make the transition into mass-market fashion with her line Uptown Sweats.
Uptown Sweats offers both comfort and sex appeal to everyday women and can be purchased on her website, select boutiques around the country, and her flagship store in Pittsburgh.
With appearances on Entertainment Tonight and HBO, Tomlin is carving a path in the fashion world. She sat down with MadameNoire to dish on her fashion line, entrepreneurship, and the misconceptions of women married to men in the sports entertainment industry.
MadameNoire: What’s the story behind Uptown Sweats?
Kiya Tomlin: Workout wear is the fastest growing segment of the fashion, but Uptown Sweats by Kiya Tomlin is not your typical “athleisure wear”. I wanted the comfort of my favorite sweatshirt, but an elegance that could carry me through the variety of roles I play throughout the day. I decided to create it for myself.
It started with one sweatshirt dress, which is now the Signature Dress. While wearing it, people would stop me wherever I went and say “Oh my god, I love your dress. Where did you get it?” I realized there were a lot of women looking for the same functional fashion in everyday wear as me.
Because custom design entails working with women of all shapes and sizes, I think beyond what the typical model looks like. Finding the perfect fabric took some time. I wanted something that felt luxurious, draped well, but was easy to care for. Each piece is made of pre-washed bamboo, cotton and spandex sweatshirt fleece.
MN: What do you want women to feel when they wear your line?
KT: Comfort. Confidence. Beautiful. I want women to feel the confidence that comes from being comfortable. That confidence is true beauty. I want them to feel like they can attack each day with a freedom of movement and ease, not be confined by the clothes they are wearing. The collection is designed to be versatile enough to suit a multitude of women’s styles — playful, edgy or classic, and a multitude of occasions — for daytime casual, work, or date night.
MN: You’ve been designing for decades. What inspired you to start?
KT: I’ve designed for as long as I can remember. Even before my mother bought me a sewing machine when I was 11, I created designs for my homemade paper towel dolls. Being petite my whole life, I’ve always been interested in how garments fit the various body types. It was only natural that custom pieces became my specialty. After graduating from college, I studied formally for several years at the universities where my husband was coaching. When he joined the NFL, I started my business designing from home and then eventually moved into a separate studio and retail space.
MN: What advice do you have for aspiring women entrepreneurs?
KT: Don’t be afraid to go after what you want. We tend to me nurturers, always taking care of everyone and everything. That usually means we are less likely than men to speak up and ask for what we want, what we deserve. I was like that. But now I know it’s OK to ask questions, ask for advice, to say what I want and to aggressively go after it, win or lose.
MN:What’s the greatest misconception about being married to someone in the sports industry?
KT: I think people assume, as wives, we live and breathe the sport. Maybe because people enjoy sports so much they feel like if they had the kind of access we have, they would submerge themselves in it. But being married to someone in the sports industry is no different than being married to someone in any other industry. It’s a job. We try not to let it consume our lives. He goes to work, I go to work and when we are home we raise our family, just like everyone else.
MN: You’re featured in an upcoming HBO documentary. What was it like?
KT: I am a huge fan of documentaries so I was excited to see how they are really filmed. But we are pretty private people and I have to admit, I was pretty distrusting the entire time. But they were really true to their word, filming “fly-on-the-wall” style. No agenda, no direction, no interaction, aside from the occasional question.
The program is called “State of Play,” a five-part series produced by Peter Berg, that focuses on sports and sport culture. The episode we participated in is titled “First Ladies.” It follows three women married to prominent sports figures that all love and support their husbands in different ways. In it, you’ll get a glimpse into what I do on a daily basis and how Mike and I function as a couple in public life, yet also as individuals.
MN: Where do you see the future of Uptown Sweats by Kiya Tomlin?
KT: I envision Uptown Sweats by Kiya Tomlin changing the way the modern woman dresses. No longer will sweats be relegated to running errands, lounging at home and weekend wear. Uptown Sweats will make it acceptable for women to wear sweats to work, evenings out and everything in between. Currently sold in select boutiques, keep an eye out for Uptown Sweats to become available to women everywhere. Once people feel this fabric, everyone’s going to want to live in it!