At five feet tall, Kiya Tomlin knows all about the importance of fit. When her husband, Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin, told her he wanted to be a football coach while they were in college, she decided to trade her medical school dream to become a fashion designer, something she could do anywhere they moved. Kiya has now expanded her custom design business to include Uptown Sweats, versatile and stylish pieces for women on the move. She shares her journey on the latest episode of HBO’s State of Play. See how she juggles fashion, family and football..
Name: Kiya Tomlin
Title: Designer and Creator of Uptown Sweats
Location: Pittsburgh, PA
Hometown: Morristown, NJ
The gig: I started Uptown Sweats for women to feel comfortable and look stylish. Women love the ease of wearing workout clothes from the gym to the grocery store to picking up kids from school. I wanted to create that level of comfort for occasions beyond running errands and weekend wear.
The journey: Growing up, I was very tiny for my size and I wanted cool clothes. I started designing for myself because I couldn’t find anything that fit. After marrying Mike and dealing with the demands of his coaching career, I decided to put away my plans for medical school and find a way to make money doing something that I like. Since I was not the standard body type, I decided to invest my time into making custom designs. I taught myself the skill of how to analyze body types and how to fit each body.
Why she hustles hard: My parents divorced when I was little. I saw my mom work to take care of us. I never wanted to have to stay in a situation that I didn’t want to be in. I didn’t have to worry about whether I could care for myself and my family. I just wanted to have my own. I’d love to be able to take care of the family financially when my husband retires.
Her top fashion tip: Accentuate your best features. That’s what’s going to be comfortable to you. Comfort leads to confidence and that makes you beautiful. I can see someone walking down the street in a variety of outfits, but what makes them stand out is that inner confidence.
Her biggest lesson learned: Don’t wait for the opportunity or the business to be perfect. It will never be perfect. It'll just be waiting.
Her tech fix: I love kiksend. I’m always taking pictures with my iPhone and iPad and with the app I can just send it to the nearest photo center to get printed. I also love Pepper Plate, a recipe app.
Her boss accessory: I love a stiletto. The higher and the spicier, the better it is.
Her work/life strategy: The kids come first and I have the luxury of building my career around the kids. I can run my kids around to school or activities and sit in my car and work from my laptop, iPad or cell phone while I wait.
Her documentary debut: HBO called and asked if I would be in their sports documentary. I absolutely did not want to do it because I thought it would be a reality show and they would edit me to look crazy. However, I saw the rough draft and I am proud to say, “Yeah that’s me. That’s what I do. That’s what I look like.”
Her superpower: I am brutally honest. My super power is probably also my weakness, but I just say what’s on my mind.
Her downtime: We have a family movie night at our home. We each have our own enormous beanbag to sit on. My daughter makes the popcorn and we fight over which movie to watch.
Her marriage strategy: We’ve been married for about eighteen year and have known each other since college. We have allowed each other freedom to grow and evolve. I also haven’t tried to become a super football fan just because he is a coach. He is free to talk about something else with me.
Her theme song: “Shake it Off” by Taylor Swift or anything by Destiny’s Child and Beyoncé.