Kiya Tomlin is the force behind her eponymous, Pennsylvania based clothing brand meeting the needs of women striving for comfort and style. Most recently, Tomlin partnered with Macy’s Ross Park Mall store for one of what she calls the retail brand’s “first ever collaboration with a local business.” But at one point, she was seriously pursuing another path.
“I went to college and studied pre-med,” she said to Essence. Tomlin had an ongoing relationship with fashion; she had been sewing her own clothes since she was 10 years old, was making all of her own clothing by middle school and had designed her own prom dress. In the early 1990s though, fashion as a career presented limited options. “You were either Ralph Lauren or the little old lady in the alteration shop,” Tomlin said with a laugh. She focused on prepping to become a surgeon, but designing never left her heart.
“I brought my sewing machine with me to college,” she said. “I would make clothes for my roommate [and I] did a number of sorority step show costumes.” Upon graduating from The College of William & Mary in 1996, Kiya married football coach Mike Tomlin. “During final exams, I made my bridesmaids’ dresses,” she said. After learning that her husband wanted to become a college football coach, she gathered they would relocate frequently, making applying for medical school difficult. Following moves to Arkansas, Ohio (where she took fashion courses at the University of Cincinnati), Florida and ultimately Pennsylvania, Tomlin started her own business once her three children began to grow up.
In 2014, Tomlin moved her eponymous business to a storefront and had a mildly jarring realization; workwear was uncomfortable.
“It’s not comfortable, it’s not suitable and everything needs to be dry cleaned,” Tomlin said of the business apparel she was wearing initially. She created what’s now her versatile and flexible signature dress—one made from of a blend of bamboo, cotton and spandex. “The design is for women to have something they can wear every day, then throw it in the washing machine when they’re done,” Tomlin noted. The dress, like call other items in her collection, can be worn with anything, from stilettos to tennis shoes. Made without zippers or buttons and easy to slip into, Tomlin’s clothing is perfect for stylish women on the go.
Once the COVID-19 pandemic brought shutdowns to Pittsburg, Tomlin met with her staff of three to come up with a way to keep the business going. A simple act of kindness, making and donating cloth face masks, inspired her to create safety masks for her community. The plan was to distribute 500 masks per week, but as people became increasingly interested in buying them, her team was soon making 500 masks per day. Without wholesale accounts or international production and a surplus of fabric, they were able to stay afloat, and even thrive, during a trying time.
Now, just two weeks after the launch of a spring collection at Macy’s (which includes 8 neutral-colored pieces: 4 shirts, a skirt, dress, duster and pants, all ranging from $95 to $155), Tomlin materialized a dream through confidence and by holding on to a lifelong passion. “We’re a small business, a flexible business…we do everything in house,” she said. “[I knew] if we kept an open mind, we would come out on top.”
Shop Tomlin’s clothing here.