Pure Detroit: design lab
by Jessica Banks


Experimentation is in full bloom in one of the most unlikely places in Detroit - a clothing store. The dream team of fashion at Pure Detroit has created a fresh new space for the manipulation of common, everyday clothing. Pure Detroit's fashion experiment space, aptly subtitled "design lab" mixes notions of what it means to create clothing in Detroit. The design lab is both a shop that houses a unique and fresh approach to fashion, and a studio where designers create on location. The team runs the cash register and the sewing needle at the same time. Thus the customer is let into the lab and has a chance to leave with one-of-a-kind specimens. Designers are invited for six-week intervals and provided with full access to the lab's ample space (and sewing machine), all in order to help the designer lead fashion instead of following it. The vibe in the store changes with each designer - this person not only constructs the window display to attract attention from the street, but also chooses a visual artist to exhibit alongside the clothing inside. By blurring the lines between art, fashion, and performance, the design lab's experimental style is setting the newest trend in Detroit fashion.

Imagine your everyday shopper stepping into the Pure Detroit: design lab. The walls are lined with rack after rack of clothing sorted by individual designer and stuffed with unique items waiting to be incorporated into one's personal style. And for every item, there are plenty of accessories that will accompany it perfectly. Browsing the racks purposefully placed around the outer edges of the store, likely one will begin to notice the original artwork dispersed throughout the store and the bustle of activity in the center of the shop. The lab workers want shoppers to pay as much attention to the creation of the clothing as the finished articles hanging on the walls. The design lab team installed a sewing machine in the center of the store, often occupied by a designer mindfully creating a new garment. A new garment, that, in the near future, shoppers in the store will be able to buy. This, in effect, transports the shopper into the design process: in noting the exact stitching and placement of any sort of detail, the customer begins to feel as if he or she has some sort of say into what this piece could turn out to be. This turns the history of fashion creation on its head: a process that has been traditionally so far removed from the actual buyer that designers have long held a special iconic and heroic status.

By inviting the customer to be engaged in the production of clothes that they might wear in the future, the design lab becomes something more than just a clothing store, but an interactive laboratory of clothing production. The customer can simply watch the process or directly converse with the designer. Each of Pure Detroit's guest designers has a major say in the entire presentation of their work throughout their stay, but the store is not set up as the designer on display. The entire format of the design lab is conceived as a method to bring a greater community effort into the design of Detroit fashion. This even includes the staff bustling around the space - these are not your ordinary sales-people. Sure, they want to sell the clothing that is on consignment from area designers (though these pieces need little pitch for they are enticing completely on their own) but they also want to talk with shoppers, and get a sense of their opinion about the merchandise on the spot. They are a team of lab technicians, but, of course, better dressed!

The design lab team is committed to exposing Detroit as an incubator for new ideas where everyone is welcome, especially designers looking for a new route into the fashion world. This sense of commitment to the city and fashion is found at all levels of the business. Pure Detroit's owner Shawn Santo started the design lab to keep local designers in the city and provide an outlet for their talent. Store director Sarah Lurtz, a noted young Detroit designer herself, is responsible for bringing in the different designers, selecting the clothing, and operating the store. And then of course there are the individual designers, and their personal commitment to making their presence felt, and growing Detroit's reputation as a place for great fashion. All together, they have big plans to keep the space evolving with new designers and new experiments with fashion and performance. The only thing that the design lab team asks for is commitment from everyone - an easy task when they make buying clothes exciting and meaningful again.


Pure Detroit: design lab
Tue-Thur 11-7, Fri & Sat 12-8
156 W. Congress @ Shelby

Downtown Detroit


Holly Noll of torture cookie is the current featured designer and Jessica Brown's artwork can be seen on display in the store. Both will be showing there through February 4.

A recent graduate of Grand Valley State University, Jessica Banks returned to the Detroit area where she continues to create her own art, explore the Detroit art world, and work in the non-profit sector.

Black and white photos by Jon Macha. Color pics by Dan "the man" Sousanis

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