Hey, You’re Cool! Roslyn Karamoko of Détroit Is The New Black
"I’m part of an entrepreneurial ecosystem"
If you’ve spent any time in Detroit, you know Detroiters are some proud-ass peoples. That’s why when entrepreneur Roslyn Karamoko decided to print five words on a few T-shirts it signaled a moment: Détroit Is the New Black. A brand had been born.
As the narrative of Detroit’s rebound evolves, streetwear entrepreneurs like Karamoko are updating the Detroit style vernacular. After all, Detroit has been a staple for American culture and its long-standing workwear legacy with homegrown brands like Carhartt is unparalleled. Karamoko, 32, is building on that history by maintaining fashion and style’s a powerful role in Detroit’s identity. A Seattle native and Howard University alum, she’s working in Motor City during an important moment in the city’s cultural history. Detroit filed for bankruptcy back in 2013 and has been steadily rebuilding by, in part by, cultivating entrepreneurs and community leaders like Karamako.
In just a few years, Détroit Is the New Black has grown from an online shop and popup retailer into a thriving brand with a gorgeous flagship storefront in Downtown Detroit. With Détroit pronounced in French, the brand’s name is a double entendre that nods to Detroit’s past — a city founded by French settlers—while the “New Black” is a nod to both the racial history and the current revival of the city.
Why did you decide to start this company in Detroit and why now?
I moved to Detroit in 2013 after working as a retail buyer in New York and spending time as an intern at the Sean Jean label under the tutelage of Public School founders Dao-Yi Chow and Maxwell Osborne. I learned a lot watching them. They were designers for the label, transforming menswear through streetwear. At the time, bringing streetwear to high-end menswear was very new. Now things have evolved and I want to be part of this entrepreneurial wave that is building up Detroit and really having pride fo what it stands for.
There’s also this larger story of Detroit’s revitalization taking place and all the complexities that go with it like gentrification and cultural equity. Are these things you think about as you’re growing the company?
I wanted to make the brand representative of the new Detroit but also find a clever way to talk about gentrification and deeper issues that are being discussed throughout the city. I thought it was a really light way to talk about something a little more real. I wanted it to be more relevant and a bit political on purpose.
You seem to be building on this history of workwear in Detroit with pared down aesthetics and simple design. What was your vision for how the brand would fit amid all the other streetwear lines out there?
Pushing the streetwear aesthetic forward was important to me when I came to Detroit. There’s this blue collar workwear culture in Detroit. It felt natural for DITNB to have a very uniform feel to it. The brand is very Detroit. And there’s the double entendre of blackness with the name.
Let’s talk about this wave of entrepreneurs building businesses in Detroit. Where do you see yourself in all of this?
I think it’s important to support local designers by providing retail space for local entrepreneurs on the come up. Here in Detroit, I feel like I’m part of an entrepreneurial ecosystem and there’s a network of people that needs support and I have the space to do it. And having that impact on the economy and the new Detroit is amazing.