Local Designer Series: Former Rachel Roy Designer Moves Back to Detroit to Chase Fashion Dreams


Paulina Petkoski started accomplishing her fashion dreams by moving to NYC, studying at FIT and then getting a highly coveted job as an Associate Designer at Rachel Roy, but she had more ideas and bigger plans for herself. Wanting to create her own namesake label, Paulina let fate bring her back to Detroit to start paving her own path in the city, just as her father once did.

DG3: Tell us about yourself, Paulina.

Paulina Petkoski: I am a professional fashion designer; until mid-2014 I was an Associate Designer on the Rachel Roy design team in NYC. My specialization there was Embellishment Design and Trim Development. I am a very proud Detroiter, however, I grew up in Birmingham and graduated from Groves High School and my Father lived in downtown Detroit, so I spent a lot of time in the city proper. While in NYC, I lived in Brooklyn for the eight years. I have worked with established New-York based designers such as Diane von Furstenberg, Calvin Klein, Isaac Mizrahi, VPL, and Pamella Roland (a native Michigander). As a stylist, I've worked on tons photo shoots with NYC-based photographers and music videos. All of these experiences and amazing people have been so valuable to my development as a designer.

DG3: How did you get into fashion design, where did you go to school and how did you end up in New York?

PP: My Mom has a great story about how when I was a very little girl, she was in a rush to get to work and I would not wear anything she put on me. So she wrapped me in a towel naked and dropped me off at my Grandmother's house so she could dress me. So, I guess you could say I've always had a strong opinion about fashion. Even in middle and high school, I would go thrifting, re-make clothes I found and wear wild outfits. I cut up my Mom's fur coat so I could wear the sleeves as leg warmers, and now I actually wear the body as a vest over my leather jacket, so at least it wasn't a total loss!

I have Associate and Bachelor of Fine Arts in International Fashion Design from the Fashion Institute of Technology. I also studied abroad at the Polimoda International Institute of Design in Florence, Italy for a year after transferring from Michigan State University's Apparel program. While still attending FIT in 2009, I co-launched Sosume, one of the first sustainable fashion brands in the market, worn by eco-concious celebrities Natalie Imbruglia & Miranda Kerr.



PP: Just before I started working at Rachel Roy in 2011, I founded PLAYGROUND DETROIT with a small group of fellow Detroiters living in NYC. It is an organization that connects the creative communities of both Detroit and New York City. I was frustrated with negative reactions people had when asked where I was from. Over and over, I explained to them that the city in fact is 'not dead' and is actually home to some of the most inspiring, innovative artists and musicians I have met. Even though a lot of people know Detroit is having a 'renaissance,' there are still a lot of people who have no idea what's happening here. We provide exposure opportunities for our creative network with a focus on events- ranging from Detroit documentary screenings, music showcases, group art exhibits, field trips, and social media. In February 2014, along with fellow Groves alum Samantha Schefman, we organized our first group successful art show in NYC featuring Haute To Death and 10 emerging Detroit artists.

DG3: What brought you back to Detroit?

PP: I have been considering moving back to Detroit for a couple years. I was making regular trips here for PLAYDET and my family still lives here. NYC has become prohibitively expensive, even with a full-time design job living in Bushwick, which is an industrial 'up-and-coming' neighborhood. I had lived in for three years and living in a single bedroom with a couple roommates felt unsustainable to me. My rent kept going up every year and moving all the time is challenging and costly. The stars aligned for me, I had the opportunity move back to Detroit and I took it. I packed up all of my belongings, loaded up a cargo van by myself, and headed back home.

DG3: What have you been doing since you have been back?

PP: I have been involved with a lot of exciting projects since returning to Detroit. I have been consulting a few local fashion brands, which is great because I can use my resources and prior experiences to help designers here that don't have my industry background. I am also working as a freelance wardrobe consultant to individuals. I was honored to sit in on a planning meeting as a designer for the DG3 Industrial Sewing Program curriculum. In September, I returned to NYC to help Sarah Lapinski of Motor City Sewing, now living in NYC, coordinate the first Detroit Built pop-up store in Soho at Michele Varian boutique, which featured over 25 Detroit makers and designers.

I have also been working on the launch of a new Detroit culture magazine, Grand Circus Magazine as the Fashion Editor, which is very exciting for me. We just shot the photo shoot for the first issue in Detroit featuring both local and national designers. A local rapper, Zelooperz has been wearing a custom over-sized jacket I made on a national tour with Danny Brown, which is really cool. PLAYGROUND DETROIT is focusing on becoming sustainably funded and fully realizing the true potential value that we can offer Detroit with some exciting future plans.


DG3: What are your future career plans?

PP: I have been working on my life-long dream to have my own namesake fashion brand out of Detroit. Creating your own brand takes a lot of self-reflection, research and development – it is not something I take lightly. You have to remember you are competing not just in a local market, but in a global market, everyone has Internet access. I am looking to secure funding for my line, a strong brand requires serious start-up capital a lot of young designers underestimate this. In the meantime, I am working to launch a small, capsule collection and would like to expand organically. I am a women's contemporary/young designer; my designs are for a fashionable, modern woman with a cool attitude and isn't afraid of strong statements. I like separates that can be worn in different ways because that is how people dress today.

The fashion industry as a whole concerns me right now. It is the third most polluting industry in the world - 'fast fashion' is really not fashionable at all. Cheap clothing made overseas is often made in terrible conditions for garment workers; and in the USA, the pool of older, highly trained immigrants from Italy and France is shrinking. It's important to raise consumer awareness on the impact of fashion and at the same time somehow offer ethical and sustainable options.

My goal is to sustainably and ethically produce my own collection in Detroit, Michigan. I want to change the way people think about fashion by demonstrating that you can make an impact with design. Stella McCartney and Reformation are both inspirations to me.

DG3: Describe your style.

PP: My style is ever evolving. I wear a lot of black, which is basically a uniform for most designers. I feel most myself in on of my black leather motorcycle jackets and a vintage t-shirt from my personal collection. I have been wearing a lot of athletic sportif looks with sneakers lately.

DG3: If you could raid the closets of any major fashion magazine, which magazine would it be and why?

PP: W Magazine, Vogue, or Nylon. I can't decide! W has extraordinary editorials, Vogue has all the fashion staples, and Nylon has younger, smaller labels.