A few weeks ago I went to the Verge Trade show, an exhibition showcasing clothing designers in the city. Immediately a slip dress with “Not Sorry” embroidered across the bust caught my eye. I Beelined to the booth to find out more and met Dy-Min.
Her bubbly personality and innate sense of humor made me even more excited about the brand. Best of all, the clothes are reasonably priced.
Last week I had the pleasure of sitting down with Dy-Min and her business partner Jessica at Cass Collective to talk about their clothing brand, Not Sorry. I've never laughed so hard during an interview, They were an absolute delight to talk to.
Read or listen to the interview to learn more about Jessica and Dy-Min and what it means to be Not Sorry. After, check out their new promotional video at the bottom of this post.
How did you two get started with Not Sorry?
Dy-Min: "Not Sorry Apparel started off when we wanted to make a cool little crop top thingy for all of our friends, for some reason. A bunch of guys said that they liked it so we ended up getting it manufactured and that’s it. We were in business. We found out people like the designs but the handmade price wasn’t accessible. We went into the thrift store one day and saw some jerseys, realized those would be cheaper and printed on them. We had a show, they sold and that became our new business model and birthed Not Sorry Apparel."
Jessica: "Dy-Min has always been into fashion and I’ve always enjoyed fashion and arts. We weren’t setting out to start a company when we first started the pennies. We’re creative people and we had this design that we really wanted to do. It’s really been people’s response that has motivated us to look into what it would take to actually produce clothes here in Detroit and that snowballed into a company. We both love doing this and have been having fun with it."
What have you found to be the ups and downs of making clothes in Detroit?
Dy-Min: "There’s been a lot of ups. Our brand has really resonated with the right people. It’s constantly reaffirming what I’m doing."
Jessica: "Yeah definitely. Like Dy-Min said, when we first started we were doing handmade clothing and it wasn’t accessible to everyone. Even for us we were thinking, “Would we spend this much money on a shirt?” It made us rethink our business model and Dy-min had the awesome idea to try printing on second hand pieces. That stuck with us because it really spoke to our brand. Being one of a kind and not sorry for who you are and being an individual- every piece is an individual in our eyes."
Dy-Min: "The only difficulty we had starting is that people are very protective of Detroit. They have to get to know you and what you stand for and what you’re trying to do here before you can really make your own path."
Jessica: "There’s apprehension because a lot of people that are from here don’t want people coming here to capitalize on the name Detroit because it’s hot right now. We knew we were being authentic with what we’re doing and we’re doing it for the right reasons. We knew if we just kept meeting people and telling our story that people would see that."
How long have you been in the city?
Jessica: "I moved here from Florida five years ago. I live downtown by the Joe Louis Arena. People think I’m crazy, especially my family. They wonder how I can deal with the winters but I love it here. There’s such a mix of art and artistic expression but also technology and manufacturing and industrial things. I love that mix. Before I moved here I did a lot of research and I felt like the young people moving here are really trying to start their own thing. I’ve always been interested in starting my own creative business, whatever that is; art, music, fashion. The city resonated with me. I feel like I’ve been here my whole life because I feel really connected to this place."
Dy-Min: "I was born right here in the city. I spent part of my life in the suburbs too, I had both experiences. Eventually I made my way back home to Detroit."
Are your screen prints done locally?
Dy-Min: "We do it ourselves. There’s a community print shop down the street at Ocelot and then I have a small print shop in the basement too. Anywhere, anytime we are printing stuff."
Where are some of your favorite thrift stores?
Dy-Min: "It depends on the day. Some days we find so much and find jewels in the most random places. I don’t have a favorite place, you just have to keep digging."
Jessica: "I would say my mom’s closet is my favorite right now. I recently went back there and she gave me all these old dresses from the nineties. They just don’t make stuff like that anymore. Other than that, I agree with Dy-Min you just have to go around and get lucky. It’s kind of like a metal detector."
From getting started to where you are now what has that process looked like?
Dy-Min: "That’s hard, we’ve had some ups and downs but there’s nothing we would rather be doing. I think we are both people who need challenges. In my previous corporate life I wasn’t getting that kind of challenge. l wasn’t having anyone take my ideas seriously. Now we’re in the driver's seat of our own lives. If I want to do a project and it doesn’t go well I can reanalyze and get it together. It’s a challenge everyday and I learn something new everyday. I don’t want to sit around and do the same thing over and over."
Jessica: "I totally agree with that. I think one thing that has set us apart is that we don’t mind the work. Like Dy-Min said it’s an everyday thing. When we hear, “Entrepreneurs, most of them don’t make it”. We think yeah most of them are trying but when we fail we don’t give up. We’re always thinking how do we get through this, how do we get over this? We’re not negative. We always find some positive outcome and are always trying to learn from it. It’s a lot of perseverance and positivity. Always being students of life and business. We’re always trying to learn new things to keep up with the dynamics of business life and running your own company."
What have been some of your major milestones and their timelines.
Dy-Min: "We made the pennies summer of 2015. We made the real jerseys and were official by April of 2016."
Jessica: "That’s when our e-commerce site went out. That was our first big roll out."
Dy-Min: "Most significant for us is Dally 2016. That’s when we actually sold. We sold more than one, sold more than two, we sold more than we thought we would and that was confirmation from the public that they wanted to see this. We opened this place (Space in Cass Collective) in March 2017. I would say those are the super high milestone points."
Jessica: "I would add in there that we got accepted into retail bootcamp program last year around September and that was right around the time we started to try this new business model of printing on upcycle clothes. That really helped us narrow down what we’re selling. Dally was us rolling out this new business model and seeing if it was going to work. We were fortunate because Dally is our exact target audience; artists, young folk, musicians, Detroiters, people who shop local. It was a great test market for us and completely confirmed that we were on the right path. That helped us build up to the store opening. The store opening was a connection we got through Tech Town so that was a big part of our growth."
Dy-Min: "We should mention that we lost that Tech Town thing, so that’s a milestone for us too. We didn’t make it past the first round. Most people don’t know that. I think the next week we got a call about this place. When we lost we were kind of like, “They have to be wrong.” I couldn’t comprehend it, they just weren’t ready for the idea yet."
Jessica: "That’s a perfect example of our attitude and why we are where we are today. First of all, we’re incredulous. Not believing that we didn’t win. We weren’t salty about it. We we’re more like “Damn, we gave this our all.” People were telling us we did a great job so we thought “Hey, it’s in the universe now. We did our part.” We knew we did well and we knew we were going to be successful. We really weren’t upset about it."
Dy-Min: "We went and got drinks."
Jessica: "We sold so much that day too and that was all the confirmation we needed. We might not have gotten the competition money but we got money from everyone in the audience. That was huge. Then we got the call for this place and thought it’s probably more what we wanted to do anyways. Not only are we making money with the store but we’re getting exposure from people who may not buy our products. It was good on all accounts."
Going forward from here what are you working on, what are your next goals?
Dy-Min: "Dunn dunn dunn. Just get bigger. We think Not Sorry Apparel-- well first of all that a sustainable world is necessary for survival. We can be doing that in Detroit and be the pioneers for that. It’s Detroit baby, just do it."
Jessica: "Absolutely, and reinforce that this is a lifestyle. Sustainability is a huge part of it. Believing in yourself and being unapologetically you, I think, is a part of the cultural fabric of Detroit and I feel like we have a good grasp on that right now. We know who the community is. We’re not trying to bring in outsiders to come in and take over. It’s really about getting the community involved and making sure it’s something they’re involved with too."
Business wise, do you think it’s beneficial to be in more stores like Cass Collective or your own brick and mortar.
D: "I think it’s a little bit of both. I think we’re pretty strategic even though it doesn’t seem like that. A brick and mortar are on our list but when we’re ready for it. Who knows, we didn’t know we were ready for this and we’re here."
As a whole, how would you describe Detroit’s style.
Dy-Min: "Detroit’s style, man."
Jessica: "I’m thinking about when I go out to techno shows at Marble Bar or TV. I would say it’s edgy. It can be nostalgic. People look like they came from a music video shot in the 90’s or something. At times eccentric but in a way that works for Detroit. I’m so biased because I’m really inspired by going out. Going to shows, but also walking down riverwalk and looking at people and the way they’re dressing when they go out. They’re dressed to the nines, even the men when they wear their suits. It’s really inspiring and I want to say, “You just need a Detroit Not Sorry print on the back of your blazer.”"
Dy-Min: "We have this thing where we’re not really trying and that’s what makes it so cool. We’re trying to capture that and get something so the right person will see it and feel like, “Oh yeah, that’s me.”"
Jessica: "It’s like celebrities when they get snapshots and they’re just going to the gym or the grocery store but they look so good in all black and a baseball hat. Detroiters do a good job of always looking put together or putting together pieces I would never expect. I saw a girl wearing a slip with joggers and sneakers and then a long cotton kimono and I was thinking, “What is going on, but I love it.” She was killing it, you know, contrasting dress codes and making it work."
What are some of your favorite local brands, collectives, or projects in the city.
Dy-Min: "Detroit is the New Black. I really love Roslyn and everything she’s doing. There are a bunch of people which I think is one of the best problems. There are so many people doing cool things and we’re not trying to step on each other. It’s more like “I heard you’re doing a cool thing, let’s do cool things.” Or at least that’s been my experience."
Jessica: "I was really impressed with Basic Brats’ bathing suit collection from the summer. Check her out on instagram @basic_brat, she’s hand making some bomb prints."
Dy-Min: "I like Abid too (@abid). He was at the trade show. He had hats made out of Shinola scraps."
Jessica: "We met Corner Store Goods and they do some really cool stuff too. Basically streetwear but they have a lot of pointed graphics that really resonate and can sometimes be controversial which we love."
Where do you do your most networking with the fashion industry in Detroit?
Dy-Min: "Probably the art shows. I think that was our introduction into this world. Hitting up a bunch of shows, having a couple drinks. You meet anyone who’s someone."
Jessica: "That is super inspiring for fashion too. Everyone is always wearing the most amazing stuff. When someone compliments me, I’m like, “You like what I’m wearing?!""
What shows do you go to?
Dy-Min: "Red Bull is always great. Inner State Gallery is awesome. Tangent Gallery."
Jessica: "Yeah Tangent has some really great stuff."
Dy-Min: "I would also like to add to that Queen’s Bar. Public Pool is a great space."
Outside of Not Sorry what are you involved with in the city?
Dy-Min: "That’s probably more for Jess, our music girl."
Jessica: "I run a music blog, Robotic Peacock. We focus on Detroit artists. When I moved here I did not realize how much talent there is for house and techno- that’s what the blog focuses on. I knew this is the birthplace of techno and knew people would be into dance music but I was blown away. I’m from Miami so there’s a saturation of it. Everyone I’ve seen out (in Detroit) is so talented. I had to write about it. I actually got into music DJing on the radio in college."
What’s your DJ name?
Jessica: "Jessica Peacock."
Jessica: "Now we’re doing these monthly parties with her (Dy-Min’s) boyfriend’s record label, Choose Better Friends. Which is such a perfect blend with Not Sorry. The monthly parties are free, we all DJ and then we have a rack of our clothes. Last time we had a selfie station."
Where are those held?
Jessica: "That one was at Whiskey Disco and the one before was at Old Miami. We’re trying to move it around."
Dy-Min: "It’s nice to be able to do something for our customers and people who support us. We don’t charge anything, it’s really just for good vibes and having fun."
Jessica: "It’s totally a labor of love, we bring our own equipment and our products. Technically we’re working but we’re still socializing and having a blast."
Dy-Min: "Plus building relationships with our customers. It’s not just about getting money, let’s be friends too."
Jessica: "And that’s so important to us to give back in a way that’s not contrived."
Dy-Min: "This is a natural way for us to do it."
Jessica: "This is a way for us to flex our creative muscles- I just love that phrase!"
Jessica: "It hits on that aspect and it’s a fun way for us to connect with our customers outside of the normal shopping hours and outside of the transaction process."
If you could dress a famous Detroit icon past or present who would it be and what would you put them in?
Dy-Min: "That’s a tough one, where did you get these questions?"
Most of them came out of the conversation to be honest but this is one of my favorite questions to ask.
Dy-Min: "I think I want to say someone from Motown. No one in specific. You got so glammed up to go sweat. I can’t even fully grasp it, but I love it."
Jessica: "That’s what I was thinking too like Marvin Gaye or Aretha. I do have to say it would be pretty cool to dress Marshall Mathers. Something about that would bring me a lot of joy, especially putting him in a big pink fluffy jacket."
Dy-Min: "Uh-Oh you just put that into the universe."
Do you take clothing donations?
Dy-Min: "It’s newer, we’re not promoting it yet. We’re trying to figure out the best way to do it and make sure it has value to the person bringing it to us."
Jessica: "I think we’re still trying to figure out what’s the incentive for bringing it to us instead of Salvation Army. We’re not giving you a tax write off. We’ll probably end up working out some kind of discount so that’s what we’re trying to figure out."
Anything else you want to mention?
Jessica: "Yeah, we do custom stuff. If you have your own clothes that you want printed, you don’t have to buy the clothes from us to get the print. You can bring your own clothes, we have pricing if you want something printed or embroidered with Not Sorry."
Jessica: "I would emphasize everything we do is DIY, Dy-Min is printing all of our own stuff. I’m embroidering all of our own stuff. I think that’s how we keep it authentic and real. We’re not outsourcing, we’re doing it ourselves and I think that also makes it mean more to us."
Dy-Min: "You can’t give a bunch of things to a print shop and tell them to print this here and that here. It needs to be very standard and very in a box and we don’t do well with boxes."
Do you have any upcoming shows or pop-ups?
Dy-Min: "Dally for sure. We’re releasing our first ad campaign soon."
Jessica: "It’s more of a brand awareness campaign, strictly social. It’s just a video but it’s a really amazing video that we made right here in this room. You won’t believe it was filmed in here!"
Jessica, Dy-min, thank you for creating an accessible brand of fashionable clothing in Detroit.
It was about time someone did.