House of Pure

The Pure Detroit Design Lab was an idea born of a uniquely-Detroit necessity. And now, buying (and wearing) local has never felt, well, so pure.

Exasperated with local designers not having a venue to sell their own goods, Kevin Borsay and Shawn Santo — the entrepreneurs behind Pure Detroit, the new Rowland Café and Vera Jane — decided to create a design headquarters for Detroit fashion talent and a means for the community to experience Detroit fashion firsthand. So in November 2004, the Pure Detroit Design Lab retail boutique arrived on the scene to showcase local design talent and sell fashion that is, indeed, purely Detroit. 

“We wanted the Design Lab to be a springboard for local designers to be serious about fashion and to help them keep going by using the store as an opportunity to grow their lines,” says Design Lab Director, Sarah Lurtz.

“We’ve now got about 20 local designers working with us all at different levels of involvement and … it’s pretty awesome. Independent designers lack resources and it makes it hard to continue designing, so we wanted to help our designers take it to the next level.”

One of the ways the Design Lab helps designers stretch their wings is to feature a different talent every six weeks with their own racks in the store and a window display that’s up to them to create. Every featured designer also gets his or her own opening party with food and drink, all with local DJs and musicians to set the party mood. The space itself is bare bones — concrete floor, white walls — so it’s the fashions, not an overtly swank boutique interior, that bring the store alive. 

These opening parties are a way for designers to make their work accessible to the public and to fellow designers, and also a means to offer some quality customer appreciation to Design Lab devotees.

Lurtz herself is one of the past featured designers at the store. With her business partner, Sarah Lipinski, the duo has firmly planted its line, Wounds of Sarah, on the Design Lab landscape. A graduate of the fashion design program at Wayne State, Lurtz, only 24, has taken the reigns of the Design Lab like a seasoned fashion pro. She’s even taken an intern from the same program at Wayne under her wing, teaching the ins and outs of retail and how to nurture the Design Lab family of designers.

The Lab carries accessories by Suddenhorse, Hip Lesbian Duo and the best earrings in the land by local jeweleress, Vault 17. Other designers making their mark at the Design Lab are Zach Ostrowski (also a Lab employee) of Superior Belly and upcoming featured designer, Samantha Bullock of DS Bullock who will take over the Lab for six weeks starting on September 16. You can even pick up a greeting card or two from the ever-snarky and amusing Sappy Cards by designer Timothy Furstinau.

Detroit Just Purely

So what is Detroit style, anyway?

“I think that Detroit fashion is all about a care-free approach to dressing. Almost like a collage-style by mixing and matching different pieces,” says Lurtz.
“Zach’s (Ostrowski) clothes are totally in that vein,” she says, holding up a simple dress shirt with a t-shirt sewn on the front.

“Actually, I think we might weird a lot of people out downtown with our window displays, too, but they end up coming in and checking out the store and saying, ‘I’ve been looking at that window for weeks and had to come by.’”

If Lurtz and company have their way, the Lab’s influence and community outreach will move the Detroit brand and style even further. One of the Lab’s dreams is to curate with similar stores in other cities to combine resources and get designers working together.

“Detroit has this sort of mysticism in other cities, like Berlin, and people want their Detroit style,” she muses. She also talks about getting more into product development and even pushing the Design Lab concept as a line by getting major department stores involved in creating a Design Lab section in their stores.

The Pure Detroit Design Lab has made it its mission to support and encourage local fashion and designers. Now it’s on us to wear their fashion mission on our sleeves, too.

Pure Detroit Design Lab
156. W. Congress (at Shelby)

Store hours:
Tuesday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Featured Lab Designers:
Zack Ostrowski:
Timothy Furstinau:
Samantha Bullock:
Molly Mast:
Melissa Dettloff: and
The Sarahs:
Erin Borg:
Molly Leonard:
Meredith Fleischer:
Rebecca Rene:
Angela McBride: and

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