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Motor City Sewing & Design

2000 Brooklyn St.
Detroit, Michigan 48226

Sarah Lapinski

By Tunde Wey
March 15, 2013

“Being here…living here…is like an act of civic duty,” intones Sarah Lapinski, owner of Motor City Sewing & Design. "Here" is Detroit and the truth about living here is usually lost in translation to some people who are outside of Detroit’s powerful influence. Lapinski’s experience of being a Detroiter is undeniably American, rooted in the optimism of individualism.

A new frontier, beautiful in its barrenness yet hopeful in its outlook, Detroit’s terrain always attracts people fiercely independent; ruggedly individual. This is the strain of courage that propels Lapinski—artist, designer and Detroiter.

Sarah Lapinski never had plans to go to college; a high school counselor applied on her behalf for a scholarship and Wayne State University obliged. In 1995, Lapinski left Canton, Michigan, in all its sprawled suburban glory—long before IKEA settled there turning it into a popular weekend design destination. She headed to Detroit before it was cool, back when there was still some terror on its sporadically-lit streets.

A year into her college degree, Art found Lapinski. It was obvious that she always had the artist’s sensibility: “I was always drawing and creating stuff. It was always in the margins of my papers and tests,” Lapinski says, but until then there hadn’t been an opportunity for that kind of self-identification. So it took Art a while to catch up to her, and when it finally found Lapinski, she sunk herself into it, creating a wonderfully wandering life of fashion, furniture and fabric design; curating, publishing and teaching.

“My first thing that I started working at the Majestic was a woman’s artist collective; Girlee. I started it when I was 19. It was hanging out at the Majestic with these artists and I wanted to be a part of this conversation, and that was my way to be a part of it. My thing has always been to get people together; I knew a lot of women artists, so I said, ‘Let’s put on a show.’ I didn’t even consider myself an artist.”

This opportunity to identify herself as an artist, and a potential future career, started with Girlee. Lapinski and a coterie of female artists put on shows in popular venues such as CPOP Gallery, garnering attention from local media and the public—previously starved of the sort of thing.

It wasn’t too long after that Lapinski became enamored with the idea of communicating her own ideas and experiences, hence creating her own art. The meld between Art and occupation began here for her. She says, “(While in) the Girlee Detroit Collective, I wasn’t making art; I was just doing admin and curating shows. Then I started being jealous and I wanted to make some stuff. Then this whole DIY thing was taking off, and I had gotten a sewing machine in that time and my art became more crafts.”

That one sewing machine, actually her grandmother’s Singer machine, would grow into a menswear label called WOUND; a commercial, residential, experimental, wearable art company, Motor City Sewing & Design; and interesting other design opportunities.

“My garment work took a turn when I was at the Pure Detroit Lab. Shawn Santo opened this up when she found out there were designers here. So I’m in the store sewing and guys would come in looking for clothes and there was nothing for them. We started (Wound Menswear) in 2004; we were repurposing old vintage clothes.”

Lapinski seems compelled by an urge to explore; this exploratory yearning is simultaneously about questioning ideas and answering existing questions. While she sees herself as more of a problem solver, or product designer, her reality is also one where existing norms are challenged.

“I don’t like being bored and I have to find ways to stay stimulated. It’s never been a chase for money, it’s just been for something…” she pauses, searching for the word. “‘Purpose. It’s trying to explore potential.”

Lapinski continues, “Anything I’ve ever done was never planned in advance. It’s always to express a need. I didn’t grow up wanting to be a fashion designer; it was never on my list. I like to make useful things, that is it. I like people to use my stuff. I’ve made furniture, architectural environments, and I’ve made clothes. I’ve made stuffed animals; they are just products. I am a producer, not a consumer.”

As a featured artist in 2012 CAMP Detroit, the public art exhibition at MOVEMENT (formerly known as the Detroit Electronic Music Festival), Lapinski and  another artist, Alex Stchekine, designed an extraordinary piece of functional furniture. A trampoline- hammock hybrid, it was framed in metal with a seated platform made from seatbelt webbing, woven on an 8' diameter metal ring.

Now Lapinski has another urge: to explore the world of publishing through the Detroit kaleidoscope. Industrial, Post is an arts- and design-themed magazine delivered from an appreciably Detroit perspective. She describes it as “a digital magazine with a printed companion. It’s a craft publication; it’s an arrow pointing to the Internet. I think people still do want the tangible element, but most of the content will be online. It is to export Detroit as thought leaders to the global art, design, culture and urban development communities. See the future through Detroit eyes.”

The magazine, which will feature a lot of local contributors with a personal history of the city’s aesthetic, is an intentional offering, by Lapinski and her collaborators, of what the future of the city will be. This, in a time of considerable unknowing, is the positive frontierism and self-determinism that characterizes Lapinski’s evolution.

“I just always wondered, since I started Girlee, why there wasn’t an infrastructure for Detroit artists to be shown on a global level. I know London and New York are publishing centers. So an artist can go there and make the same kind of work but get noticed over there because of the infrastructure.

'Well fuck that! We’re not moving to New York—I see the same quality of work at home."

Speaking about the intentions of Industrial, Post, Lapinski says, “We are not just sitting by documenting. We are also creating culture, and we are moving the discussion forward, asking questions.”

Forward movement, asking questions; these are themes Lapinski swears by. Show her the edge of something and she will show you that you have only looked but so far. Present an answer to her and she might offer you a question that challenges assumptions. And when she talks about art or Detroit, it is the same thing; the idea that progress is the beginning and the end.

“Art asks questions and you have to answer them. Design answers questions. Art goes there before most other minds can; and that’s with music, with visual images, with written word, with dance. I think Art first is disconcerting; it’s a disruption. I know I’m on to a good band when I know I don’t like it at first; I don’t get it. I think I am used to doing pretty art so I’m better suited to be a designer. I am a problem solver—I like to have pretty answers, which is design.” Or is it art? Lapinski leaves us with good questions to carry.

Photograph by Marvin Shaouni Photography.

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