MICHIGAN CITY | A former ironworker with a bachelor’s degree in fine arts, fashion designer Michele Rentas found a new path during daughter Alyssa’s gymnastics meets.
Complaints about leotard fit and quality prompted Rentas to launch her gymnastics, dance, cheer and yoga apparel business, Couture by Citi, after a bad knee injury kept her grounded.
“I was a union ironworker for 17 years as a welder and I put up high rises … a few of the nice, beautiful buildings in Chicago. When I got a bad knee injury, I knew I wasn’t going back to that,” Rentas said. “At my daughter’s gymnastics meets, I would listen to what was going on in the gymnastics world … the fit issues and problems the girls were complaining about.”
Rentas took nine months to draft a complete pattern for a design that allows room for growth spurts.
“The issues were necklines and armholes that were too tight,” she said. “With a daughter in gymnastics, I was in the same boat as other parents. I was paying for this. I would ask where is that new leo(tard), and my daughter would say it doesn’t fit. So I was spending lots of money.
“I design apparel that gives growing room. So every time there is a growing spurt, parents aren’t buying another product. I use U.S.A.-made materials, and they are all made in Michigan City.”
Her designs focus on sizing and quality, and she creates the items by hand. She has specialty sizes including tall and juniors, as well as yoga and dance apparel for both women and children, hand-made T-shirts and jewelry.
“I’ve always sewed. I am one of the last people that still sews … I want to offer better fitting and better quality products instead of being disposable,” she said. “When you are dealing with clothes that fit close to the body, a computer cannot get the dimensions right. So I go back to old school and do it by hand the way it’s supposed to be. It’s quality not quantity.”
Rentas transplanted the business from the Beverly Shores area in early 2013 when she bought the Michigan City building that houses her storefront and manufacturing space.
“We had outgrown our space, and having a beach house for 10 years, I have always enjoyed this place,” she said. “Location is everything … we are right by the mall, right by the beach.
“I love this town. They have been doing so much for the last 10 years and it is growing," she said.
As a vendor at shows and events, Rentas has many customers from around the country including New York, New Jersey and Kentucky. She hopes to develop a stronger regional customer base.
“I would like to put Indiana on the map. I want people to understand they can afford a quality product that is local,” she said.
Rentas will be designing the LaPorte High School gymnastics competitive team apparel and she hopes to work with more schools in the future.
“I like to call my customers little divas – they are getting good products all couture and done by hand.”