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Students of longtime Troy resident, fashionista ‘Odie’ King bid her goodbye

By: Terry Oparka | Troy Times | Published January 21, 2020

 Angela King and her mother, Odie King, attended the Michigan Emmy Awards in June 2005.

Angela King and her mother, Odie King, attended the Michigan Emmy Awards in June 2005.

Photo provided by Angela King


TROY — Odester “Odie” Robbins King was a wife, a mother, an educator, a fashion designer and an entrepreneur.

She died Nov. 12.

“She did things she didn’t know she had the talent to do,” said her husband, Elbert King Jr., who now lives in Rochester Hills. “She was quite forceful.”

Her daughter, Angela King, said via email that Odie was born in Clayton, Louisiana, in 1943. Angela said that by age 9, Odie “could pick up to 300 pounds of cotton a day in the blazing heat of farm life in eastern central Louisiana.”

Odie attended Grambling College, where she studied education and met and later married Elbert.

Elbert worked as manufacturing engineer at the General Motors Technical Center, and Odie attended Macomb Community College and earned an associate’s degree in applied science in graphic and commercial art. She also took classes at what is now the Center for Creative Studies. She worked as a keyliner artist at General Motors, then as a photographer.   

Her father-in-law built her a darkroom at their home on 1 acre near Long Lake and Adams roads  in Troy, where they moved in 1972, and she pursued freelance photography.

When she was transferred to the afternoon shift at General Motors, which Elbert  said she didn’t like because of the demands of busy family life — children Angela, Roderick and K’Yhel Elbert III.  All three children graduated from Troy High School.

Angela said her mother “launched the legendary ‘Ebony Picnics’ that brought the relatively few black folks in and around at Troy at the time to Boulan Park every year throughout the 1970s.” After she took up walking 3 miles every morning at Somerset Collection, Odie organized an annual Christmas party for her fellow walkers.

In 1985, Odie left General Motors to open a women’s clothing boutique on Livernois, Detroit’s Avenue of Fashion. She eventually moved the business to downtown Pontiac, where she branched out into apparel manufacturing.

She sold her fashion designs under her “Odie” label to JCPenney department stores. She garnered a Black Woman Achiever Award from the National Association of Negro Business and Professional Women.

Odie then moved her operations to southwest Detroit and began producing work uniforms, OshKosh B’gosh children’s wear and clothing lines for out-of-state designers, as well as her personal  line for national distribution.

Her sons worked in her business, and her husband served as business adviser.

She produced many fashion shows, including one for the annual United Negro College Fund campaign, which Angela said led to her mother’s interview on “Good Morning America” with Robin Roberts. Odie  retired from apparel design and manufacturing at the close of the 1980s.

She worked the retail clothing floor at Nordstrom, the front desk at the Embassy Suites hotel in Auburn Hills, and then launched the Detroit Fashion Team school in Lathrup Village to teach sewing.

Elbert Jr. said Odie repaired her sewing machines herself.

“She was quite a gal.”

He said her students ranged from high school age to older adults. She also taught classes at the International Academy of Design and Technology in Troy.

“She did quite a lot more than I ever thought she could,” Elbert Jr. said. “She was quite a designer. Her clothes were shown in New York and Chicago.”

Her students remember

Teddi Sergeant was a student of Odie’s in 2014.

“She saw immediately what needed improvement,” said Sergeant, who lives in Cincinnati and operates an alterations business. “She was a great teacher, a very patient teacher. She could look at a piece of material and she saw the entire garment.”

Sergeant said Odie showed her how to remake a pleated skirt into a bolero jacket and tank top.

Odie took her classes to the garment district in New York City, where her students met the Detroit designer Tracy Reese.

“Mrs. King made this field trip memorable.  The team shopped at Mood Fabrics. We were a part of the audience for the TV show ‘Good Morning America.’ We were the group selected for the green room and met Robin Roberts,” Sergeant said.

“Shortly after returning from our trip to New York, Mrs. King took the class to Chicago’s Merchandise Mart to acquaint us with how buyers and sellers conducted the business of fashion. Mrs. King made certain each student knew the direction in fashion we were journeying toward.

“She showed us the entire aspect of sewing,” Sergeant said, adding that Odie taught everyone, from home sewers to serious designers. “She taught us to be professional. The garment had to look as good outside as inside. She taught me to block everything else out and concentrate on what I’m doing.

“She was an awesome teacher, very patient. She didn’t judge or criticize. She showed techniques used to get to the end product. She loved teaching people and sharing her knowledge. Our garments are amazing because of what she taught us. She was remarkable. She loved to  see her students succeed.”

Niccole Hyatt, who now lives in Savannah, Georgia, was a student of Odie’s in 2010-11.

“I had zero sewing experience,” she said. From there, Hyatt progressed to making patterns for clothes and her own outfits.

“Mrs. King was a perfectionist,” Hyatt said. “She would not hesitate to tell you to do it again if it wasn’t perfect. She really complimented you when you did something right. If you got a compliment, you knew you really did something. She was just a joy of a person. I’m very grateful to know her.”