Four creators are currently participating in the Factory Fashion Small Batch Manufacturing initiative. To produce the garments, sewing students receive training in areas ranging from basics to high fashion. Lisa Ramfjord Elstunone of the factory’s instructors, explains that the program allows local designers to participate in the essential “made local” project.
“They want ‘made in Colorado,’ and it’s like the farm-to-table or craft beer industry,” Ramfjord Elstun said. “People want to know where their clothes are made. And so if we can say they’re made here in Denver and Colorado, it would be fun to see that happen.”
Ramfjord Elstun is an award-winning bridal and lingerie designer who has been working on this idea for the past eight years, so she was thrilled when Barker Maa asked her to join the program.
“I would like to have all levels of experience to work with,” said Ramfjord Elstun. “And because the faster we can achieve higher-level skills, the faster we can bring in more designers.”
And the clothes they make are as varied as the people of Colorado. All around the bright space, waiting for the next group of artists to get to work, are rows of sewing machines, work tables and sergers.
One of the designers working with Factory Fashion, Norberto Mojardin, said the program is more than an opportunity to grow your own business. The Mexican-born designer’s work is inspired by a wide range of Latino cultural elements, and he is co-owner of Beto’s hair studio.
“Not only thinking of me, but for my community, also opening doors for designers, for our young people, for our children – but also for the older ones – that they don’t think of themselves as designers,” said Mojardin . “They say, ‘Oh, I’m just a seamstress. And I always tell them, ‘No, you’re not just a seamstress. You’re a designer, and you can create, and you can do more than you think.'”
Barker Maa said the school not only helps people learn how to make clothes, but also shows their work to people who are likely to buy it – to start building an audience.
“I think part of the challenges young designers, especially local ones, face is that when they try to get their clothes to market, they’re usually routed to LA for sourcing,” Barker Maa said. . “And so you know they come across people, manufacturers who want incredibly high minimums. They might want to sell five to ten pieces or 50 pieces – or less – as a small designer.
And Ramfjord Elstun said just having the opportunity to learn from others and gain experience with machines can make a difference for new designers…just like what Factory Fashion offers.
“Designers, as they start their lines, really don’t have access to the type of equipment or skill levels that a facility like this will provide,” Ramfjord Elstun said. “And we have such a broad skill set of teachers and workers here, as well as designers, that we can call on a whole bunch of people to help us right here.
The program is also part of broader discussions about bringing manufacturing jobs back to the United States and reassessing trade school education.
“What we were able to do and find out during the pandemic is that sewers were and are an essential person who needs to be employable in this country,” Ramfjord Elstun said. ” We did not have [home economics] in high school programs for almost 30 years. The technology available to bring cutting-edge manufacturing back into the sewing industry requires much more than your grandmother’s sewing machine mentality on the kitchen table.
And the net that Factory Fashion is making to attract more people into the industry is even broader. It also focuses on the inclusion of refugee communities and those coming out of the prison population.
“You know, we have opportunities for these populations to start a career and a career that provides benefits and a career that provides financial stability,” Barker Maa said.
And Barker Maa is dreaming big: she said she even dreams that one day the program can offer her students help on the path to citizenship, if they need it and want it.
“You know, we try to train in a highly skilled environment,” Barker Maa said. “And so we’re also working really hard with local nonprofits to provide a path to citizenship and a home, if that’s something you need as well. So those are things that are important in addition to the love of fashion and the excitement of what we do. But, I think there’s just a lot of stuff here that we’re trying to explore.