Skye Barker Maa, the owner of factory mode, did everything. From theater programs to sewing classes, she is expanding her repertoire by starting a small batch manufacturing business for local designers to get the resources and exposure they desire.
Factory Fashion continues to grow and provide unique opportunities for the Colorado fashion community. With this small batch manufacturing company, designers have the opportunity to work closely with their consumers, produce quality clothing and fight for sustainability.
The Evolution of Factory Fashion
Alongside Barker Maa, designer Lisa Ramfjorz Elstun created the small-batch manufacturing program within Factory Fashion, located in Stanley Marketplace, and nestled in a small laboratory located in factory five five. The two men brought in seamstresses from around the world to start the business.
Elstun, an award-winning couture designer specializing in bridal and lingerie, said she was “very blessed” to have the opportunity and the chance to help Barker Maa set up her factory. Throughout her life, she accomplished many incredible projects which can be found on her website.
Elstun aims to create an independent factory that prioritizes the small-batch manufacturing necessary for the success of emerging designers. She explained that the majority of designers she has worked with in the past have had no academic training and had limited funds to market their products. This new program is therefore very rewarding for Elstun.
Together, Barker Maa and Elstun are paving the way for local designers to reach their markets and showcase their products.
As a mother, Barker Maa began her career by creating opportunities that she felt her children were missing. She started the neighborhood music school for one of his sons. This offered her a specific musical training that she could not find elsewhere. He is now on the rise in his career and is a concert pianist who performs all over the world.
The idea for Factory Fashion came from her daughter, who was interested in sewing. Barker Maa realized she wouldn’t be able to provide the education her daughter needed on her own, so she started a business that would benefit both of them.
Factory Fashion is a versatile space used as an incubator that designers can use according to their needs. The space offers all the equipment needed to create garments, such as sewing machines and workspaces.
Small batch manufacturing: the program, the people and the product
After speaking with some of the designers who used her space, Barker Maa saw an opportunity for those unprepared for large-scale manufacturing to help them further their careers.
This small-batch manufacturing company will create 50-100 pieces for designers, giving them more creative freedom and the ability to see consumer feedback.
Barker Maa offers designers the opportunity to expand their business in a way that is scalable, less risky and where they have more control over the quality of their pieces. The program also aims to establish an accessible work environment.
Looking for sewers to join, Barker Maa and Elstun were very happy with the result. They realized that many of the seamstresses already had established skills, contrary to what they expected.
“We both looked at each other after the interviews and thought, how did we get so lucky?” said Elstun. At the start of the program, both Barker Maa and Elstun were amazed at how talented their new team already was.
“Sewing is a highly skilled profession that has not been valued as it should be financially for the people involved in it,” Barker Maa said. Therefore, she hopes to create an environment where these workers can pursue a career in sewing while supporting themselves and their families financially.
The program is currently fully staffed with a team consisting of traditional seamstresses, traditional designers and several people within the refugee community.
Barker Maa plans to provide all the necessities for its sewers, such as transportation and childcare assistance, as well as translation services.
“Our staff includes one person from Afghanistan who is deaf and mute and does not speak English, so we have a translator and his wife to help with the sign language translation,” Barker Maa said.
Throughout this process, Barker Maa makes an intentional effort to ensure her staff are fully equipped with the tools they need while keeping their religion and culture in mind. The team plans to adapt culturally in the layout of its offices by bringing together people practicing the same religion for more comfort and by setting aside time for religious needs, such as prayer.
“Whatever the obstacle, we will overcome it,” said Barker Maa.
The designers involved
Currently there are 4 designers within the program including Darlene C.Ritz with DCR studios, Jordan Straton with Stratton Bathrobe Co., Norberto Mojardin with Latin Fashion Week in Colorado and Skye Barker Maa with SKYAIRE. Designed and implemented by Elstun, the program will cap the number of designers on board at any given time to maintain garment quality.
One of the seamstresses of the team, Angelique Hayes, who is also called Geoi, is also a designer herself. She learned to sew on her own in 2017 and has been designing and sewing ever since.
Hayes seasonally launched her own collection on social media to gain recognition in the fashion community. She then had the opportunity to work with Barker Maa and Elstun while seeking employment to align with her dream career. During his job search, Hayes struggled to find an opportunity that matched his passions. When she came across Factory Fashion, she found that her needs and expectations would be met.
“Skye wants people who have dreams and passions to be designers,” Hayes said. Working for someone like Barker Maa, Hayes feels rewarded and respected at work.
“It’s like being paid to go to school, I can wake up and do whatever I want every day”, said Hayes. “I had never heard of anything like this before and now that I have, I can’t stop talking about it.”
Ritz, another designer on the program, has made a name for herself and her mark on the Denver fashion scene. Her experience includes hosting a solo exhibition in the Unique Fashion Week in Denver, where she discovered Factory Fashion for the first time. She now teaches several fashion classes at Factory Fashion School.
In 2019, Ritz was invited to show a collection at London Fashion Week then in 2021, was invited to show at New York Fashion Week. With its continued success, Ritz delivers a strong message to its consumers – everyone is beautiful and fashion should be inclusive of body, size and gender, among other things.
Ritz noticed that the fashion industry lacked options for clothes that fit bodies like hers, which led her to pursue fashion design. She also realized that the fashion world and community was ready to hear her message.
“We shouldn’t have to change our bodies to fit our clothes – the human is what’s important. Our clothes should make us feel good and give us a sense of confidence so that we can go out and face our day,” Ritz said.
Working directly with consumers is very important to Ritz, and that’s exactly the opportunity Barker Maa offers local designers. For independent designers like Ritz, accessibility to their market makes all the difference.
“Fabric is fabric, the only gender it has is the one we attribute to it. Everyone can and should be allowed to be fashionable – clothes should be human-fit,” Ritz said.
With the small-batch manufacturing program, Ritz can produce 50 garments at a time, providing “more flexibility without having to worry about how much I’m selling,” she said. Ultimately, the program gives designers the chance to test garments and see how they perform, before producing a massive quantity.
Many consumers don’t understand what big manufacturing is doing to the people who sew these garments. Ritz explained that sometimes it can take him up to 3 hours to sew pants. Imagine spending all that time and receiving next to nothing in compensation. This is the current industry reality, and programs like this aim to eliminate unfair working conditions and other atrocities associated with sewing and manufacturing.
“Ethical treatment of workers will drive up costs, to me it’s worth paying,” Ritz added.
This program will not only provide educational benefits to all staff, but will hopefully educate consumers and open their eyes to the benefits of small batch manufacturing.
Find out more about this small batch manufacturing program on their websiteas well as products available for purchase.