For an artistic hub, Atlanta lags in one major industry: Fashion. As Factory Girls founders Felicia Ruiz, Rosa Thunder and Regina Weir came to realize, Atlanta's fashion faux pas isn't its shortage of talent but rather a lack of cohesive support that drives up-and-comers to other markets. In 2014, these three entrepreneurs spun a new thread for the city's couture community with the opening of their incubator for haute clothiers. In this exclusive interview with Where, these three entrepreneurs give insight into Atlanta's budding fashion industry, the best local designers and the most fashionable spots in the city.
What is Factory Girls?
Factory Girls was created as a place where Atlanta and other Southeastern designers could come to develop their respective lines from the initial design stage all the way through to production of a ready-to-wear line, and prepare their collection for the retail or wholesale market.
Our first priority was to provide affordable working space with access to industrial machines, pattern makers, sample makers, and small-run production, which were all resources that were seriously lacking in Atlanta.
Once we had our space and production facility set up, we saw a need and desire for education in sewing that was based in garment construction rather than home sewing. From there, we launched our sewing classes, which have now expanded into design. We are also launching a lecture and workshop series that will [teach] business and technical skills [for] our industry.
Why did you feel the need to create such a space?
We saw the Southeast developing incredible talent, but in the area of fashion we were losing that talent to places like New York and Los Angeles. These designers and creators felt there wasn't a support network here to help them actually build a business, so we wanted to provide these services to start a community of support.
Why open Factory Girls in Atlanta? Is it a challenge or opportunity to open a space like that in this particular city?
Atlanta is incredible in so many ways—we have a burgeoning music and film industry, a sophisticated culinary scene, a strong creative community and we have businesses from all over the world looking to Atlanta as a place to move their company. Atlanta is also a major hub with the largest airport in the world and we were perplexed as to why the fashion community in Atlanta was lacking in so many different areas.
There were definitely challenges when we first opened our space that many startup businesses can relate to—awareness and raising capital being our biggest obstacles. Creating community has been a major hurdle due to the fact that the Atlanta fashion scene is very fragmented and spread out with pockets of talented people working on their own. We definitely wanted Factoy G to be a center of gravity for the fashion scene in Atlanta and we hope that we are doing just that.
How has the response been so far?
The response has been overwhelming so far. As soon as we opened our doors, the Atlanta creative community reached out to help us and spread the word. Atlanta, as big a city as it is, has a small-town feel sometimes. I think that has a lot to do with being in the South in that people are so willing to help. Even people who weren't in the fashion industry wanted to help us and we're forever grateful to this city.
How many designers are currently using the space?
Currently we have three designers in residence, with plans to expand our space by the end of the year to have room for 11 designer spaces. We are also opening a jewelry studio this fall, and will be offering classes as well as open studio time.
Who are Atlanta’s “designers to watch?”
Abbey Glass, Hannah Cross Hanlon (Hannah Cross Ltd.), Starr Miller (Pieces of Starr), Meaghan Torbert, Tracy Nicole, Laura Shope (Very Fine South), Sarah Green (Cord Shoes), Charlene Dunbar (Suakoko Betty), and Lisa Miller (Frankie & Fern). [These designers] are making beautiful clothes or accessories with a clear point of view, they understand who their client base is, and they have a clear vision of how they want their brand to grow.
How would you describe Atlanta’s fashion sense?
I would say eclectic. I don't think you really categorize a city of our size as one thing. Clothing is a form of self-expression, and we have a city full of individualists and creatives comingling with conservatives—a recipe for great people watching.
Which boutiques (for men and/or women) do you feel embody Atlanta’s style?
Which neighborhoods have the best fashion sense, in your eyes?
We are definitely Midtown gals but it's hard to pick just one area—Westside, Inman Park, Poncey-Highland. Although, as a disclaimer, every neighborhood has its stylish residents.
Where are your favorite places to shop?
Which restaurants do you love to dress up for?
One of the things we love about this city is the come-as-you-are attitude. We find that we dress up more for occasions as opposed to locations. For example, we will eat at Kimball House in jeans one night and may then go there after an event much more dressed up. Some of our favorite restaurants in town are Floataway Café, Miller Union, Sotto Sotto, The Optimist, and too many places to name on Buford Highway.
What are your favorite locally made pieces from your own wardrobe?
We have accumulated a few pieces from Abbey Glass over the last few seasons, and jewelry from Pieces of Starr. A scarf from Hannah Cross Ltd. is one of the most versatile and timeless things we own.
What is your vision for Factory Girls in the next five years?
We hope to have a large network of resources in Atlanta and partners around the South. Our vision is a community of shared resources that allows designers to work to the best of their abilities and create a viable fashion industry. We hope that all aspects of the business will see growth and job creation—from the production and technical side to the creative and ultimately the retail sector.