SKye Barker Maa sees Denver’s fashion industry through rose-colored glasses. Literally.
It took over half an hour to get back to Factory Fashion, a small batch-making studio in northern Aurora, on a recent October afternoon, where she even realized she still had the eyeglasses.
Barker Maa had been crossing town to a fabric store to pick up more supplies so the Factory Fashion team could continue assembling their debut collection which will be shown at Denver Fashion Week, Nov. 12-20.
“They asked for 12 (pieces), but I’m sending 14 because I can’t control myself,” Barker Maa said with a laugh, sketches of the vibrant sets spread out on a coffee table at the front of the studio.
The line is called SKYE|AIRE and the first collection has its roots in Denver, passing through the depths of the sea. The pieces mimic the patterns and shapes of stingrays, jellyfish and other forms of aquatic life. Barker Maa has dozens and dozens of photos on her iPhone from the Denver Aquarium, where inspiration struck earlier this year.
“My 14-year-old son and I had a mother-son date, and he wanted me to take him to the aquarium and I was grumpy about it, because I didn’t want to spend $30 a person. I’m like, we’ve been to the aquarium a million times. Let’s go to the movies or something,” recalls Barker Maa. “But he took me to the aquarium and I was just looking at these stingrays and I was like – that’s it. I saw a whole collection in the Denver aquarium.
Factory Fashion, which employs a dozen full-time seamstresses, is Barker Maa’s latest creation. She’s also the owner of Factory Five Five, a self-described funky art warehouse, co-owner of Sky Bar, a cocktail bar that “celebrates the golden age of air travel”, and has sold music. neighborhood, which she started after her son expressed an interest in learning. piano earlier this year. All are located in or near Stanley Marketplace, the former manufacturing center of Stanley Aviation, in northern Aurora.
Like the other businesses Barker Maa started, Factory Fashion was a starting point. The new designer’s background is in corporate sales and political campaigning. Her theater company’s tailoring classes soon turned into a full-fledged manufacturing concept where Barker Maa was able to create opportunities for artists, designers and anyone who wanted to produce their own textile products.
“I think Denver is a great place for that,” she said. “And I think there’s a good, solid need for that, but finding a place where you can pay rent and do that is tough. The arts in general are like that… You’re not going to drive the Mercedes in the arts, but keeping the lights on and keeping people paid and hopefully driving the working Honda is kind of the goal. But there is a very great need for what we do.
Geli Hayes, one of the studio employees, started customizing her own clothes in high school ten years ago. That turned out to be a career at Factory Fashion, where she helped build pieces into Barker Maa’s fashion week line. The challenge, especially in creating ultra-structured stingray-like wings, is good, she said.
“I probably didn’t start making clothes until 2017…and I barely paid any rent, and I bought my first sewing machine, and it just took off from there,” said Hayes, 27. “I wanted to go to school. However, I felt like I learned so much from YouTube and other people I already knew… I just wanted to master my craft every day.
Factory Fashion has also been a place where refugees and immigrants have found work they might not otherwise have. Najibullah Dowrankhil was a professional tailor for the US Army for 17 years in his home country of Afghanistan. He moved to Colorado in 2021 and says working at Factory Fashion is his “dream job.”
Barker Maa hopes the inspiration she found underwater in the Mile High City will continue to grow. She wants to expand her ideas and future collections globally, perhaps to fashion weeks in New York or Milan, although she is also investing in growing the local scene.
“I’ve been interested in fashion all my life and I’ve been a fashion consumer, follower and eater all my life. But it never occurred to me that I could be in the industry,” she said. “When we started with sewing classes I was so intrigued, just by the possibilities, we started with kids and with the stuff they were making, it was crazy…
“(Now) our students actually design for professional models. And then they send them on the track, do their hair and make up, the nine meters. It was crazy what they threw on the track, and now we’re doing it again. I am so blown away by this innate core that exists in so many people.