Local designer and all-around fashion industry guru Lisa Ramfjord Elstun says a one-stop design and production shop had long been the missing link in Denver's couture scene. So it was only a matter of time before the Fashion Design Center Denver came to be. "The creation of the FDC was important for me because three years ago, I was asked to create a lingerie line for the two major shopping networks," explains Ramfjord Elstun. "There is no one here in town that can produce at a couture level. I looked for manufacturers and even home sewers here, and no one is able to keep up with a production level, volume and turn over that either of these networks required. So, I went on a search to find all of those bits and pieces and realized one morning that the answer was staring at me in the mirror."
Ramfjord Elstun -- who is a designer and couture seamstress with executive leadership experience -- says a place for designers to take their lines to the next level without having to leave the state was critical for really putting Denver on the global fashion map. Starting with designers, the Fashion Design Center will stay local by providing the machines and instruction for sample- and pattern-making and small-run production.
Tricia Hoke, another local designer who has been working in the Colorado fashion scene for years, has been hard at work on the project with Ramfjord Elstun. "It is difficult as a designer in Denver to find local opportunities for production and brand development," Hoke explains. "Basically, all of the local designers are left to their own devices without much outside help, so you have to go out of state to find production. Oftentimes, it's not feasible or the help needed isn't available in those types of situations. Like, when you go to L.A., you're not going to get somebody who's going to help you through the whole process -- they just want you to be ready. They're a lot more set up in their design communities than Colorado is. So that's really why it began, and why Lisa wanted to develop it."
"There is a lot going on in this city in terms of fashion," says Ramfjord Elstun. "I serve on a lot of different boards and have helped form (fashion-oriented) groups, however, no one was really taking the bull by the horns and making it happen. I figured, I have a really great circle of mentors in different venues -- legal, financial and busines acumen -- and I just decided that I needed to be the one to do it. Being able to serve on the board for the Denver Design Incubator and help that grow, being a founding member of the Fashion Association of Denver, serving with FGI (Fashion Group International - Denver), I just saw the FDC being the next logical step."
Both Ramfjord Elstun and Hoke are on the board for the Denver Design Incubator, which they see as the precursor to what the FDC will be able to do for local couturiers.
"DDI was set up as a resource for the very entry level designers and the piece that is missing is the next step -- which is small-run production, samples, patterns," says Ramfjord Elstun. "Once you actually get into the cycle of design, every three months, you have to have a whole new collection made. All the patterns and samples and have a work room that can source the fabric as well as produce it at the level that retail wants.
"That's the other piece of it," she continues. "Boutiques in this city won't even take a look at most of our designers because they aren't at the level that the customer wants. With my background as a couture seamstress and designer, I really want to make sure that the highest qualiity goes out of my doors to compete with the Hugo Bosses and the Michael Korses."
Though the FDC space isn't much more than an empty warehouse in the midst of restoration at the moment, there are big plans that Ramfjord Elstun hopes to complete in time for spring 2014 Fashion Week. Industrial sewing machines, studio spaces for designers, a retail boutique and plenty of room for meet-ups, work space and collaboration are all part of the FDC's plans. Ranfjord Elstun says she also hopes the center can connect with the community on a consumer level, through education on why this kind of local production is important in changing the fashion industry.
"We need to really educate the public on why 'fast fashion' -- like H&M and Forever 21 -- are not good for the environment," says the designer. "They aren't good for designers like us. We do -- I don't want to say 'slow fashion,' because that's painstaking -- but we have to get the public to understand that it is okay to buy inexpensive things, as long as they are well-made. It gets people to understand that buying fewer pieces at a high quality is much more beneficial to our pocketbooks, wardrobes and to the environment.
"The fact that here in Denver, people will be able to get one-of-a-kind or locally created small runs that will fit is great," she adds. "That's one thing I always stress about my business -- it will fit you like a glove from the beginning. We also plan to have an alterationist on site who will take care of people, so they will know their clothes will fit and they can wear them forever. The return on investment point is the huge piece of what Denver may not be ready to comprehend. But paying up for quality fabrics and construction is worth every wear."
Tonight's First Friday open house starts at 5 p.m. at the Design Center Denver, 3301 Lawrence Street. The gathering is a call for local designers who may be interested in renting space or working with the Center, but the general public is also welcome to check out the in-the-works facilities. For more information, visit the FDC's Facebook page.
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