Fashion

A New Fashion School Arrives in Aurora

Skye Barker Maa, founder of  Factory Five Five.
Skye Barker Maa, founder of Factory Five Five. Photo by From the Hip Photo
When you see a beautiful outfit, it’s hard to imagine the work that goes into making it. Businesswoman and founder of the new arts collaborative Factory Five Five, Skye Barker Maa, knows how mysterious the process is to many. That’s why she started a new fashion school in Aurora called the Factory Fashion Academy.

The curriculum at Factory Fashion offers a range of programs for youth and adults. One is for those who want to design and create, while another is for those who want to sew. The classes are meant to be interwoven so that students can move between them.

“You can really explore all aspects of fashion, whether it’s creating your own clothes from illustration to construction or just learning to sew using a sewing machine, by hand-sewing or doing alterations,” says Barker Maa.

Factory Five Five and Factory Fashion Academy started in January, hosting a few classes and summer camps offering basic sewing and a Project Runway-style spinoff. It’s now developing into a full fashion-design school with new classes starting on September 13, including Fashion and Design Sewing and Construction, Intro to Fashion Illustration, Upcycle Fashion, Garment Making, Costume Making and Accessories/Small Projects Making.

The timing feels right for a full-fledged fashion school, from what Barker Maa has seen. “We started with kids, but I’ve been amazed how many adults have come to us, from people who just want to learn how to cuff pants on their sewing machines at home to those who want to become professionals in the industry.”

Barker Maa has found herself becoming a real-life lady boss with Factory Five Five, which sprung out of Neighborhood Music & Theater, a school she started in 2012 by chance after struggling to find piano lessons for her three-year-old son. “Nobody would take my son, so I started a music school in my basement. It grew to 60 people, then 250 people, and then I had to move to a commercial space. We just kept going,” she says. The school moved to a studio and then to Stanley Marketplace in 2018. Even when the pandemic hit in 2020, they kept the in-person learning going with strict COVID-19 protocols in place.

That’s when the programs really took off. Factory Five Five was one of just a few arts organizations operating in person, and with people needing a creative outlet in the middle of shutdown isolation, the group was in demand more than ever. “Our partners at Stanley were so good to me," says Barker Maa. "They let us spread all over the marketplace and use free spaces."

By December 2020, Factory Five Five outgrew the spaces at Stanley and opened another location down the street, expanding the music and theater programs into an arts collaborative that includes fashion, photography and film as well as a black-box theater.

Barker Maa says the main goal of Factory Five Five is to give artists a place to work. “The biggest inhibitor for artists is having the space they need and the opportunities to network and collaborate. We hope to bring all that together in an environment where it’s easy to find the people you need to work with.”

With the recent closing of Denver’s other fashion programs at Emily Griffith Technical College and the Art Institute of Colorado, Barker Maa seems to be filling the void. “I think the markets are emerging, and we’re hitting that stride of artists settling down and contributing to their local communities,” she says.

The rise of fashion reality-TV shows is also contributing to a growing interest in fashion design. “In our theatrical program, we’ve been exploring cosplay and costuming," she explains. "Student came to us with pictures from RuPaul’s Drag Race saying they wanted to do something similar. We thought that was awesome.”

For that reason, Factory Fashion will include a drag queen program that incorporates elements of cosplay, classes on corset-making, hair stacking, makeup, and the care and fitting of wigs.

Barker Maa acknowledges Denver's strong drag-queen community, which crosses over with the fashion scene.

“A couple of our employees are professional drag queens," she says. "They came to me saying they need sewing classes to make costumes. Also, so many of our younger students are showing up to class in full drag. It’s a pretty exciting time in fashion. Our society has changed enough that students feel comfortable expressing themselves in that way.”

The sustainability movement is another factor leading to more interest in fashion creation. TikTok and Instagram content creators are featuring upcycled designs, reusing old clothes and turning them into new creations, inspiring people to handcraft their own clothes. So now Factory Fashion offers an upcycle class.

“That really came from my young daughter taking my clothes that are too big for her and turning them into sarong-style dresses, or she would shred them and make a skirt using my old T-shirts. It’s pretty impressive,” says Barker Maa, laughing.
click to enlarge
Factory Fashion Academy.
Photo by From the Hip Photo
Factory Fashion also offers a mini incubator, which provides local designers with a workspace and small runway/event space with a full bar to showcase their work. The space includes industrial machines, cutting tables and workstations. Designers can do a straight rental and use the space co-working style, or they can participate in the trade program to teach a class or work in the supply chain, contributing to tasks such as pattern making in exchange for space to work.

As if that weren't enough, Barker Maa is also presenting theater productions starting with "Daisy’s Day Speakeasy," which will run every Friday and Saturday night in September, starting September 10. She also has plans to open Sky Bar in October, an experiential, airplane-themed bar that will hark back to the glamorous days of 1960s aviation.

If you haven’t guessed, Factory Five Five gets its name from artist Andy Warhol’s Factory studio. Barker Maa admits to being a fan of 1960s pop culture.

By offering music, theater, film, photography and fashion education all under one roof, Barker Maa hopes, like Warhol, to create a “factory” where artists can find the skills, resources and people they need to make their projects a reality.

“All you have to do is go down the hall,” she says. “The collaborations are easy.”

Factory Five Five is at 10255 East 25th Avenue in Aurora. For more information, go to Factory Five Five online. Fashion Factory Academy is at Stanley Marketplace, 2501 Dallas Street, in Aurora; fall classes begin September 13. Neighborhood Music & Theatre is also located at Stanley Marketplace; for more information, go to Neighborhood Music Stanley online. Daisy’s Day Speakeasy takes place at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday nights, September 10 through 25, at the Velvet Underground Coffee Shop and Bar at Factory Five Five; tickets are $40 in advance, $45 at the door. Proof of vaccination or negative COVID tests within 72 hours plus mask wearing is required for the performance.
KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Kastle Waserman is a freelance contributor to Westword covering music and culture. Prior to Denver, she lived in Los Angeles and worked as a staff editor/reporter for the Los Angeles Times covering music, nightclubs, lifestyles and fashion. She’s been published in the New York Post, Women’s Wear Daily and Fodor’s Travel Books.
Contact: Kastle Waserman