Can Factory Girls, a new incubator, grow a high-fashion industry in Atlanta?

With a 3,500-square-foot Chamblee factory, Regina Weir and Rosa Thurnher hope to organize the city’s fashion community
(Left to right) Regina Weir, Megan Huntz, Rosa Thurnher, and Abbey Glass

Photograph by Kaylinn Gilstrap

In the world of Atlanta fashion, there are young designers fresh out of schools like SCAD, and there are shoppers. What there isn’t: infrastructure for designers to produce collections, meaning local talent takes off to the garment districts of New York and L.A.

But Atlanta natives Regina Weir and Rosa Thurnher say some people in the fashion industry, including themselves, would rather live and work here. It’s a lofty goal, but with the fashion incubator they launched in December, Factory Girls, they want to organize an entire regional economy around producing high-end apparel.

“There are so many creative people in this town,” says Weir. “We want to sustain designers, sustain sewers, sustain people who are any part of a fashion industry. Right now, Atlanta can’t support all those careers, but I think through Factory Girls, we can.”

There have been many attempts to organize Atlanta’s fashion community through events and networking, but Factory Girls has a secret weapon: very expensive professional equipment.

When Weir, thirty-four, returned to her hometown after working as a modeling agent and editorial stylist in New York, she joined her family business, Linens USA, which produces industrial uniforms for restaurants, hotels, schools, and the like. She and Thurnher, thirty-nine, whose background is in fashion merchandising and styling, created Factory Girls by combining their fashion know-how and Weir’s connections.

Factory Girls rents a 3,500-square-foot space in Chamblee filled with worktables, fabric bolts, finished garments, mood boards, and sewing machines. Linens USA is housed in the same building, so Factory Girls has access to its professional-grade machines. In an industry known for shunning outsiders, Weir’s contacts have won them hard-to-get accounts with mills and suppliers.

The incubator offers a range of memberships, with the most involved costing designers $300 a month for access to a workspace, equipment, materials, a library, storage, and consulting, plus discounts on services like patternmaking and sample making. In addition to design support, Weir and Thurnher provide classes on garment-based, technical sewing—nothing crafty—in hopes that one day they might employ some of their trainees.

Currently, Factory Girls fosters two full-time designers, Abbey Glass and Megan Huntz, both Atlanta natives who left for school and jobs in design before returning home.

“It’s a whole new level for me,” says Glass. “I was working really independently, but I need a team in order to compete with the people I want to compete with. It’s like going from a cottage industry to a real high-end business.”

Thurnher and Weir also run Showroom Ampersand on Bennett Street, which carries their designers and includes Hannah Cross scarves and Huntz & White ties. In the next year, Factory Girls hopes to take on four more full-time designers. But there’s no rush; the core idea is “slow fashion,” a play on the local and sustainable slow food movement. “We are trying to change the image of fashion in Atlanta,” says Thurnher. “It’s a big job. We’re just chipping away at it with continuous quality.

This article originally appeared in our August 2014 issue under the headline “Sowing Machines.”