Factory Girls want to put the Southeast on fashion map 

Local design incubator looks to foster the region's up and coming talent

HOME GROWN: Local designer Abbey Glass (from left) goes over samples with Rosa Thurnher and Regina Weir.

Kelsey Edwards

HOME GROWN: Local designer Abbey Glass (from left) goes over samples with Rosa Thurnher and Regina Weir.

When we think Factory Girls, it's typically the image of 1960s icons, Andy Warhol and his corrupted muse, Edie Sedgwick, who come to mind. Factory Girls, the brainchild of co-founders Rosa Thurnher and Regina Weir, represents a different avenue for Atlanta's creative minds, however. With the pair's extensive fashion backgrounds, it seemed only natural to build an incubator that fosters local talent in the world of design and production.

Weir became a modeling agent and talent scout after graduating from New York University with a bachelor's degree in public policy and urban planning. She managed models for seven years while styling editorials for Esquire and Zink. Despite her success in New York, Weir moved back to Atlanta to run her family's manufacturing business.

After studying fine art at University of Georgia, Thurnher worked in retail sales and area management for 10 years while merchandising for J. Crew and Armani Exchange. She extended her entrepreneurial goals by compiling a collection of vintage treasures for her line, Recollection Vintage, and started her Bodega pop-up shop to promote Atlanta-based designers and their collections.

In 2013 Thurnher and Weir joined forces thanks to Weir's brother, who instigated the introduction. The women became fast friends who now call each other "wifey" and even tote around the same leather handbag.

Weir was managing her family's manufacturing and linen service company and looking to open a boutique with her husband. Meanwhile, Thurnher was consulting and styling local designer Abbey Glass's line. She discovered that most of Glass's troubles were rooted in the lack of resources available for manufacturing clothing lines in Atlanta; this was also an issue for local designer Megan Huntz.

"Factory Girls has a meaning that deals with the art world and creative individuals forming relationships, and that's what attracted us to it," Thurnher says. "There's nothing [else] like this in Atlanta."

Weir and Thurnher decided the Southeast needed a hub for designers to produce their collections on an industrial-based level. Thanks to a building already owned by Weir's family, they found a space where their concept could eventually become a reality. The factory quickly became an innovative and resourceful haven for Glass and Huntz, whose fall collections were launched with the support of Factory Girls in June.

Having Glass and Huntz's alliance and collaboration on the founding of Factory Girls was "invaluable," and their input enabled Thurnher and Weir to understand what designers needed. For Glass and Huntz, the Factory Girls were able to fill the void of a crucial, missing component, which was manufacturing.

As they were evolving, the four women sitting together trying to figure out what to do and how they were going to do it, they questioned what they would call themselves.

"It's to the point, it's what we do, and it brings up an image that's not negative," Weir says. "From the beginning, we've pretty much only been working with women, which brings up lots of connotations; women's liberation, women working in World War II and, of course, we actually have a factory."

The name sprouted from Huntz, who kept telling people she was "going to meet with the factory girls."

Thurnher and Weir also researched such organizations as New York's Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA), which has a department for every branch in a fashion designer's development, and they wanted to have those standards for multiple brands in the South.

Currently the staff consists of one pattern maker, three seamstresses, a sewing class instructor, and interns who are responsible for day-to-day operations. "It's a bunch of women working with us, for us, around us, and supporting us," Thurnher says.

Factory Girls offers membership packages and mentorship opportunities for emerging apparel designers similar to San Francisco's (FiSF) fashion incubator. In addition, Factory Girls provides networking sessions and other educational seminars like ones offered by CFDA.

Factory Girls services include access to the facilities, branding consultations, marketing expertise, and a slew of production- and craft-based seminars.

In order to move forward, Factory Girls set up an Indiegogo crowd-funding campaign, which sought funds for machines, labor, costs, and upgrades to the space. As for the next few years, both Weir and Thurnher want to house at least four to six designers, with people using the space and services on a daily basis. Weir hopes that Factory Girls "will create an industry in Atlanta that will change people's view on what Atlanta fashion is, and maybe start to see us as a force to be reckoned with."

As with their matching handbags, Weir and Thurnher are on the same page with the Factory Girls mission.

"We want to be a center of gravity for fashion," Thurnher says. "We want to engage with people and create a whole dialogue with designers, and the community, as well as retailers and consumers of fashion. If we can just keep growing, then we will have a base for a conversation."

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