Rise of Fashion South: Factory Girls

Rosa Thurnher and Regina Weir make a place for design talent in the South. 

Story by BROOKE HUTCHINS | Photography by JAMIE HOPPER    

IT ONLY TAKES A FEW MINUTES sitting across from Rosa Thurnher and Regina Weir to recognize the strength of their shared passion when it comes to fashion and helping others — two elements that merged to create the Atlanta-based fashion incubator, Factory Girls, in 2013. By providing emerging, high-level apparel designers with studio space and resources like sewing machines, pattern makers and expert mentoring, Weir and Thurnher hope to develop a strong community of fashion designers in the South and encourage the local talent to grow their businesses in the place they call home.

Coming from a successful career in New York as a modeling agent, talent scout and editorial stylist, in 2008, Weir traveled back to her hometown of Atlanta to help her parents with their industrial uniform manufacturing business and take a much-needed break from NYC. Similarly, Thurnher spent her career in the corporate fashion world, moving through every position from retail management to visual merchandising in bustling cities. Determined to use her knowledge of fashion for a greater purpose, Thurnher, a native Atlantan, came back to her city as a boutique stylist and the owner of a vintage clothing shop around the same time of Weir’s return.

Although it was inevitable that the two women would meet and start stirring up some great ideas, Weir admits, “I didn’t even realize that such a high caliber of talent was in Atlanta until I met Rosa, and she introduced me to some amazingly talented designers here.” The light bulb went off as the two women saw a unique opportunity — not only to fulfill their passion for helping others, but also to establish a marketplace. Weir had seen first-hand how many of the talented designers coming out of the South moved to New York or Los Angeles in order to expand their business. “I think the talent has been here for a while, but it has never had a real viable way to remain here, because people rise up to a certain point where they have to go elsewhere to make it work,” Thurnher affirms.

With an understanding that growing a business becomes more realistic when designers can delegate some of the physical labor to other seamstresses, Factory Girls started offering a designer residence. Two of their current designers, Megan Huntz and Abbey Glass, are developing their businesses under the year-long program that provides studio space, access to machines and tools, the extra labor of seamstresses, and expert mentoring. This opportunity has allowed both designers to branch out creatively and push the boundaries on previously restricting limits. The goal is not just to provide the physical resources, but also to do some goal setting and evaluation to ensure that their business platforms are set up for growth by the time they leave the incubator. Factory Girls hopes to create a larger community and association that is relevant to high-end design in the South — everyone from jewelry and clothing designers, to photographers and marketers. But most of all, the duo would love to see a designer be able to stay in Atlanta and sell their products on the level of designers in New York and Los Angeles.

The idea of the new South, a generation that makes their own terms about what it means to live and work in the region, is something that Factory Girls embraces. “There’s a lot of creativity here because Southerners don’t always follow the status quo,” Thurnher says. Today’s Southern designers are paying homage to the deep-rooted traditions and craftsmanship of their region, while taking what they’ve learned to create more modern, relevant pieces that still nod to the past. As Weir says, “If we have a means to be a part of that, then why wouldn’t we?” factorygirlsatl.com