When it comes to fashion design in Colorado, getting started isn’t a problem; getting bigger is. Just ask Elisabeth Delehaunty. In 1996, Delehaunty founded Elisabethan, a line of tops, dresses, and skirts made from recycled fabrics that became popular with boutiques such as Boulder’s Jacque Michelle. Soon stores in other states, including Ohio and North Carolina, clamored for Delehaunty’s unique garments—and the Paonia-based designer found herself in front of the sewing machine seven days a week. Even after hiring other seamstresses to help her, Elisabethan produced fewer than 100 pieces a month—enough to earn a reputation, but not a living. “I needed to scale up to make it financially sustainable,” Delehaunty says. That meant searching for a production facility, but most are located in New York City and Los Angeles or overseas, which ups shipping and travel costs. More important, many places require designers to manufacture a minimum number of garments: a few hundred or sometimes into the thousands, oftentimes far more than they need or can afford.
This lack of small and midsize local manufacturing options has long held fashion entrepreneurs back from turning a basement business into one with a strong regional or even national market. Our fashion scene’s stunted growth could be coming to an end, though: Over the past three years or so, a slew of local production venues have opened or expanded, enabling designers like Delehaunty to increase production.
The Fashion Design Center in RiNo, which debuted in February, produces anywhere from five to 500 pieces for eight local companies. Three-year-old Denver Design Incubator—a factory meets co-working space with studios and production equipment that clients such as Seamly and Eddy & Scout use to design and manufacture their lines—now fills the need for small-scale production (a few dozen pieces per run, or less). And the Cotery, a startup in downtown Boulder, allows designers to showcase pieces online and presell items to customers before they’re made, so the cost of production (which will take place in L.A.) is covered up front.
As for Delehaunty, she’s traded her overworked Singer for Denver’s K.M. Designs & Sewing, where she’s upped her monthly production by 10 times, allowing her to expand her market to include 80 U.S. cities. “It matters to me that I’m able to say it’s all Colorado-made,” Delehaunty says. And judging by the popularity of shops like the I Heart Denver Store and local craft fairs, it matters to consumers, too.