Tucked behind double doors in a private, upstairs corner of the Stanley Marketplace, the Factory Fashion Academy is no ordinary design studio. Inside, young girls, ages six and seven, measure one another from their hips to their ankles, preparing to make skirts. Nearby, a slightly older group of girls are practicing using electric sewing machines before picking their design fabrics. In a few days, the space will be a professional drag queen fashion show on a bright pink runway.
The community art space, which opened this month inside the Marketplace, is the latest endeavor from Factory Five Five, a theater and arts collective in Aurora that launched in 2020 to teach fashion, design, sewing, and drag queen classes (which include elements of cosplay, upcycle techniques, and sessions on corset-making, hairstacking, make-up, and the care and fitting of wigs). The fashion courses—available in a range of abilities, depending on dexterity and prior experience—are open to anyone ages five to 18 and are affordably priced at around $300 for a 10 week course. The classes run for about three months and culminate in a fashion show with professional collaboration from designers, influencers, and models. The space can hold up to 135 guests and will tackle projects both amateur and professional, including collaborations with Factory Five Five’s theatre and film branches.
“I think working together is important,” says Skye Baker Maa, owner of Factory Five Five. “Part of what we try to do here is we have our fashion program working with our theater people. We want the younger students to see the whole process.”
Maa sets aside a VIP section at professional shows for all of the fashion students. For her, it’s important that the students see and contribute to a spectrum of experience levels and art types.
Julianna Aberle-McClellan, who teaches the Academy’s younger students, is one of nine fashion and costume designers Maa hired for a team she’s nicknamed the “Fashion Avengers.” Together, the group is raising the next generation of fashion designers. Although young, their students’ creations are, as Maa says, “tight and on-point”; some of them even get them opportunity to design clothing for professional performances produced by Factory Five Five.
On September 10, such collaborations came to life in the collective’s immersive show, Daisy’s Day Speakeasy: a prohibition-themed murder mystery in partnership with local contemporary dance company jk-co and Five Five’s Bizarre Cafe. It was completely sold out.
The audience, encouraged to don their best flapper attire, provided a password for entry to a secret door. Cast members disguised as waiters weaved through the tables, dropping martinis and old fashioneds in the hands of patrons. A woman in a red, slitted dress danced on stage while the crowd playfully hollered. Guests were then intermittently plucked from their seats to join dancers on stage, get grilled by the detective, and dance in the last number.
The black box theater where Daisy’s Day speakeasy took place, the Stanley Marketplace fashion room, and the design classes are new since COVID-19. When Factory Five Five first offered fashion classes in January 2021, they filled up so quickly, Maa had to acquire a second location within Stanley Marketplace. She credits her success to creative problem-solving and meticulous planning.
“We try to help the students find the right path,” Maa says. “Part of finding that path is always intersection with professionals.”
Maa’s expansion of Factory Five Five to include two new spaces and a fashion academy has further enabled her to fuse the arts and immersive theater markets for anyone ages five to 65. From a young fashion designer tailoring a professional dancer’s flapper dress to a high school film student capturing a theatre production, this company has it all in-house.
Find more information on Factory Five Five’s upcoming courses and events online.