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Local fashion incubator hosts coat making “boot camp”

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Kathleen Fasanella is the owner of Albuquerque Fashion Incubator, Friday, Sept. 4, 2015, in Albuquerque. (Marla Brose/Albuquerque Journal)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — In a former welding shop in Southwest Albuquerque, a temporary coat factory is abuzz.

About 40 people have converged upon the 5,000-square-foot facility, a nondescript building that its new owners have outfitted with professional-grade sewing machines, expansive cutting tables and a highly specialized pocket-making contraption.

By Monday, the crew will have made an estimated 120 youth-sized coats for donation to Native American tribes and nonprofit organizations.

But it wasn’t just charity that drew dozens of people here; the event was a function of the newly developed Albuquerque Fashion Incubator.

People came from as far away as New Jersey and even Canada for this apparel manufacturing “boot camp” run by incubator co-founder Kathleen Fasanella, a veteran pattern maker and well-known industry consultant who just happens to live in Albuquerque.

Though famous in her field for her clothing factory expertise, the author of “Entrepreneur’s Guide to Sewn Product Manufacturing” has enjoyed a mostly anonymous existence in the Duke City for decades. But now Fasanella, working with a handful of other locals in the garment design/manufacturing industry, wants to help make Albuquerque a place to learn the ins and outs of apparel manufacturing — making a pattern, sourcing material, cutting and sewing — and, hopefully, inspire people to develop U.S.-based factories.

She and husband Eric Husman bought and remodeled the building on Old Coors Road. It will be home base for Fasanella’s own business but also home to incubator activities, which will include various workshops and courses. Fasanella said she’d also rent out some of her space — there are three separate sewing rooms — for those looking to try something on their own.

“New Mexico has kind of become a fly-over state for apparel production,” she said, noting that the local Levi’s and Pioneer Wear factories have long since closed. “Production is too expensive in New York. People are looking for other options, but they’re trying to avoid California, because California has a lot of problems. … It’s like, shoot, people in my part of the world, we need the jobs, we need the work, we can do it.”

Fasanella said it’s the only incubator in the world she knows that’s focused on the production side of the business.

“Unfortunately (what people know of the industry is) Hollywood and Vogue magazine and all of the retail stuff, and people get the impression that is the business,” Husman said Friday as participants cut and stitched. “But, no, this is the business. And so much of it has gone off-shore and it’s out of sight. There’s no reason if has to go-off shore if it’s a well run business.”

A handful of locals joined the boot camp, but it was mostly out-of-staters, many with industry experience. That includes Suzanne Galbraith, who used Fasanella’s guidance as she began her own Utah-based cloth diaper and children’s apparel line, Goodmama, and Stephanie Ku, a production coordinator for the David Peck USA, a Houston-based fashion house. Ku said her manufacturing space was only half the size of Fasanella’s but wanted to learn how to scale up.

Vesta Garcia, who runs a technical design and production company called Stitch Texas in Austin, brought eight employees. She said the training factory model is unique.

“I’ve been doing this 10 years, and I’ve never seen this before,” she said.

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