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Aurora's Factory Fashion provides a safe space for aspiring drag performers

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AURORA, Colo. — Sam Charney hasn’t always felt like they could be their true self in places like the classroom.

Charney, who identifies as nonbinary and uses they/them pronouns, is just starting in their drag career, but they didn’t have a lot of people to talk about it with.

“Even at my school and in my social life I don’t have as many people that are interested in drag or are drag queens, so I was excited to meet people like that,” Charney said.

They were able to connect with people like them at Factory Fashion Academy in Aurora’s Stanley Marketplace. Last month, Factory Fashion hosted a series of seminars called Drag Tween-Teen Fashion that culminated in a final performance. Young, aspiring drag performers like Charney were able to learn skills like wig maintenance, makeup and performance technique from experienced drag performers.

Colorado Voices

Fashion Factory: Drag Class

“This class is important to me because it’s giving me an opportunity to express myself and also giving other kids opportunities to express themselves in safe spaces,” Charney said.

Skye Barker Maa is the founder of Factory Five Five, an arts collective that runs Factory Fashion. She said the drag program is a way of connecting with the past.

“We were just trying to focus on keeping alive some of the arts that our grandparents used to engage in that seemed to have skipped a generation since then: sewing, crochet, embroidery,” Maa said. “We actually really wanted to focus on the design and fashion aspect of it.”

Maa added that the program started in part because she noticed in the last few years that students were really experimenting with their own personal style.

“We started to see more and more of our kids coming out in drag in our class,” Maa said. “I was thinking, ‘We really need to give these students some skills.’”

But in addition to teaching skills, Maa wanted to make sure that the students had an additional safe space in their lives to explore their identities.

“The students are still maneuvering, potentially, a new identity,” Maa said. “They’re maneuvering the boldness it takes to be a little bit different and to express yourself in a different way and so this might be the first step for them: coming here, learning some skills, being around some other students who share their same interests and then also having the opportunity to hang out with some really amazing instructors who are also in that world and have the same passions and loves that they have.”

“I think this space is really important because it’s inviting opportunities for queer teens to be able to express themselves in ways that they’re not able to, maybe at home or at school,” Charney said. “And it's really building a community of people that are able to relate to each other and a community of people that are able to be themselves around each other in ways that they may not feel comfortable or may feel safe with doing in public.”

For more information on Factory Fashion and its classes, click here.

Brian Willie is the content production manager at Rocky Mountain PBS. You can reach him at

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