AURORA, Colo. — After serving the U.S. military for 17 years as a professional tailor, Najibullah Dowrankhil was told he needed to move to the United States because of the collapse of the U.S.-backed government in Afghanistan in the summer of 2021.
He told Rocky Mountain PBS through an interpreter that he, his wife and five of his children were living in a Texas shelter when they were given the option to pick which state to go next. With no family in the United States, Najibullah didn’t have a preference and was brought to Colorado.
With his expertise in sewing, his wife Hasina, looked for ways to get him a job as a tailor. She contacted the International Rescue Committee, an organization that supports and welcomes refugees, and they put him in touch with Skye Barker Maa, owner of Factory Fashion.
“These communities have these incredibly talented artisans who are moving to the country,” said Barker Maa. “My idea was, 'How are we tapping these incredibly talented people and fast tracking them into a sustainable, working job?'”
Refugee finds supportive work in Colorado
Barker Maa took her idea and designed a partnership between refugee organizations and her fashion studio. Her goal is to help local designers build their brands while providing jobs and skills to Coloradans, especially Denver’s refugee and immigrant populations.
Factory Fashion plans to adapt the environment to accommodate prayer times and to make sure they don’t ask employees to make clothes they’re uncomfortable with. Barker Maa said the studio is considering separating Afghan men and women — at their request — to make the work environment more comfortable.
Najibullah was recently hired at Factory Fashion. He is a deaf and mute Afghan refugee who speaks with his wife using sign language, who then speaks through a translator provided by the International Rescue Committee. He told Rocky Mountain PBS he has faced religious and racial hate in trying to find employment. However, he said this opportunity with Factory Fashion is a dream job.
The only thing that keeps Najibullah and Hasina up at night, they said, are their two teens they had to leave behind in Afghanistan. They are still awaiting documentation to come to the United States. Hasina said there is not a day that goes by that they don’t think about their family being all together again.
“Our only hope is for our children to get a better education here and to become good people,” Hasina said. “To give that love and support that we received from everybody in the U.S.”
Factory Fashion as a place for emerging designers and small to mid-sized brands who want to design and produce their fashion lines in Colorado. For the designers, this place provides a professional workroom, collaboration opportunities with local and national facilities, marketing resources and a studio location.
Darlene C. Ritz is the founder and Creative Director of DCR Studios, which creates clothes for diverse communities, including prominent drag queens. She is a client of Factory Fashion and said DCR Studios' mission to ethically source its designs aligns perfectly with Factory Fashion.
“I want the things that touch my skin to be treated well,” Ritz said. “I want the people who put the energy into making the things that are right up and personal on me, to be happy hands.”
For Najibullah, he is happily making these clothes despite the designs being quite a bit different from what he is used to. But he has the skill to adjust.
"It's very easy for me, I can just look at it and make it. I don't have a problem with it," said Najibullah through interpretation. "That's mostly what's going through my mind — just looking at different designs and trying to make them, and it's exciting for me."