Bored with your closet? Tired of mainstream fast fashion? Head up to Catskill to experience the creative styling at Factory & Main, a design cooperative and slow fashion studio, where Tsia Carson and Sirpa Cowell have joined forces to make ethical threads—and are having an absolute blast doing it.
Both women, experienced designers, had dreamed of creating original clothing, but didn’t want their visions defined by retail buyers. “I love seeing my designs on women’s bodies. I love making clothing that women can feel comfortable and confident in,” says Carson. “I work with small boutiques and I love my stockists, but there is a lot of churn in retail fashion right now, and it’s hard for them to work with tiny orders and little brands. Selling online works better for that model. But having our own location as a collective may be the best arrangement yet.”
Cowell, born and raised in Finland, fell in love with the US and relocated to New England in 2005. In the US, she continued an already-established design career with, among a long list of other gigs, a position as head of home products design at Garnet Hill and another as a freelance consultant for Ikea Sweden, before moving to Greene County in 2017 to open the boutique.
Carson, a fifth-generation New Yorker, lived in Hawaii for years and still splits her time between Chatham and Honolulu, where she launched her own line several years ago. Her degree is in the performing arts, and she’s authored books on design and worked extensively in building interactive user-experience systems for museums and libraries.
Introduced by a mutual friend at Hudson River Exchange, the two found they shared a mindset: both wanted to do sustainable, small-batch production of comfortable top-quality clothing in a collaborative setting. And when Cowell emailed Carson asking her if she wanted in on Factory & Main, Carson jumped at the chance.
“Sirpa had the factory space, and I had a barn full of fabric,” she says. “We’ve got the sampling room, cutting space, photo studio, and retail space; we have a third designer joining us in May; and we’re meeting with a possible fourth on Friday.”
Even with just the two of them, you’ll find variety on the racks. “Comfort is a value we share, and we both love prints, but my work tends to be more minimalist and Scandinavian,” Cowell says. “Whereas I am fascinated by aloha-wear,” Carson says. “You could say my stuff is a little louder. I bring these colors in sometimes that make Sirpa’s eyes pop. We’ve started creating a few home goods together. It’s so liberating to work this way, to have somebody there to ask, ‘how’s this?’ and get feedback. It gives me the opportunity to experiment with things I’d never try.”
In adding members to the cooperative, the team will add diversity but “maintain an appeal to the same customers,” according to Cowell. “There will be a certain consistency of style, but more importantly, shared values. You’re not going to walk in here and find polyester or anything made by slave labor, not ever.”
The project has a feeling of serendipity to it. “We are literally a factory on the corner of Factory and Main, the intersection of the maker movement and the Main Street movement,” says Cowell. “We have the Catskill Mill right behind us, and they’re waitlisted before they even open; there are new restaurants all over the place, and Lumberyard. And people who love fine clothing do like to be able to come in and feel the fabric and try a few things on. After that, they may buy from you online, but they like to be able to come in and touch the work.”
Those who do so at Factory & Main are favorably impressed. “Love love love this sweet shop,” says an online reviewer. “So rare to find such high quality heirloom clothing. Found perfect gift for my wife, affordable and unique.”