Q&A With Popomomo’s Lizz Wasserman

Some of you may have noticed that I have been posting a little later in the day than usual. Well, that is because I am taking a little vacation out in Southern California! So that explains why I am three hours behind all of you east coasters—sorry about that!

However, I am not sorry to have this awesome opportunity to be out on the West Coast for a few weeks. Last week I met up with Lizz Wasserman, the crazy-cool designer behind the irresistible, sustainable fashion line, Popomomo.

Lizz and I sat down for a chat and than she took me around her Highland Park studio, which was a completely unforgettable experience. Check out what the Milwaukee native had to say and peep some photos of her work space below!

First off I usually ask if you could tell me a little bit about yourself and what inspired you to start designing?

“Well I had always been interested in design but I didn’t really think it was a valid career decision so I didn’t go to school for that but when I wrote my senior honors thesis I wrote it about alternative cultures after communism and I found myself totally drawn to describing the clothing and the semiotics behind dress more than anything else, so I kind of had to admit to myself that I was interested in fashion. I was going to take some time off and just work until it was time to go to grad school and figure out if I would stick with sociology or change to fashion. I talked myself into a job at Urban Outfitters and I was kind of their design coordinator and then one day their knit designer quit, so I did a little presentation and they moved me over. It was kind of like getting my dream job, getting to learn everything on the job as well. But I still knew that even though that was an amazing creative opportunity and a great company to work for, I knew that if I ever did anything on my own it would have to be sustainable because I do think fashion is kind of a frivolous field and I think that it is made more frivolous by wasteful practices and everybody likes clothes and everybody likes to get dressed, but especially if you can indulge those wishes without hurting other people, that would be the ideal way to do it.”

What does the phrase ‘sustainable fashion’ mean to you?

“Now I think it has two parts. I think it is important to be around as a sustainable designer, like it is important not to go out of business. If I was dying things by hand with vegetables that I had grown organically, I probably could not be in business. I think it is part of in tandem working with the market, so I try to be as sustainable as market-ly possible. So I start with only using sustainable fabrics, which to me means fabrics that are not detrimental and are either organic, non-harmful or made with recycled materials. I would consider doing something like a hand loomed, made in the United States or Mexico, fabric out of perhaps conventional cotton if it was still dyed sustainably, but at this point I try to be more sustainable than that.

The other aspect that I think is extremely important is production. So you are in Highland Park right now and we are at Avenue 40. My main factory is 10 blocks away and my sample house is about a mile away, so I can walk with Booker (Lizz’s super cute dog) and check in on stuff. I know not everybody has that opportunity because not everybody lives in Los Angeles but I think that being able to know that the people who are making your stuff are being paid a fair living wage and that they are being treated nicely and that there is a governmental body in effect making sure that they are okay, that is very important to me. Also, my stuff doesn’t have to be shipped that far, which I think is a part of the sustainability and so in those aspects to me I think it is very important to produce locally.”

How did you come up with the name for the line?

“It stands for post post modern movement. That was something I was kind of obsessed with when I was in college and thinking about the way that the world works. Modernism seems very horrible and oppressive and then post modernism started to seem like nobody had an opinion and in terms of design, you know like putting a corinthian column with a rococo stairway and like smacking a tower on top of it—my parents are architects so I learned that was really not okay. It is the idea that you understand everybody’s perspective and you get to something that is new and true and unique and doesn’t just pull from vintage.”

Do you think in the future there will ever be a redundancy around the phrase sustainable fashion because hopefully enough sustainable designers will bridge this gap and become mainstream so that there isn’t really a difference?

“I feel like even more than designers bridging the gap will be like larger companies saying to their mills ‘well we are actually not going to buy that cotton unless you can prove that it is organic,’ or ‘I can’t do polyester anymore,’ or ‘burnout kills people so it is probably not a good idea to make t-shirts like that anymore,’ and I feel like it kind of has to come from above so that all the production changes, which wouldn’t be that hard actually. Than nobody would bother saying that they are sustainable because the industry would be sustainable.”

Are there any other ways or things that have to happen in order for that to be in effect?

“I think there would also have to be governmental change, you know? Like either tax breaks or the way that America used to have knitting mills and factories and stuff and now it is very rare. Fabric used to come from the South and now it is completely gone. All the salvage denim that made jeans so cool 6 years ago—those were all made in Japan because we sold them our machines in the late 80s because we had no need for them. I feel like if there were incentives for small businesses or medium sized businesses to get back into it domestically or if we lowered taxes and import duties on sustainable fabrics, I think that would really help.”

When sourcing fabric are there any that you are most attracted to at the moment?

“I really like tencel right now because it does have the drape and it is a close loop production. Tencel is basically made out of wood chips. I am not exactly sure if there is water involved but I know that all the bi-products that are produced when you use the fabric are than reused in the next fabric, so it is a closed loop production cycle which is really awesome.”

And you can dye it easily?

“Yeah, totally.”

Are there any others?

“I am obsessed always with this hemp and organic cotton knit that I use in Spring and in Fall. It has both a warm hand and is totally breathable so it is just kind of the perfect fabric.”

How would you describe the aesthetic of your line?

“(laughs) Well Popomomo is simply sophisticated. It is very simple shapes that take into consideration both a women’s figure and her choice about how she wants to use her figure. So a lot of things have kind of this reversed fit feeling. So if something is oversized there will be something about it that also makes it a little bit sexy, but nothing is overtly sexy. It is like an intellectual sexiness.”


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