Built to Last

Built to Last

Clothing design isn't usually considered studio craft. But designer Lizz Wasserman's Popomomo line of eco-friendly apparel is created with the care traditionally associated with craft, and her garments are an answer to trendy fashion's inherent wastefulness.

"Popomomo pieces are designed to transcend trend and be worn beyond the season," says Wasserman, who says she is "anti-fast-fashion." Stylish durability is a priority for the designer, who launched her business in 2007. Still, Popo­momo - short for "post-postmodern movement" - isn't activewear, the Los Angeles-based Wasserman notes. "I use great domestic factories to ensure good wear, but I wouldn't climb Mount Everest in a Popomomo dress unless you thought a sherpa was particularly cute."

"Durable," in Wasserman's conception, means versatile, from season to season and year to year. "The designs - which all kind of ride the tension between sexy and oversized" - are loose enough to layer, so the clothing can be worn in warm or cold weather. "Pieces can be mixed, matched, layered, and layered again," she says.

Being able to layer pieces makes them practical, and it also invites wearers to design for themselves - to consider how this layer's textile and that layer's pattern speak to each other, and how this color and that interact.

In a larger sense, Popo­momo clothes are enduring because they are made from sustainable materials such as bamboo, soy, and organic cotton; recycled fabric; and remnants from major textile manufacturers.

Reducing waste is an ethos that permeates Wasserman's life in Los Angeles. In her own wardrobe, she combines Popomomo pieces with those she's found in thrift shops. "I still wear a couple dresses and tees that I had in middle school," she says. She works in a solar-powered studio and drives - only when she has to - a car powered by used vegetable oil collected from restaurants.

"In L.A., you see how easy it is to be wasteful" without really seeing the consequences of wastefulness, she says. "It's all beautiful, and it's all spread out and it's all only accessible by freeway," she muses. In 2007, she and her now-husband moved to L.A. for his graduate work; coming from New York, where "you are all on top of each other and recycling is almost a part of organizing your life there, and you share in public transportation," L.A. was a big adjustment.

Popomomo was selected for the Los Angeles Gen Art/SOYJOY "Fashionably Natural" runway show in 2008 and short-listed for 2011's Ecco Domani sustainable design award. "Business has grown significantly each season," reports Wasserman. "The line sells more units each season, and we get in more boutiques each season." She has customers in their 20s and customers in their 60s.

Wasserman never intended to be a designer. After graduating from college in 2002 with a degree in sociology and an interest in fashion, she worked in administration at Urban Outfitters in Philadelphia. When a junior designer quit, Wasserman talked her way into the job. After gaining experience, she moved on, hoping to ascend the fashion ladder at a mass-market retailer in New York. But she grew disenchanted when she realized her creations were being sold by the thousands of copies.

Making garments whose trendiness limited their closet life felt wasteful, not to mention the resources required to make 100,000 of any garment - the "fabric, water that goes into growing and dyeing that fabric, energy to sew them, fossil fuels to ship them. It's obviously not only the stores [that are being wasteful]; people purchasing these pieces are making wasteful decisions as well," she says.

Wasserman started Popomomo "to have a creative outlet and to use sustainable fabrics and techniques and fair labor." Until very recently, she says, "most big companies weren't thinking about organic fabrics or sustainable textiles. I wanted to show that those fabrics could be fashion-forward."

Now, she says, "we need the bigger companies to make the decisions that really change the fashion industry. If Gap or Uniqlo went sustainable in all ways, we'd all be better off."

Janet Cass is a freelance editor and writer.