The story behind THE PODOLLS, an eco-friendly clothing label based in San Francisco, reads like a movie script: Couple meets cute, launches good-for-the-world fashion brand, has baby, and lives happily ever after. Even better, so do their customers–at least as far as on-point, planet-friendly dressing is concerned. Get to know Josh and Lauren Podoll and their equally enchanting clothing line, and we promise, you'll be rooting for them, too.
Tell us about your design process.
LAUREN: We often get excited about designing textiles first, and then the clothing follows that. Our [fall 2012] collection was based on a Fair Isle knit. It was about taking a very traditional craft and translating it into a print–that idea of texture but on silk. We've always been interested in traditional cultural motifs and how to transfer those into modern, wearable garments. That's our overarching theme, and every season we do a slightly different take on it.
One of our favorite things about your fall/winter designs is that they capture the mood of these colder seasons, yet are also bright and colorful.
LAUREN: Yes! In recent years, with so much struggle in the world, we’ve found fulfillment and enjoyment in things like fashion. It's fun to incorporate some bright colors. It’s uplifting.
The Podolls brand has a very loyal following. Is that, in part, due to how transparent the two of you are about your personal and business lives?
LAUREN: When you mentioned transparency, it made me think of our spring 2013 season–we shot the lookbook at our house. Our business life and our personal life is all one continuous, organic mix, and maybe that is what you are picking up on. It’s true, it is hard to draw very distinct boundaries between the two.
Approaching fashion responsibly is clearly part of your brand DNA. Yet are you ever wary of the expectations that come with being a sustainable fashion brand?
JOSH: I’ve actually thought about that a lot. Our approach is that we do what we think is right, and we produce it in a way that fits in with our lifestyle and with our beliefs. We don’t need to broadcast it because we think that eventually everybody is going to have to do this.
LAUREN: We hope that it is coherent to making things locally. We hope that it’s coherent with caring about where your clothes from, how they are made and what they are made from. Maybe I’m just an idealist, but I think that knowledge is useful– now people care more about their food, where it came from and where it was grown. And food is a very personal thing because you are putting it into your body, but what you are wearing, what you surround yourself with, or how you are spending your money–that is also very personal and important. Every time you spend money, you have a choice over what you support.
Our approach is that we do what we think is right, and we produce it in a way that fits in with our lifestyle and with our beliefs.
What challenges have you faced in your journey as an ethical and sustainable fashion brand?
LAUREN: It’s tricky! We’ve used bamboo in the past, and then we found out things about bamboo and how it’s treated, so we thought maybe next season we’ll explore hemp. Nobody wants to get in trouble for saying that something is eco-friendly and then finding out six months later that it is not as eco-friendly as they thought. But we are all just trying to explore this territory, and it is new territory, so I think that you can make concessions and forgive people when they make mistakes.
You don't just make your clothing in the U.S.A. Much of your production takes place within your local community in San Francisco. Why is this important to you?
LAUREN: We are still very proud that we are made in the U.S.A. Sometimes it’s selfish because we can go check up on the garments and how they are being produced, which is fantastic. We love knowing that there are really good [working] conditions, that all the people that are working there are happy. We can visit them and put a face to it, which is maybe something people are shedding more light on. Virtually everything that we have in our possession was made by somebody–it is not just machine made, and that’s why our labels always say "handcrafted in the U.S.A." That is one of the most eco-friendly, sustainable and green parts of our business.
Some of your earlier collections had higher price points. How do you balance your business needs, the core values of your brand, and the affordability of the final product?
LAUREN: It’s a compromise because we want to offer a quality product, made in the way we want to make it, and have it be widely distributed and available to people. There were some years were we used these gorgeous fabrics, but our families and friends couldn’t afford our dresses.
JOSH: It was not integrating with our lifestyle, and [our newer designs] agree with more of the way we are. This is the stuff we can go out and buy.
LAUREN: We are not aiming to make disposable fashion. We don’t have tops that are $20 at retail, and that is never going to be something we can do in the way we want to do it. And again, that mixes with our beliefs. I would rather have fewer pieces that are made of good quality, natural fibers and made in a good way–and which are also really stylish and cool to wear. I don’t have to have a top that I only wear once because I am going out on Friday night. That’s not part of our belief structure. I would much rather have fewer garments that are really great.
Portrait via thepodolls.com.