Sustainable L.A. Label Poplinen's Inspiring Founder on Her Mission to Create All-Year Staples for All Sizes

Being a conscious consumer may sound hypocritical — after all, isn't the most mindful action for Mother Earth to not consume at all? For the times when thrifting or buying consignment won't cut it, buying new closet staples that check off all of the socially- and eco-minded boxes is getting increasingly easier, and new female-founded L.A. label Poplinen is among those answering the call for guilt-free retail therapy.

The brand was founded by L.A.-raised entrepreneur Desiree Buchanan, whose career has spanned from working in editorial at Condé Nast to the startup world at Warby Parker. She credits the disruptive eyewear brand's adventurous spirit for sparking her venture into eco-conscious fashion: "As someone who spent all her 20s working in editorial and brand marketing, I saw a true business opportunity to launch Poplinen as a direct-to-consumer clothing company dedicated to creating simple, stylish pieces out of premium fabrics that women felt great in all year round," Buchanan tells UncoverLA.

With the goal of creating a business model that supports women of all shapes and sizes, the brand launched with a successful Kickstarter campaign that raised over $26K. On offer are a range of effortless tops in sizes XS to 3X, such as the retro Pat Ringer tee ($48) made of organic cotton and bamboo, the Becky short-sleeved button-down shirt ($78) in organic linen and cotton, the Wilder mock neck sweatshirt ($58) made of comfy French terry and bamboo, the Norma ribbed turtleneck ($64), and more.

The brand manufactures all of its clothing in Downtown using a low-impact dye process, and everything is shipped in recycled packaging and waste is kept as minimal as possible. That's not all: Poplinen also donates 1% of sales to Step Up network, which provides girls with mentors to help them prepare for high school and beyond.

Up next, Poplinen is dipping its environmentally-conscious toes into denim. Buchanan reveals the brand is launching a recycled denim smock jacket this spring in partnership with The New Denim Project, a Guatemala-based sustainable design house that transforms leftover textiles from mills into new fabrics. "I am so glad we found out about the women who run this family-owned factory," she explains. "This is a really exciting project we're working on, and has a lot of possibilities for the future of our denim designs."

We recently got to know Buchanan last fall at Poplinen's intimate launch dinner with Darling, magazine. (Maybe you caught our IG Stories?) Held in a dreamy DTLA loft, the sustainable soirée treated local fashion editors to healthy dishes by Masterchef star Becky Reams and personalized poems by Ars Poetica. The event ended on a contemplative note, with each guest answering a thought-provoking prompt with the rest of the group. (Now that's how you end a party.)

After the inspiring gathering, we caught up with Buchanan to find out more about her career journey, the biggest lessons she learned from running a successful Kickstarter, her vision for Poplinen's future (hint: it involves branching out beyond tops), and what else is coming down the pipeline soon. Keep reading below, then shop Poplinen online here.

First, tell us more about you and your career, from working at Condé Nast and Warby Parker to starting Poplinen. What was that journey like?

I got my big start as an editorial coordinator for the editor-in-chief of Architectural Digest in New York City. This was my first real job in the big city and would be the kick-off to an exciting (and tumultuous) career in the editorial departments of magazines including Travel + Leisure and Vanity Fair. I used this opportunity to learn from some of the biggest and brightest editors at the time in regards to writing, work ethic, the arts, and fashion. 

As the magazine world was changing drastically, I decided to try something new, so I joined the retail and social media teams at Warby Parker. I loved this whole new world of startup culture where things felt new, adventurous, and your contributions made significant differences daily. This experience would be the catalyst for starting my own entrepreneurial endeavor. 

Long story short, I left my day job and started working on this full time in the winter of 2018. I'd say the biggest eye-openers have been around the production process of clothing and a marketing plan.

What have been some of the biggest eye-openers while launching your own label?

First, you really have to build trust with the right manufacturers and find vendors who not only care about quality craftsmanship, but take pride in their work and align with your brand values. This ensures an authenticity to your products that will be noticed by your customers.

Two, when it comes to marketing, you really have to set forth a strategy from day one––winging it as you go just won't fly (pun intended) long term. If you're a new brand just clicking launch on your website won't drive the traffic –– you have to have a plan (and resources) for digital advertising, social content, PR, physical retail experiences, and building your following to ensure people can learn about your company.

You also ran a successful Kickstarter campaign. (Congrats!) What have been some of your favorite comments/feedback from backers?

Running a Kickstarter is a full-time job and takes months of preparation, which will help contribute to a successful campaign –– in case you're thinking of doing one yourself. 

I'd say my favorite comments were the ones from women from all over the world cheering us on and sharing how excited they were to receive their shirt (including Canada and Northern Europe). I was amazed at how many people actually read my updates and were just as nervous as me about reaching my goal!

The most important feedback actually came from a handful of women who loved the Poplinen message, but were curious why we weren't offering more sizes. This was the major lightbulb moment for me in regards to expanding our sizes up to 3X for our online store we launched this past spring.

Now that you're back in L.A., what excites you the most about living in the City of Angels?

I am thrilled to be back in the city I was raised in; technically I grew up in the San Fernando Valley, but I spent a fair amount of time in Downtown L.A. because of my parents' business. I think the universe brought me back to be close to family, and I am happy it all worked out this way because the production scene here is exactly what I needed to get Poplinen off the ground. I am so happy that I can pursue this passion of mine in a city that can accommodate so much of the process.

What's been your go-to Poplinen piece for L.A. winter, and how do you style it?

Without a doubt, my Norma Ribbed Turtleneck in Copper. It's the perfect layering piece because the modal fabric is breathable, durable, and extremely cozy. I love wearing it under a sweatshirt, blazer, or long sleeve button-up, pairing with ribcage jeans and throwing on some funky-heeled boots. I also must note, we have a new raglan sweatshirt made from a beautiful blend of Tencel and organic cotton coming out this month, and it feels like clouds –– I can't wait to start wearing that too!

Where do you see the brand in the next five years?

Our North Star will always be the unique combination of sustainability and inclusivity, which is at the forefront of everything we do. Yes, we do make clothes, and our goal is to make clothing that betters people's lives all while having the least amount of impact on our planet. In the next five years, Poplinen will implement a closed-loop process so customers can spend years living well in their Poplinen clothing, and can then return them for credit/repair or to give them a second life.

I see the brand continuing to scale thoughtfully, expanding into other categories including outerwear, activewear, and bottoms, and continuing to focus our business model towards social impact for causes dear to Poplinen including Step Up Women's Network.

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