Diana Lopez is a woman on the move and going places – just like the clothing she designs. By Joan Calcagno. Cover photo by Addie Mannan.
Diana Lopez’s thinking when she started her own clothing line was less “why” and more “why not?” Her motivation was doing what hadn’t been done. “I had an idea that had to get out there”, she says.
Her idea is this: beauty and comfort can go together. Women should have clothing that works for them, not the other way around. “Trying to fit into this thing” should not even be a consideration. And it should be affordable and locally produced.
Most women have felt at one time or another that commercially-produced clothing choices are just not working for them – that choices are too geared for an ideal body type or too limiting or too expensive. And what about all those questionable labor practices and the carbon footprint? This 30-year-old Tucson-based creator of fashion line INDI Apparel, felt the same way and decided to do something about it.
It was Phoenix Fashion week in 2010 that really launched INDI Apparel and set the ball rolling for this clothing designer who really is listening to what customers want. Once Diana made connections there, INDI took off, its name inspired by one of Diana’s favorite movie characters, Indiana Jones, and Diana’s nickname, “Dee”.
Diana’s vision for INDI Apparel came about on a trip, traveling with just a backpack. She wanted to take such a variety of clothes – some for hiking, some for sightseeing, some for running and clubbing. Why, she thought, did she have to settle for just one style?
Inspiring confidence and a good fit are paramount when Diana is designing for her women customers, which is why she doesn’t rely on traditional sizing. “Sizing is such a silly concept or feeling better when you are this size or that size. You are who you are. You’ve got to work it – own it.”
So, when ordering pieces from her online shop, customers provide measurements using a drop-down with a range of choices and Diana provides the garment that will fit best, based on that. If a customer doesn’t fall into the sizing ranges, she will make one that works. “I like to make what is going to fit rather than trying to fit into a number. I’ve made a full range of sizes,” she says.
Diana isn’t aware of any of her fashion contemporaries doing this form of bespoke tailoring. Paula Taylor, owner and creative director of Tucson Fashion Week and Paula Taylor Productions, says that a couple of years ago big names like Prada recognized the need to cater to individual customers and were talking about some “customization” – choosing the color of a garment, for example. But she hasn’t seen it really take off. “And here [Diana] is, doing it. That’s really pretty neat.”
“My ideal customer is me,” says this travel lover, who admits that any money she makes goes largely towards funding her next trip. She caught the travel bug early, moving to different countries with her family (she’s from Argentina). A dozen years ago, a backpacking trip through Europe sealed her wanderlust. She has been traveling regularly since – going abroad about twice a year. She’s backpacked through the Andes and most of South American Patagonia, and visited Spain, Brazil and Japan. In the U.S., she visits friends all over, to mountain bike, rock climb and backpack.
She says she thrives on the excitement of new places. “I need that. I’m stimulated by new things.” And, crucially for her customers, traveling influences her fashion designs. She designs for the comfort, versatility and ‘packability’ needed when traveling. And she’s influenced by what she sees women wearing in other countries – smaller cuts in Argentine bathing suits or the everyday elegance of Japanese women.
Similarly, her fashion line derives from her active lifestyle. “Whatever I’m into, I make a line of clothing for it.”
Take, for example, her ingenious bike skirt. Diana and her friends like to bicycle. “The problem is that when you get to your destination, you aren’t dressed properly.”
The bike skirt, made from fluid fabric, can be worn long or short, using the drawstrings to change the length. And when you get on your bike, you shorten it, snap it up across the bottom and – voila – bike pants! Hop off, unsnap and you have your skirt again.
This mover and shaker in the fashion world is, literally, moving and shaking in her personal life too. One of her favorite activities is salsa dancing. ”It’s my thing now. It puts me in such a good mood.” So of course she had to design the perfect salsa dress.
“I love wearing short dresses, but I don’t want to have to keep pulling the skirt down. If I wear shorts underneath, eventually they show.” So, the dress has shorts built in, but you can’t tell because they are attached at the side seams and around bottom. Everything stays nicely in place, with, she laughs, “no opportunities for flashing!” When it came to a test drive, Diana put the dress on and danced for two solid hours (see her in the video below).
When INDI Apparel first started, Diana expected that she’d be focused on 25- to 30year-olds. But she’s happy to be selling to a broader age range, and says that 60-year-old women “rock it”.
Esther Huckabay, 32, one of her regular customers, has about 15 pieces. Esther says she loves the clothes because “the designs are super cute and original. You’re not going to see it on everyone. And they’re not too expensive. ” She also likes that some of the pieces are “artsy” and reflect conceptual designs that work in a unique way. For example, she has one top made of fluid fabric that when off the body and folded is revealed to be cut and sewn in a circle. When on, it is lose-fitting, but accentuates the body in motion, especially when dancing. Typical of Diana’s approach to some of her pieces, it’s the patterning and cut that create the drape and the fit. That’s why it works on many body types.
Esther, like many consumers, has also been questioning the quality of clothes from traditional department stores, and labor practices in the countries that manufacture them. Which brings us to Diana’s next venture: designing for the Tucson-based Fed By Threads.
Her collaboration with the clothing company – which focuses on organic, sustainable, vegan fabrics and feeding hungry families with the profits – was a year in the making. When Alok Appadurai, FbT co-founder , wanted to bring more production to Tucson and be more involved in the design process, mutual friends put him in touch with Diana. They met and clearly had good chemistry.
“We’re about to have a ton of fun,” says Alok of the partnership. The first collaboratively designed dress will be coming off the production line soon. A first for FbT, it will be two-toned – black and amethyst – and reversible front to back, so the neckline changes.
Working with Diana will allow FbT to cater to a broader range of body types and sizes, and possibly expand its men’s line, says Alok. As for Diana, she says she is on board with FbT’s philosophy. “Now I will be making an even bigger difference.”
When she’s not designing (or traveling, salsa dancing, biking, hiking or rock climbing) Diana teaches Spanish and Portuguese at a language school she runs with her mother.
Which begs the question: how does she do it all? “My life is pretty random. People never know if I’m here or not,” she admits. When she’s here, she’s up early and on any given day she will work on clothes, teach, meet with clients or producers, go to a photo shoot and then hit the gym. “It’s non-stop, constant motion, 16 hour days.”
Diana immigrated to the USA from Argentina when she was seven and has dual citizenship. She graduated from the University of Arizona in 2006 with an honors degree in Studio Art and Business and then spent three years back in Argentina where she studied fashion design and production. She launched her first clothing line there in 2008 but came back to Tucson in 2010 because of the challenging Argentine economy.
If she gives the impression of being in perpetual motion, this year will be no different. With the FbT collaboration taking off, the designs on the INDI website will be available as they last and eventually, she’ll expand the INDI line. But for now, Diana will focus INDI on custom designs, which she has been doing all along. “Custom-made is really fun,” she says. “I really get to know the person, hear what they are looking for and create a dream garment designed specifically for them.”
Added to that, she has a wedding to plan. Her boyfriend and adventure “partner in crime”, a Marine stationed in Okinawa, surprised her with a ring last New Year’s Eve. He popped the question high up on Gates Pass, where 3 Story‘s photo shoot for this feature took place. Like so many things in her life, Diana did not hesitate. She enthusiastically said “Yes!” She’ll be designing and making her own wedding dress, of course. “Oh the possibilities,” she says. And you can just hear the wheels turning.