Welcome to the latest edition of Tell Me About It: A Biz Babe Interview Series! This month we are hearing from Maria Elena Pombo, Founder of Fragmentario. I had the pleasure of meeting Maria (a fashion design graduate from Parsons School of Design) at SXSW. I was drawn to her incredible clothing and then when I learned about her sustainable practice + natural dyes, I was smitten!

This series is meant to be an inside look at other babes who are leading incredible lives, to serve as a source of information and inspiration for you to live your dream life! Let’s get after it!

What’s your company / job / “who” you work as?

Your career purpose, in three words:
Challenge collective memory

What are you most excited about right now?
How water quality affects color when working with natural dyes. Last year I taught a series of natural dyes workshops in Europe, all using avocado seeds, which yield a range of pink hues. In each city, the pink hue was slightly different. I knew water properties influenced natural dyes, but seeing it repeatedly in a short time frame made me want to explore this more, to develop simple but interesting textile experiments and to visualize water quality.

After I came back to New York, I started researching the water quality of different cities around the world, as well as experimenting to understand and map out these findings. First, modifying New York’s water samples by adding elements that alter its pH and mineral concentration. Then working with water samples from around the world (India, Mexico, Canada, France, Japan…), given by different collaborators. It has been exciting to include a larger community in this project and to have them excited about water, natural dyes and their environments in general.

This research will be informing Fragmentario’s next collection, as well as a series of events to launch later in the year.

What were some of the biggest obstacles you faced in the past year?
Being a better boss to myself. The past year has been one of a lot of growth for Fragmentario, which has been great but also difficult to keep up with. The work I do comes from a personal place, cannot be rushed and is very physical. Earlier in the year I took so many projects and my health was affected, this was a wakeup call that I couldn’t say yes to all projects and needed to give myself some down time. It is very hard because I love my work and I get a very irrational anxiety about other opportunities not arising in the future. I’m slowly learning how to be a more lenient boss to myself.

List the top habits that keep you feeling like you can take on the world:
Running first thing in the morning, keeping a physical planner and waking up early.

Any words of encouragement for someone trying to forge their own path?
A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. It’s a Chinese proverb that I like to remind myself whenever I start overthinking a project at the beginning.

It’s time to dance, and you’re the DJ. What music are you playing?
Vintage Caribbean sounds.

What book(s) changed how you think about work + biz most?
1. My Last Sigh: The Autobiography of Luis Buñuel by Luis Buñuel
2. Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen by Christopher McDougall
3. Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion, by Elizabeth Cline

If I could collab with anyone right now, it would be…

When I need to hit the “reset” button on my life, I…
Go for a run. The longer the better, but at least 10 miles. Runner’s high is real and I reach it around that point. For me I get very euphoric but also can think more clearly.

I can’t start my day without…
Drinking a lot of water.

I feel the most alive when I…
Run, during the summer, being near the water.

And lastly: what’s your biggest win this month? Brag about yourself!
I was recently awarded a grant by the New York Restoration Project for doing a joint education initiative with them. We had our first workshop recently with a group of more than fifty people who came to learn how to dye fabric using onion skins. It was a beautiful day filled with curiosity from a very diverse crowd, including my grandmother who was visiting from Venezuela!


If you’d like to learn more about María Elena Pombo, check out her ethical clothing brand, Fragmentario, and give her a follow on the ‘gram!

Graphic designed by Natalja Dembek