WEED, BUT MAKE IT FASHION: Little Rock designer Korto Momolu’s collection with Women Grow for New York Fashion Week features cannabis-inspired clothing made with hemp.

As cannabis continues to be medically and recreationally legalized across the country, the variety of pot-related products offered to consumers is growing, too. When Women Grow — an organization that promotes women’s leadership in the cannabis business — asked designer and Little Rock resident Korto Momolu to create a weed-inspired clothing collection for its leadership summit in June, Momolu knew she wanted to work with the company to “change the narrative” about who leads, and benefits from, the cannabis industry. 

Momolu, 44, said the capsule collection she designed for the summit sold out quickly, and an investor at the event offered to sponsor Women Grow and Momolu to design a bigger collection for New York Fashion Week. The designer had less than a month to create 28 looks made up of more than 40 individual pieces, a process made more difficult by Momolu’s arthritis in her right arm. 

“[The pain] was challenging, but it was almost like I needed it to happen, because I started thinking about all the people that are on medicinal cannabis, and this is what they go through,” Momolu said. “I think I needed to go through that to understand, ‘Who am I doing this for? Who’s the face of this?’ Because that’s what the whole point was: to change the narrative of who is benefiting from this. It’s not about sitting around and just leisurely smoking pot, it’s about people who really are going through way worse pain than I was.” 

For the Fashion Week collection, Momolu wanted to work with sustainable fabrics, including hemp, which is a Cannabis strain often used in fiber and paper making. Momolu said she had difficulty finding hemp for sale at a reasonable price in the United States, so she used a vendor in Thailand who sold strips of the fabric that the designer then ripped apart and reconstructed to create her own fabrics for the collection. Momolu said she may “revisit” the process of making hemp more affordable and widely available in the U.S., as she said the texture of the “gorgeous” fabric reminded her of African textiles. Momolu also used burlap fabric — also called “jute” — as well as linen and cork to bring an earthy element to the collection. She then combined these with other fabrics, including organza and taffeta, to make the pieces look “rich and elegant.” 

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“That was definitely on the forefront: getting things that were close to the cannabis plant,” Momolu said. “So getting hemp was important, but adding the other ones [was] as well. Then mixing it with luxurious fabrics to make it high fashion — no pun intended. It was challenging, but it ended up being really fun.” 

HIGH FASHION: Momolu’s collection uses materials that are “close to the cannabis plant,” like hemp.

Momolu is no stranger to working with unique fabrics. When the Liberia native was a contestant on season five of Bravo TV’s “Project Runway,” designers were challenged to create an outfit out of spare car parts. Momolu wove a mod ’60s coat out of seat belts, and the piece remains iconic among the long-running show’s many creations. This creativity and resourcefulness was present in the Women Grow collection Momolu debuted at Fashion Week on Saturday, Sept. 7. Models of different ages and sizes walked the runway puffing on “glamourized” vape pens bedazzled with pearls and rhinestones — “it was CBD [oil], just for the record,” Momolu adds — while sporting the designer’s custom creations. 

The collection combines the sleekness and efficiency of athleisure — a seemingly unshakeable trend in fashion that purports you can, and should, wear clothes meant for exercise round-the-clock and outside of the gym — with the bold silhouettes and attention to detail for which Momulu’s work is known. Elegant jumpsuits, wraps and dresses are embellished with “hardware” — small rectangular brass plates sporting the hashtag “#ForWomenByWomen — that glow with the flash of photographers’ cameras. Simple sports bras and leggings embossed with the gold Women Grow logo — which features the pot leaf’s signature shape in place of the “w” in “grow” — are paired with sequined bomber jackets spliced with strips of burlap and brocade. 

Rich, earthy shades of cream, mustard, terra cotta and navy help ground the collection, along with beautiful swaths of indigo-dyed Shibori fabric, some of which Momolu bought from Bella Vita Jewelry in downtown Little Rock. Rose gold brocade, black sequins and silver taffeta make the clothing luxurious and eye-catching. All the pieces feel distinctly wearable — unlike much of the couture sent down the runway at other shows during New York Fashion Week. 

BRINGING CANNABIS TO THE RUNWAY: Momolu says one of the most popular items from the collection has been a tank top emblazoned with five popular cannabis strains.

Momolu said she wanted the models for her collection — and eventually the women who purchase the pieces — to feel “comfortable, but stylish.” 

“I wanted them to feel like they were a part of fashion, because the everyday woman isn’t made to feel like that,” Momolu said. “If you don’t live in New York or [Los Angeles], and you don’t look a certain way, you can’t be a part of fashion. So this is a way for everyone to be involved with it. You can wear this stuff, and you feel like, ‘Hey, I’m kinda doing it big today.’ … And it’s empowering. When you feel amazing in what you wear, you feel empowered. You feel like when you walk into a room, everyone’s looking at you. And it’s a boost in your self-confidence.” 

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Momolu’s understanding of what women want — how women want their clothes to make them feel — is present throughout the collection, as is the designer’s drive to have her clothing reflect her life. A cropped bomber jacket from the collection features a zipper that extends a few inches past the hemline, and Momolu said details like this are a nod to the reality of imperfection. 

WEARABLE WEED: Momolu says she wanted the collection to be comfortable, accessible and stylish for women of all sizes.

“My whole story is that nothing is ever even or ends where it’s supposed to end,” Momolu said. “There’s always something left over, so when I do stuff like that, it’s me saying ‘Nothing [is ever] as it’s supposed to be.’ Sometimes you might have to have a little leftover, or the hems might be a little wavy. But nothing’s ever straight. My life has never been that way, I don’t know whose has. But not mine.” 

The athleisure pieces from Momolu’s collection — including leggings, joggers, sports bras, tank tops and hats — became available for purchase on Women Grow’s website on Sept. 12. The designer said she and Women Grow will next begin working on manufacturing the high fashion line from the collection, because it’s been “very clear” that “people want the stuff.” Momolu said she will continue to work on her own projects while collaborating with Women Grow as the organization’s “in-house designer.”

Momolu said she plans on getting a medical marijuana ID card to use at one of the nine dispensaries currently open in Arkansas. She added that while the state’s medical cannabis industry may have been slow to start, she’s hopeful about the trajectory of its growth. 

“As I’m concerned, regardless of how harsh the laws are, it’s OK to be cautious,” Momolu said. “We don’t know what we’re getting into. And we’re a cautious state; we kind of step into things a little bit [at a time]. The fact that it’s here is monumental. We’re in the game, so as the game progresses, we’re going to see. It’s going to boom.”

The designer said she’s interested in creating a sort of glove or sleeve infused with CBD or another cannabis product to help other people in the creative field — artists, designers, hair stylists, makeup artists — who have carpal tunnel syndrome and other ailments as a result of the physical demands of their jobs. Momolu said she looks forward to being involved in the innovations to come out of the industry. 

“Sky’s the limit with it,” Momolu said. “It’s definitely an industry that’s going to grow. Literally. I think it’d be crazy of me not to get involved with it and figure out how to have my hand in the pot — no pun intended.”