Mara Hoffman - from the eye-catching vibrant prints to a pioneer in sustainable and ethical fashion
With international women’s day being celebrated on March 8., we are dedicating a series of articles introducing the women whose work is changing the fashion industry for the better. We are starting with a woman who is a strong advocate for human rights and environmental causes, and doing incredibly lots to change the fashion industry towards more sustainable and ethical practices - Mara Hoffmann. At an exclusive New York Fashion Week (NYFW) reception this February, the designer has received the Repreve Champions of Sustainability Leading the Change Award. The Award recognises Mara Hoffman's long-time commitment to reducing environmental impact through conscious fashion. But Mara Hoffmann didn’t start off as a sustainable fashion brand.
So here is a little bit of a back story. Mara Hoffman graduated from Parsons School of design in New York and founded her company in the year 1999. A few internships during her studies have helped the designer learn to quickly sew her own clothes and repurpose old clothing, and had a strong impact on her work as a designer in the future. 15 years later Mara Hoffman had 30 employees and her eye-catching and vibrant designs are sold to more than 500 accounts. As a Creative Director of the company, the designer’s own lifestyle, femininity and worldwide travels, especially to South America, strongly affect the brand’s aesthetics. The designer states she takes one big trip a year, that fills her with impressions and creative inspiration for the year to come. While she is historically known for her eye-catching prints and vibrant colours, she’s been recently focusing on more simple, textural pieces which highlight the feminine aesthetics.
For the past few years, the designer has been more and more aware of the shift happening in the fashion industry and according to her own words “realized she is a part of something that is not the greatest thing to be part of” (Mara Hoffman on Conscious Chatter, 2017). Naturally, for a while she put it out of her head because she didn’t feel part of it - after all she didn’t start off as a sustainable brand, and therefore she thought that one day when she is not busy with the current business she will eventually think about it. Nevertheless, somewhere in 2015, the designer says, “this voice got so loud in my head, that I didn’t want to be a part of the wrong practices in the industry anymore.”
At the time Mara started having this strong feeling of questioning her role - what was the part she was playing in society and what was gonna be the effect on the lives of future generations? She went to her Production Director (now Director of Production and Sustainability), saying they were at a “change-or-die moment” - that the company needs to either close shop completely, or they needed to change everything. The designer didn’t know how to change and didn’t even know where to begin at the time, but she knew they needed a new system, one more responsible and less harmful, kinder and worthy of working for - a system that was better. Together the two women started looking for alternatives, and looking for places to begin (Mara Hoffman on Conscious Chatter, 2017).
The designer first implemented a strategy for ethical, effective change within the value chain of her label in 2015.
As one can easily imagine, being sustainable is not an A to B undertaking - it is rather a constant work in progress. Nevertheless, taking responsibility for your actions is an enormous step forward. How did the approach this journey? First they started observing and learning from what other sustainable companies (e.g. Eileen Fisher) were doing. Furthermore, they started partnering with organisations that helped them and companies like them become more sustainable, such as Nest - an organisation that helps them better connect with and support artisan partners especially in India. They also partnered with Canopy - an organisation which helps companies form a policy for not sourcing raw materials for their fabrics from endangered forests. The Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC) is another organisation partnering with brand like Mara Hoffman to help them develop sustainability guidelines for their brand. Also, as a member of the Fashion Positive PLUS Member Collaborative, the brand is committed to the development of Cradle to Cradle certified materials that are free of harmful substances.
Further steps the brand has taken to produce more ethically and sustainably include printing digitally, which reduces water and chemical waste, using fabrics made from sustainable fibre as often as possible, starting to map their own supply chain in order to control it better, and encouraging consumers to use garments for longer in order to conserve natural resources and keep garments out of landfill by buying less, washing less and caring for things for longer.