To celebrate Glossy’s one-year anniversary, we’re spending a week profiling the standout change-makers who inspired us in our first year. These insiders are currently transforming the fashion, beauty and luxury spaces.
In February of last year, Mara Hoffman fans flocked to The High Line Hotel in NYC’s Chelsea neighborhood for the designer’s fall 2016 presentation, which proved on par with expectations: There was a bright Ikat poncho and zebra-print suiting, and tiger-striped maxis mingled with palm-bedecked looks. Since starting her line in 2000, Mara Hoffman had made prints her signature; not only were they mainstays of her collections, but they were also key elements of her brand collaborations — with Pendledon, Havaianas and Crewcuts, to name a few.
For years, Mara Hoffman styles were among those style-conscious dressers often label “one-hit wonders”: Packing a lot of impact, they’re saved for statement-demanding occasions and then never worn again — at least not in the company of the same friends.
But, by June 2016, it was apparent the designer had turned over a new leaf. The resort 2017 collection she revealed was comparatively tame, full of clothes that could easily be worn on repeat — and sustainable production practices had entered the equation. By her spring 2017 collection, they were prime components.
Essentially, though not without setbacks, Hoffman managed to establish new priorities and a new look within months. Yet today, becoming more eco-friendly remains a focus. “It’s a never-ending process,” Hoffman told Glossy, while discussing her fresh start.
Looks from Mara Hoffman’s fall 2016 (left) and resort 2017 (right) collections (Images via vogue.con)
Was sustainability even a consideration when you first launched your line?
When I started my brand, I was dyeing fabrics out of my apartment and going store to store with my clothes, so the first few years were really just about keeping my head above water and trying to get by. That was also 17 years ago. At the time, sustainability wasn’t talked about in school or in the press, though I’m sure other brands were focused on it.
Why transition to a sustainable line now? What were the driving factors?
It’s been in the works for a couple of years now. Having a kid really pushed me to the point of needing to either implement changes or close shop, but the intention behind it came from really becoming aware of the fashion industry’s impact and the role that I could play in changing that.
Did you look to other designers for help?
We started looking at the other designers who were doing it right, like Eileen Fisher and Levi’s, and then followed in their footsteps. We came across an organization called Sustainable Apparel Coalition that connected us with other like-minded brands on the path towards sustainability.
What was the first step?
For us, what we could tackle first were the materials and the printing processes, and really breaking down and understanding our supply chain. After that came educating ourselves by deep diving into the [available information], which we’re still constantly doing.
Since, we’ve made a lot of changes in fabrics and are still making those. We’ve shifted to digital printing to reduce water waste. To try and reduce landfill waste, we use fibers and fabrics like Econyl, made from regenerated nylon waste; organic cotton; Lenzing Tencel, made from the pulp of sustainably harvested trees; and polyester made from recycled polymers.
Did you have to make changes to your team to make it work?
We didn’t bring on anyone new. We worked within the company to find people who were interested in sustainability and wanted to learn more. We have action meetings on a monthly basis, where employees can learn about how to lessen their impact and what the company is doing on a sustainability level. It’s definitely a group effort. Our mission was to take as many of our existing factories with us on this journey as possible, and to work with them to help better their processes and policies.
What would you say has been your biggest change, in terms of processes?
All of our relationships now start with a new set of questions. As we’re working toward more transparency, we’re questioning every step of the process.
Your collection also has a new look and feel. Was that tied to your sustainability push?
Accompanying this shift in approach was the need to reconnect and get back to creating pieces that really resonate with me. I want the clothing we make to be mixed and matched, and worn routinely like a uniform. I want the pieces to have a longer life, which means they’re becoming a little more approachable.
How did your wholesale partners react?
Our wholesale partners who have the same interests as us have really been engaging and excited throughout this transition. We hope that more and more stores will make sustainability a priority moving forward.
And how did your customers respond?
It’s been a slow conversation with our customers, as the end goal was never really about raising sales. At the same time we began speaking about and evaluating our environmental impact, we also started speaking out about women’s rights and human rights, which came with some love and some loss within our customer base.
Based on your experience, how long is the road to sustainability?
We started doing this work and educating ourselves a couple of years ago, but the world of sustainability is constantly changing. We’re always trying to understand it and do better.
In addition to sustainability, are you focusing on transparency?
Complete transparency in our supply chain is the ultimate goal. When it comes to our customers, we’re just starting to engage with them on our approach and invite them into this conversation.
What’s to come from Mara Hoffman in the year ahead?
More internal exploration, and challenging existing systems within and without.