The quotes from this piece were captured during an episode of the podcast Conscious Chatter, where Mara spoke with host Kestrel in a conversation about shifting her company in a more socially & environmentally responsible direction.
Once you’ve seen a Mara Hoffman piece, you know a Mara Hoffman piece. Her vibrant aesthetic captures your attention, and before you know it, her magical prints are dancing off the fabric and igniting a party in your soul.
But Mara didn’t instantly create iconic pieces that everyone remembers. She got her start deconstructing and reconstructing pieces in her little apartment in New York City. “Even through college, I would set little challenges for myself,” Mara remembers, “to see if I could wake up in the morning, and actually make the outfit that I would be wearing for school within 45 minutes.”
A happenstance meeting with NYC legend Patricia Fields opened some huge doors for Mara. Sex and the City ring a bell? That’s the brilliant styling of Patricia Fields herself. As Mara puts it, “When you’ve got nothing, you’ve got nothing to lose. So I just kept going and kept going. And from there, I built my business.”
As the company grew, sustainability wasn’t at the core of how things expanded. When retailers demand more from brands — whether it be shorter turnaround times and/or larger orders — brands must find ways to make it all happen. As Mara said, “I feel like for a long time… the mantra was ‘make it cheaper, make it cheaper’ and so we were finding ways to do that.”
But as of a few years ago, making it cheaper isn’t the future of Mara Hoffman. Instead, making it better and more responsibly has become the new and improved direction.
“I do not want to be a preacher on any front or stand up and say, ‘I’m the sustainable fashion designer,’ because ultimately there’s still so much to do. I’m just tapping into stuff. It’s been a reminder of humility…once you see, you can’t not see anymore. There’s some discomfort with that, but it’s also a motivation to make better efforts and to instigate change.”
Thus far, Mara and her team have been making strides to shift their fabrications and to look deeper into their supply chain. The nylon and polyester used in their swim line is now derived from recycled material. Their screen-printing has largely shifted to digital to reduce their water usage. And, they are building partnerships with artisan weaving communities who use organic cotton.
… once you see, you can’t not see anymore. There’s some discomfort with that, but it’s also a motivation to make better efforts and to instigate change.
“It also came with a huge examination of our current process, because you can say, ‘alright, I want to change,’ but until you really truly understand how you’re doing things, how do you know what’s ok and what you can keep, and what you can really change.”
To build a more conscious brand from the inside out is undoubtedly a journey. One that requires more attention, more connection and more transparency. Fashion has the reputation of having an exclusive aura, and a somewhat greedy presence as an industry. But, maybe it’s shifting — at least in the sustainability pockets of the fashion world.
“Once you step in, it’s a way more open community than I ever felt not being in it. The industry is so much more open to sharing resources than I ever felt before this. I always felt that within fashion, nobody wanted to share anything and there’s always been this very proprietary kind of approach to everything. And now the conversation is so different because we want everyone to use the better sources. You can’t decide to start something unless you’re in it for everyone to be in it. Because that’s the big goal — right? We want to shift the industry. We want to change everybody. You don’t want to do it to be better than other people. You want to do it so more people do it with you.”
Together, we are all stronger and we have a larger opportunity to influence change. Mara and her company are on their distinct journey to become more responsible and accountable. While their path may not be the same as other transforming fashion brands, Mara’s humble story has the potential to inspire real change.
“I don’t know when you’re not in the beginning — honestly — because there’s always a new beginning to this process. We are still beginning all the time. Every day, we’re beginning. If anyone is out there and wanting to begin, you just continue to begin.”
Listen to the full episode and other episodes of the Conscious Chatter podcast here.
Image of Mara via Jason Ross Savage; Editorials via Olivia Malone