BEHIND THE BRAND
MARA HOFFMAN SPRING 2018
“I try to hold myself accountable for everything we put out into the world, and I ask that all brands and consumers do the same."
Founder, Mara Hoffman
The Mara Hoffman brand produces exquisitely designed and crafted womenswear, and is committed to sustainability and producing responsibly. The collections are designed with an aesthetic that pushes timeless and re-wearable items and the brand actively encourages its customers to buy less and wear each piece for longer.
Mara Hoffman founded her label in 2000 after graduating from Parsons School of Design in New York City. Mara is politically outspoken, a strong advocate for human rights, and is actively involved in environmental causes. She is a woman who stands up for what she believes in.
As she became aware of the harm the fashion industry was wreaking on the planet and its inhabitants, Mara knew she had to make a decision: change or stop. As her son got older this change in direction became more imperative as she understood how her actions in the present would affect her son in the future.
Mara knew the brand could do better, so in March 2015 she committed to implementing more sustainable and responsible practices. It was the only way for the company to move forward.
There is a lot that can be learnt from the incredible hardworking team at Mara Hoffman, and I was lucky enough to speak with them to find out more about their transition and sustainability practice.
FOUNDER MARA HOFFMAN
Mara Hoffman was an already well established brand when you made the switch to responsible business, which brings with it many challenges that a new brand starting out would not face in the same way. Can you tell us how you started on this process?
We started by watching other brands and partnering with organizations that help companies like ours become more sustainable. Our focus on sustainability begins at the start of the design process, and continues throughout all aspects of production and distribution.
Some of the first notable steps taken included:
Printing digitally, which reduces water and chemical waste
Using fabrics made from sustainable fibers as often as possible
Joining the Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC), holding the brand accountable to measuring impact and evaluating the efficacy of its sustainability initiatives
Starting to map its supply chain
Encouraging consumers to wear garments longer by buying less, washing less and wearing more
I had the chance to come in to your showroom while I was in NY and see the latest collection in person (it’s beautiful btw and I wanted everything!). What struck me was the diverse range of sustainable materials that you’re using; organic denims, embroideries, linens, regenerated materials and Tencel, in a range of stunning colours. What sort of challenges and opportunities have you found with moving towards using more sustainable materials, and have you found it’s a limitation at all?
We choose each material with intention and care and prioritize natural, recycled, and renewable components. We also do not use any fur, leather, or feathers. All of our cotton is now organic and 100% of our swimwear is produced using recycled nylon or recycled polyester.
Quality is of utmost importance to creating a long-lasting garment, so we make sure to evaluate the durability and wash results of each new sustainable fabric that we integrate into our products.
Our challenges in the beginning really focused around a difficulty in finding vendors that met our standards. Over the course of the three years this has changed and now our challenges are lead times, minimums, and cost increases.
That said, new fabrics don’t always hold up to wear as expected. We face trial and error moments and use these as an opportunity to learn, change, and ultimately ensure quality is not compromised as our use of sustainable fabric expands.
We ask that all of our factories use high quality dyes by brands such as Hunstman. We look for like minded suppliers who place sustainability at the crux of their business and we require certain certifications, such as Oeko Tex 100.
We test our materials against a Restricted Substances List (RSL) which is based on the Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemicals’ list.
JARDIN EMBROIDERY | SPRING 2018
Part of your shift has been to stay in closer contact with your suppliers through frequent factory visits, and the brand has a strong focus on the fair treatment of the workers and artisans involved in its garment production. Has this been a challenge for you, or for any of your suppliers, and do you have any advice on how to address these challenges?
We work really hard to minimize the negative impacts associated with manufacturing and to ensure that all people involved are treated fairly and respectfully along the way.
When deciding where to manufacture, we consider proximity to raw materials as well as each factory’s individual strengths and skills.
For example, we produce our organic cotton styles in India because that’s where our organic cotton is grown, therefore decreasing the carbon footprint associated with long-distance shipping. Our partners in India are also able to offer detailed, high quality artisanal work, which in turn means that we can offer employment and economic empowerment to men and women in those communities.
Our team has developed close, long-term working relationships with the factories in our supply chain, and we consider each factory employee to be a member of the Mara Hoffman team.
In an effort to support smaller factories, we’ve implemented initiatives to facilitate business growth and visibility, like sponsoring website development and delivering training programs on transparent record-keeping.
Nest helps ensure sustainable business growth amongst our artisan partners by diversifying their client-base so that they’re not exclusively dependent on our brand, and we visit these groups annually to check in with the workers directly. As part of our compliance project, we’ve brought Nest into the artisan facilities with us to implement policies and procedures that help their businesses reach the Nest standard.
MARA HOFFMAN DENIM | SPRING 2018
We partner with and support artisans in India through Nest who we’ve worked with for many years.
A large portion of our Ready to Wear collections are made in the garment district of New York City and all of our swimwear is made in Los Angeles. Our California and New York based manufacturers are longtime Mara Hoffman partners with whom we have close working and personal relationships.
Mara has spoken about the importance of working together as an industry to generate change, of collaborating instead of competing. The brand has many partnerships in place to help achieve its sustainability goals. Can you tell us more about how these partnerships work for you and the benefit they add to your business?
All our partnerships push us closer towards achieving our sustainability goals. Let me give you some examples. We support ancient and endangered forests during fabric selection by committing to the Canopy Style campaign through non profit Canopy. As a member of the Fashion Positive PLUS Member Collaborative, we are committed to accelerating the development of Cradle To Cradle Certified materials that are free of harmful substances and primed for the circular economy. We have joined the Organic Cotton Accelerator (OCA) Call for Collective Action and are committed to supporting this initiative to better ensure the continued growth, visibility, and sustainability of the organic cotton sector.
We are members of the Sustainable Apparel Coalition, and are working to onboard our suppliers to the HIGG Index in an effort to better evaluate our current impact and identify areas for improvement. We also partner with Queen of Raw to resell leftover production and sample fabric yardage fabrics, and with Fabscrap who collects our fabric waste scraps and sorts them for reuse or recycling appropriately.
Serving as an advisor on the board of artisan- focused nonprofit Nest, Mara is personally committed to providing ongoing strategic council to both artisan and industry partners, as well as creating greater awareness of handwork’s crucial contribution to the fashion industry. Artisan groups, which are often made up of women and small producers, are based in developing countries and lack direct access to globalized markets. By re-integrating artisanal products into the global market, we are able to offer better economic opportunities for marginalized groups, while expanding the audience for handcrafted, special pieces.
I'm really interested in how your shift to sustainability has been viewed by your customers, and how you are involving them in the conversation. Can you tell us a little about this?
We speak openly and honestly about our sustainability journey on our website and have asked for our customers’ feedback directly via digital surveys. We receive great and constructive thoughts via this platform as well as on our social media channels. People want to learn more and see more, and for those who are not as invested, they still applaud the sustainability efforts. We also see some areas that need greater attention, which helps us focus our sustainability strategy.
We support responsible consumption across our marketing on social media, our website, and direct to consumer on our care labels (“Wear More, Wash Less,” and “give it a long life”). Mara herself publicly pushes the philosophy of uniform dressing and speaks often to buying less but wearing pieces for longer. The newest collections continue to be designed with an aesthetic that pushes timeless and re-wearable items.
MARA HOFFMAN HEMP | SPRING 2018
As founder, Mara tries to hold herself accountable for everything the brand puts out into the world, and she asks that all brands and consumers do the same.
“Vote with your dollar. Do what you can to support the brands doing it right, and ask the brands that aren’t to change. Let’s push one another to become more transparent, to work together more closely and to make sure that everything said and done is said and done with care.”
Clothing waste is a big issue right now in the fashion industry and there is a strong call to make fashion circular. Brands are starting to address this by offering take back or recycling programs, while others are partnering with resell sites. Can you share any plans or initiatives the brand has in place to start the move towards a closed-loop model?
Circularity is a massive - but necessary - undertaking for brands. It makes companies responsible for their clothes even after they’ve put them into someone else’s hands. Life cycle assessment is a critical part of our sustainability strategy as we aim to ensure each product manufactured has the longest life possible.
We recently signed the 2020 Circular Fashion System Commitment Letter created by the Global Fashion Agenda (GFA) in order to accelerate our transition to a more circular system. This will help us learn how to collect, reuse, recycle and design for cyclability and ultimately allow us to implement a program focused on garment collection, reuse and/or recyclability. Our commitment is that by 2020, a garment collection scheme will be available to all of our web customers in order to collect used and/or damaged items for resale or recycling via third party partners.
Mara Hoffman, thank you so much for sharing your journey towards sustainability, and for the leadership the brand is showing by sharing its learnings with the rest of the industry. We look forward to hearing more in the future and seeing where this path takes you!