Five years ago, award-winning designer Mara Hoffman saw the destructive, unsustainable path that the fashion industry was on, and decided to be a part of the solution. In the years since, she has formed a new, more environmentally friendly way to produce her collections, and in the process, has become a strong advocate for conscious consumption, proving that fashion doesn’t have to be one of the biggest polluters in the world.
For her Spring/Summer 2020 collection, this meant opting out of the traditional Fashion Week runway show, and instead bringing editors and influencers into her office to show them her collection in person. “I used to do it, but it was a different time for us,” she explained. “Everything is an energetic exchange. If you’re taking your resources to make this presentation for people, you’re taking it from somewhere else. The reality is that we debate this every season; do we need to show during Fashion Week?"
She added, “Forget sustainability for a minute. Fashion Week is just so noisy. To even get a slot and have any impact on a creative level, you have to scream the loudest. For a small brand it's not worth trading our resources.”
Not only is it hard to stand out when some brands can shell out loads of money to have big productions and top-tier stars in the front row — Fashion Week as a whole can also be pretty wasteful. “There is garbage for the programs, the food, and water, the sets. Are people renting things or are we breaking that down, and is it going into the garbage?” she asked. “So here I am not doing a show, and I don’t have any FOMO.”
As far as the collection is concerned, this season, Hoffman is sticking with her classic silhouettes complete with bright, colorful dresses; swimsuits; bold but wearable pantaloons; and even popcorn tops. All pieces that you could absolutely see landing in the wardrobe of some of her big celebrity fans like Beyoncé, Vanessa Hudgens, Keira Knightley, and Chrissy Teigen. “The initial inspiration was a family trip to Greece this summer. We’re kind of mythology buffs so being in the ancient land and feeding into that was a great way to start. I mean I’m not the first nor will I be the last to do a Greek-inspired collection. I sort of went for this late-‘80s, early-‘90s woman traveling from New York to Spain and Greece.”
While there are new styles (for surf-lovers seeking sun protection, she’s making a rash guard this season), one thing that you won’t see change is the fabric. Not only have her textiles become a recognizable Mara Hoffman calling card, they're part of how she maintains her ethical standards. “Every season there isn’t much newness when it comes to fabrications. What we’ve done is really honed in on the [manufacturers] that are the most vetted, that we have the relationships, that we know have the least impact. The fabrics we use are certified organic cotton or better recycled organic cotton.”
Unlike the cliches about people at the top of their game in the fashion industry, there is no pretentiousness in Hoffman’s attitude about her work. She curses for emphasis in a way that's charming and down to earth, and recognizes where she falls short in her mission toward sustainability.
“I think there are a few ways to look at it,” she said. “It's still under the confines of economic placement. It's the same thing with organically grown food: It's limited to those who can afford it; it's a fucked up structure that we’re in. It’s really easy to be like, 'buy my sustainable clothing, here’s a $500 dress.' As if you can buy your way into this movement. You can’t.”
With this in mind, she actually encourages her customers to look for ways around buying her clothing if they can’t afford full retail. “There are also so many off markets right now where you can get a Mara Hoffman dress. You can go to theRealReal if that works for you. We are working on a take-back system that closes our own loop that gives more life to the pieces we have. We want to train people to not end the cycle of the clothes after their wear.”
As we head into a month of new fashion collections, Hoffman is both hopeful about the industry's future and realistic about the urgency of climate change. "It is change or die, across the board. The planet will go on, she’s magnificent and brilliant. It's our time and our experience that we need to be mindful about.”