Bringing Business to Life: Mara Hoffman

Fifteen years after it was founded, Mara Hoffman committed itself to implementing more sustainable and responsible practices, maintaining an open conversation about its approach in a bid to encourage more mindful consumption habits. President and Creative Director, Mara Hoffman, shares the story behind her eponymous label and what inspired this shift towards sustainability. 

What inspired you to launch your business?

I started the brand in 2000, right after graduating from Parsons. I didn’t plan to start my own business so quickly, but it made more sense than searching for a corporate job in an industry I already felt I did not quite fit into. In 2015 we began moving the brand towards becoming more sustainable, which felt like a sort of relaunch. That shift was inspired by my growing awareness of the fashion industry’s damaging impact on the environment. I realized that our manufacturing practices were contributing to a mess that my son’s generation was going to inherit, which was a breaking point for me. I went to our director of production and said that we needed either to close the business or change our methods.

What are your sustainable priorities for it?

Creating with care and intention is always the goal. I want to increase transparency throughout our manufacturing processes, continue to source recycled and organic fabrics, and keep our clothing out of landfills by finding ways to reimagine each garment’s life cycle.

How has your eco strategy developed as you have grown?

Our strategy has become more encompassing as we have learned more. When we first ventured into sustainability, we started by making small changes in areas where we knew we could improve. We switched out our conventional swimsuit fabrics with recycled nylons and polyesters and made the transition from wet printing to digital printing. Now, we design and manufacture with a greater sustainability picture in mind. We are continually researching low impact fabrics and most of our collections are made up of organic, recycled, or regenerated cellulosic fibres. We have a strong focus on supply chain transparency, so when working with a factory, mill or dye/wash house, we go and visit the supplier and do our own assessment. This is a continuous journey and our ultimate goal is 100% transparency.

How challenging has it been to maintain your eco principles?

It can be tricky for many reasons. For example, sometimes in the design process we are limited by what we can do with a garment based on finding fabrics that are in alignment with our sustainability standards. It is a constant learning process.

Do you feel pressure from your customers to be more eco?

When we first shifted the business towards sustainability, we had the added challenge of communicating the change to our customers. Sustainability became a part of the whole picture, but we always maintained that we would lead with our aesthetic and the emotional connection our customers had with our clothes. There were some who were enthusiastic about the shift, and then others who didn’t mention it. If we feel any pressure, it is the healthy and constructive pressure we put on ourselves to maintain the standards we have created.

What advice would you give to anyone hoping to launch a sustainable business?

I would give them the same advice that I would give to anyone starting a new business: define your point of view and make sure that you are contributing in a unique way. The world does not need more things, so if you are going start a business, especially one that involves manufacturing, find the most sustainable and least harmful way to do it.

Which other sustainable businesses have inspired you?

Eileen Fisher, Patagonia, and Stella McCartney are big ones.

What have been the main prohibitors to your progress in building a sustainable business?

Sustainable materials and manufacturing comes with more overhead costs than traditional methods. It is challenging to navigate where best to invest our sustainability budget for a brand our size.

Additionally, when we first made the switch towards more sustainable practices, we also shifted our aesthetic. We faced some scepticism from buyers who were used to coming to us for a specific look at a certain cost. We not only had to do some educating, but also had to grow a new base of customers who supported our vision.

What have been your biggest milestones and triumphs until now?

Continuing to find alternatives to conventional fabrics is a great achievement, we are always working to implement more responsible options into our collections. For example, for the past several seasons we have used REPREVE®, a polyester fibre made of 100% recycled plastic, and we are also one of the first fashion brands to use REFIBRA™, a recycled fabric made from sustainably sourced wood pulp and pre-consumer cotton waste.

I am also proud of the partnerships we have built in our sustainability efforts with incredible organizations such as FabScrap, Queen of Raw, Fashion Positive, SAC and Nest, each helping us achieve varying sustainability initiatives.

Inspired? Read our guide for where to start with dressing ethically and browse our full catalogue of recommended brands.