POSITIVE IMPACT AWARDS: Mara Hoffman Wins Brand Leadership in Advancing Sustainability

Mara Hoffman has won this year’s Positive Impact Award for “Brand Leadership in Advancing Sustainability.”

From organic and recycled fibers to reducing water and chemical waste, Mara Hoffman has taken huge steps over the past two years as a NYC based lifestyle brand producing women’s ready to wear and swimwear. The brand is focused on using more sustainable materials and continuously evolving on its journey towards being a more sustainable and more responsible brand.

In May, Harper’s Bazaar featured a story on the brand’s recent partnership with non-profit Nest, to support its artisans in India.
“I think people forget that sustainability includes human impact. Nest helped open our eyes to the fact that even beyond the regulated four-walled factory, there are millions of people in the fashion industry’s supply chain who work from home [or in a small workshop] and deserve our support,” Hoffman told Harper’s Bazaar and she is upfront when she says that “we’ve still got a long way ahead of us.”

We caught up with Mara to learn more about her sustainability initiatives as well as what inspires her to keep on keeping on.

You’ve won the Brand Leadership for Advancing Sustainability, when you got the news, what was the first reason why you knew you won the award?
My team and I have been working hard and pushing ourselves to implement these changes, so in a way, it’s really validating. There’s a part of me that feels conflicted in accepting an award for something that we’ve been doing out of what we believe to be necessity. I am humbled and happy to be receiving this and to see that the challenges, the mistakes and the small wins have all been adding up and allowing us to do better by this industry, with so much further to go.

Talk about some of the sustainable advances you’ve made for the Mara Hoffman brand just in the past year.
Everything that we do builds on other parts of our journey and is connected, so the past year feels like a product of two-years work. We use fabrics made from sustainable fibers as often as possible, including organic cotton, Modal, Tencel, Viscose, and regenerated nylon and recycled polyesters. We print digitally to help reduce water and chemical waste. We prioritize and work with dyes and chemical companies that are eco-conscious. We’re transitioning into compostable and recyclable packaging in everything from poly bags to stickers to boxes to our hang tags. As a member of the Sustainable Apparel Coalition, we’re committed to using and helping to develop the Higg Index, a self-assessment tool that measures
environmental, social, and labor impacts, helping brands identify areas for improvement.

We try to have conversations with our customers, to give them accessible information so that they can be on this journey with us and can hopefully start asking the same from other brands. We ask consumers to wear more and wash less, to hold onto clothes much longer than a season or two, and to question the relationship society has with clothing.

In our most recent Spring 2018 collection, all cotton in both Ready to Wear and Swim is GOTS certified cotton fabric. We’ve introduced hemp, one of the more sustainable fibers because it doesn’t require irrigation or pesticides and actually replenishes soil quality, making it a great companion crop for farmers. We’ve also partnered with Lenzing to be one of the first brands to use Refibra, a blend of cotton waste and Tencel. We’re excited because it means that we don’t have to extract more raw materials, lowering our impact on natural resources.

It sounds and feels like a lot, but we’ve still got a long way ahead of us.

You’ve talked about how having your son changed the way you looked at business and the idea of sustainability, can you talk more on that?

I think there was a lot that contributed to my relationship to the work I am doing and the industry as a whole. It’s not a good feeling to learn about how your industry has been harming this environment and the people living in it, but it’s necessary. It took understanding to see why change was needed.
Simultaneously, I was realizing that my three year-old, Joaquin, this beautiful and loving human being, was going to have to take on everything that we were leaving behind. I want to be a partner and an ally with every person that is working to mitigate our negative environmental impact, whether that’s the people that came before me, my team, the people coming after us, or my son.

On your site it says “Now that we’ve been on this road for a while we have realized that we are always at the beginning.” How hard is that for you as a brand to realize how much work it will always be?

The fact that it will be a forever journey to change the impact of this industry hits hard for me. But, it helps us remember that we can’t slow down after just one breakthrough. It pushes us to keep hustling, keep questioning, keep asking for more options, and to keep asking for more from our customers; it keeps us loud and alive and constantly moving. Stagnation doesn’t allow for change and the idea that there’s no end-of- the-road keeps us going forward.

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