This month I’m delighted to connect with Dana Davis, Vice President of Sustainability, Product and Business Strategy at Mara Hoffman, a brand that stands for more than just clothing. The company looks for ways to be an advocate for women’s rights, spirituality and the environment.
Mara’s strong voice and vision make her anything but conventional and her brand’s approach to sustainability is truly admirable. In 2015, the company began learning about and exploring alternative options in the apparel industry. Although they’re humble in saying that they have a long way to go, I’m continually inspired by their willingness to take on this tricky task head on and to continue to set goals for even greater levels of sustainability.
To start, how would you describe Mara Hoffman’s aesthetic and brand ethos to those who are not already familiar?
We’re committed to evoking beauty and joy. There’s a strong devotion to color and to the women who inspire us across our collections. Our intention is present in every step of the process, from design to production to how we communicate. We choose the best materials whenever possible, always evaluating our environmental impact and talking to our customer about it, asking them to hold us accountable and hold other brands accountable as well. In everything we do, we always aim to lead with love.
I realize that founder Mara Hoffman decided to shift the way the brand was manufacturing back in 2015. What triggered this change?
With a growing awareness of the fashion industry’s environmental impact came a growing awareness that we could no longer produce in the same way we had been. It became a change or close shop moment. We chose the former.
What were some of the first steps that you made to manufacture your clothes with greater care to reduce your impact?
We started by switching out some of our conventional fabrications for more sustainable materials and moved from wet printing to digital printing. It’s a constant process of evaluating our supply chain and approach, looking for next steps and learning from the ones we’ve already made.
What are some tips you have for others who want to manufacture their product in a more ethical and socially conscious way but may not be sure where to begin?
Start slowly. Begin by researching and reaching out. We could not have gotten to where we are today without the openness and support of others in the industry.
Start small. Look at the manageable initiatives you can implement. Is it switching fabrics? Changing the way you print? How can you design to minimize waste?
Don’t be afraid of trial and error. One of our greatest lessons was learning how to navigate authenticity, transparency and honesty. We shifted our business because we have a responsibility to this planet and its people. Some changes worked, some didn’t. We’re open about these and continue to move forward slowly but surely.
Do you find that marketing all the good that you do has led to greater sales?
This started as a moral inventory check for us; it was a change that came from the gut feeling that if we chose to stay in business as an apparel company then there were radical shifts we needed to make. The communication piece came later. Marketing sustainability is not a tool we use for sales. We speak about our efforts in order to educate others and to hopefully inspire our customers to take this into their own hands, to take action and hold other brands accountable as well. We’ve received some great feedback but it hasn’t dictated the trajectory of our business.
How did your clients first react to the shift? Do you think you were able to capture new clients because of it?
We received positive feedback from those already interested in the shift towards sustainability. We definitely captured new customers because of these changes but it was customers that had already made a commitment to only shopping responsibly, or from sustainable brands. We’re determined to get the attention of those not yet invested in sustainability but who might be interested in our work and that of like-minded brands. This is where the change happens.
How much of Mara’s line is currently made by artisans?
Approximately 10% of our 2018 offerings were made with artisans in some capacity.
How do you handle quality control with the artisans you work with?
Currently we are only working with artisans who have an agent overseeing their production. They also do on-the-ground quality control audits and are able to communicate these findings directly back to us.
From your perspective, what support do you think the artisan sector needs in order to be able to successfully work with brands like Mara Hoffman that have tight deadlines, short lead times, and a need to produce volume?
For artisan relationships to be mutually successful, we believe that they need true business management support from their partners. We believe that brands should assist with creating greater market access to help overcome some of the obstacles faced by different artisan groups.
Communication can also be a big hurdle for artisan partners, but with the right support, it’s manageable. In terms of deadlines or volume, we haven’t really hit any issues. When choosing our artisan partners, we worked to ensure that they were able to take on these requirements from the outset, which has led to really successful partnerships.
For more info, please visit: www.marahoffman.com