Lady Spent: Mara Hoffman

Ethically-made products for ethically-minded women.

Brand: Mara Hoffman

Product(s): women’s apparel

Price: from $125

Eco / Ethical: ethically made to last

Changing how I shopped was something that happened slowly yet quickly. I had this lightning bolt realization about quality and responsibility at some point in my twenties that changed me, but several years later, I’m still figuring out how to live a reasonable life within my ideals. It’s a process, and I’m learning, and I tend to think (hope) that in this case, effort counts as much as execution.

I talk a lot about designers that – somewhat like me – left their corporate worlds to start something new, in an effort to be more sustainable, or closer to the process. But what if you had already built your dream company when you had your lightning bolt moment? Then what? It’s not that often that we hear someone say, “oh shit, I’ve been doing this wrong, and I’m sorry.”

But that’s exactly what Mara Hoffman did. Hoffman has long been known for her fun, vibrant collections. I coveted her pieces, but they had a typical ready-to-wear model, without a clear focus on responsibility or sustainability, so I never bought anything. Then, a few years ago, Hoffman had her own realization about the fashion industry and decided to make some changes. She considered shutting her brand down, but her production manager convinced her that they could change, slowly but in a way that would matter.

I’ll admit to being a bit skeptical when I first read about the changes that were coming to the line. As so many brands have (mis)appropriated the buzzwords of conscious consumption, we as customers have to do even more to avoid green-washing. But after watching Hoffman over the last few years, I have to say I’m genuinely impressed.

The brand has taken a tactical approach – and is honest about it. I love that they admit that sustainability wasn’t always their focus, and how they hold themselves accountable, listing their goals and practices on their website for anyone to read and question. They are approaching the problem from all angles, and making progress season after season. And the clothes themselves? Still beautiful, still fun, and now, even more special.

It takes a lot to start over. To risk alienating hard-earned customers and losing business. But if we truly want to change the industry, the incumbents will have to change, and I’m happy to see Mara Hoffman lead the way.

Rita Mehta shops for a living and talks a lot. She launched her website, The American Edit, and podcast, Why Do We Have Things? so she’d have a place to talk about some of the things she’s most passionate about: American made design, responsible manufacturing, and conscious consumption. You can follow her on Instagram or Twitter.