Mara Hoffman’s Exit is a Wake-Up Call For Fashion

Mara Hoffman’s Exit is a Wake-Up Call For Fashion

After 24 years in business, Mara Hoffman, the CDFA’s 2023 Environmental Sustainability Award Winner, is closing her eponymous brand. The costs of operating sustainably while scaling an independently owned label became too challenging. She told Vogue in an exclusive interview, “...the reality is that the demands that are on a small company financially make it almost impossible to be privately held and run after a certain point.”

While this decision is a huge loss for style experts, sustainable shoppers, and fans of the viral “popcorn” dress, can we blame her for making her Spring 2024 collection her last? Price tags have soared to staggering levels for both the brand and consumers. With the continued operation of fast-fashion brands fueling the toxic cycle of instant style to instant waste– the consumer distinction between quality and quantity has become blurred.

Everything is more expensive now, especially for the Mara Hoffmans of fashion, who have completely rebuilt their supply chains. The designer founded her label in 2000 after graduating from Parsons in New York City. Over the next decade, Hoffman would become a namesake in resort wear, and her punchy designs and patterned swimwear would be seen on the New York City It girls. 

Photos courtesy of Mara Hoffman

Like any good designer, her brand evolved as she did. In 2015, the company altered its approach and reconstructed itself on a sustainable framework. This new framework encompassed innovative design and manufacturing methods, ethical fabric and material choices, and greater involvement in social justice causes.

She became a pioneering designer in sustainability because she understood its weight and complexity. Viewing sustainability as a framework or a series of guiding principles allowed independent designers like herself to focus on bringing about genuine transformation and influence in their craft. 

It was no surprise that in 2023, she was announced the third recipient of the CDFA Fashion Award for Environmental Sustainability, following Patagonia and the United Nations. The announcement of her brand’s closing came just six months after the awards, and it is devastating at a time when fashion needs her morals and ideas the most. 

Photo courtesy of Refinery29

“The loss of the brand is being felt by the whole industry,” says Maxine Bédat, founder of the New Standard Institute. “This fact also starkly highlights the very real business challenges that companies trying to do the right thing face. Without common-sense rules in place, it is simply impossible to compete in the marketplace and do the right thing.”

The news about Hoffman, a TikTok video on where to get the best dupe appearing in my feed every five scrolls, and my not-so-guilty confession that I’d rather not spend $600 on a dress I might only wear a few times this summer has me thinking. We may live in an era dominated by micro trends and fast fashion, but today’s style mirrors our global reality.

The answer is “value.” Customers want value, and brands want their customers to pay for it. As simple as this may sound, it is a hard code to crack in today’s fashion and economic climate. Our concepts of “value” differ, and commitment remains one of the biggest setbacks in fashion purchasing. I don’t have a solution; at Tulerie, we never want to exhaust ourselves trying to come up with one. However, we have a few ideas or tips to consider when purchasing next. Our impact may be small, but it still leaves an impact. 

1. Buy less, choose well

If you have to ask yourself if you really need that new dress for vacation, the answer is probably not. For some, the $600 dress is the right investment; for others, it’s the $200 dress. Regardless, carefully considering the purchase—its timelessness and versatility—is crucial.

2. Lend and borrow more

Borrowing delivers the satisfaction of something “new” and trendy while being non-committal. For your purchases, buy with the intention of listing to justify the price.

3. Cost per wear

Calculate the cost per wear to understand the true value of a garment. Higher upfront costs often translate to longevity. The Tulerie community can also help you expand that cost per wear. 

4. Know who you are shopping with

Lastly, prioritize those brands that are transparent about their supply chains, labor practices, and environmental impact. Fashion needs more brands like Mara Hoffman.

-As always, elevate your wardrobe with respected fashion and embrace the shift in style.