Citing Fashion’s Impossible Demands, Mara Hoffman Shutters Her Label

In an open letter published to her brand’s Instagram account, the defining name of sustainable womenswear in America revealed that her Spring 2024 collection will be her last, closing up shop just months after winning the CFDA’s Environmental Sustainability Award.

Credit (all images): Courtesy of Mara Hoffman

Last September, during New York Fashion Week, the New York Times got the industry talking with a feature that asked: “Should Making it in Fashion be This Hard?” The story detailed the struggles of Elena Velez, one of fashion’s up-and-coming “it” designers. With a CFDA Emerging Designer Award to her name, a celebrity roster including Rosalía, Solange, and Julia Fox, and a captivating runway show that jolted beleaguered editors from fashion week ennui, Velez seemed to have crossed the threshold from “making it” to “made it.” Yet on the day of her Times interview, a $400 order brought Velez’s checking account from a -$30 balance to $370. In fashion, even with all the right power players on the designer’s side, the industry itself can seem to conspire against all efforts to cultivate a path to sustainable growth.

On Sunday, Mara Hoffman, who has spent the past 24 years paving the way for environmentally sustainable fashion, announced that industry forces had come crashing in on her own reality and that she would close up shop. Far from an up-and-comer, Hoffman has been a symbol of fearless ingenuity in the face of an industry that forces independent makers to operate on a basis of hairline margins, overproduction, and exploitative labor. For her label’s entire lifetime, she’s shunned outside investment. Beginning in 2014, she added petrochemical fibers like polyester to the list, which eventually grew to include wholesale retailing and its inherent overproduction, as well as supply chain practices that precluded Fair Trade certification.

Soon enough, she was playing an active role in shaping legislation to reform the American fashion industry from its home base in New York, all the while educating her customer base on how to shop with their clothes’ longevity in mind. Six months ago, those efforts seemingly culminated in two major milestones for her: the CFDA Award and the release of her Nyssa dress. The first-of-its-kind garment was the result of a collaboration between Hoffman and textile company Circ, which had cracked the code on how to recycle fabrics made from blended fibers. The dress, made from recycled cotton and polyester, was infinitely recyclable with Circ’s process. “It… feels hopeful and signifies that people want to participate in this piece of history in the making,” she told Surface at the time.

So, what happened? A recent Vogue interview revealed that she mulled over the decision to “let go” for several years. In retrospect, the closing of the brand’s Hudson and Lafayette Street boutiques hinted that change, perhaps of great proportion, was in the air.

“For anyone in this industry, specifically within the sustainability movement, you are aware that it has been far from easy on so many levels,” Hoffman wrote in the letter posted to her Instagram on Sunday. “We have been fighting for what feels like a long time to make this vision and model work in an industry that I believe deep down in its heart wants to heal and become better. But at the end of the day, its structure is archaic and was never built to prioritize Earth and its inhabitants. It’s no secret that its ‘success’ is still bound to harm, unchecked growth and extraction in so many ways. Although I am choosing to redirect my participation, I remain hopeful that there is potential for positive change.”


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