With One Dress, Mara Hoffman Raises the Bar for Fashion-Tech

The designer known for colorfully sophisticated womenswear built to last a lifetime is the first in the high-end fashion market to produce and sell a dress made of recycled cotton-polyester blended fabric, thanks to textile innovation company Circ.

Credit (all photos): Mara Hoffman

If Snapchat’s Spectacles, the metaverse, and Farfetch’s market cap swan dive are precedent, successfully using tech to disrupt the fashion industry is really hard. Even the truly innovative launches, like Ganni’s bacteria-grown cellulose alt-leather jacket created with Polybion and launched at this past summer’s Global Fashion Summit, typically debut before they’re ready to go to market. All that is to say nothing of the greenwashing techniques some brands employ as the lowest-effort way to chase clout for innovation. (We’re looking at you, petrochemical-based “vegan” leather.) Over the past eight years, New York–based designer Mara Hoffman and Dana Davis, her eponymous line’s vice president of sustainability, product, and business strategy, have taken a different approach.

They’ve made steady strides towards educating Hoffman’s consumer base on how to shop with care for the planet—and for the longevity of each popcorn dress, pair of billowy linen trousers, and puff-sleeve cotton sweater. Along the way, Hoffman has eliminated materials whose supply chains don’t live up to her commitment to transparency and sustainability. As much information as one could want about the brand’s manufacturing processes and factories, specs for materials and dyes, and labor standards is online for all to find. There, Hoffman admits that sustainability means different things to different people. It’s apparent that climate welfare means much to her, Davis, and the creative directors, gallerists, and editors who purchase Mara Hoffman clothing. How could it not, when they have spent nearly a decade explaining why it should?

Hoffman’s newest launch, the Nyssa dress, asks her customers—already used to paying at least $500 for an evening dress, $300 for a pair of trousers, and $1,000 for a double-breasted wool coat—to put their money where their mouth is. At $1,195, the dress is currently the most expensive style in the brand’s ready-to-wear collection and comes in at $200 more than the next-priciest frock. As the first garment created out of recycled cotton-polyester blended fabric and sold at a luxury price point, it also represents a revolution in fashion tech. Hoffman worked with textile innovation company Circ, which has a patented process for breaking down the blended fabrics many companies use for athleticwear, stretchy jeans, and shirts that can be machine-washed and tumble-dried with abandon. Thanks to Circ’s technology and Hoffman’s long-term vision, they can be separated, re-spun into new fabric, and used for the first time in designer fashion.

Hoffman created the Nyssa dress in a limited-edition collection of only 35 garments, and one size is already sold out. When reached for comment, she told Surface: “It feels great! It also feels hopeful and signifies that people want to participate in this piece of history in the making. If they are taking the time to learn about the dress, then yes, they absolutely care about what all of it means. Because this dress sits on the higher end of our price point, our customer is being thoughtful about this investment and they have a deep understanding of what brings value to this dress beyond its aesthetic.”

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