In Conversation with Designer Mara Hoffman
We talk with the Parsons graduate and champion of sustainability about finding her place in New York, the path to conscious design, and the power of collaboration.
Mara Hoffman first moved to New York for college at Parsons School of Design in 1995. “I knew early on that I wanted to be a designer so I spent my time in high school focusing on that and creating a portfolio to apply to design schools,” she says.
She always knew New York City was her “place” and the city where she would find the most inspiration. At Parsons, she thrived in a disciplined environment and was able to learn new skills and expand her creativity. Hoffman says being in New York at that time was “so much fun”—particularly the club scene and the creative self-expression that was attached to it. “Fashion was FUN, weird and anything went.” She went on to launch her own label after graduating and has been making clothes ever since. Here we speak with Hoffman about launching her label, being a sustainable designer, and the inspiration behind her latest collection.
When did you launch your own label and how has it evolved since then?
I “launched” my label the summer I graduated from Parsons in 1999. I had been making clothes throughout my school years and had started to sell one-of-a-kind pieces my senior year. I knew after graduating that taking a more traditional path into the industry (i.e. getting a job designing at an established brand) was not for me. My company really began organically as I sold one-of-a-kind pieces I made by hand in my studio apartment. The brand has evolved A LOT over the past 22 years, with quite a few rebirths and different iterations. In our 15th year of business, we made the shift toward a “sustainable” framework. I feel that the past seven years have in a way been the most definitive in shaping what we will be in the future. We have committed ourselves to work that takes into consideration the wellbeing of the planet, humans, and all living things; this company goes beyond just designing and manufacturing because without preserving and protecting the earth and all of its inhabitants then there is no future to strive for. It’s easier said than done, of course, but that’s our ethos.
What does being a responsible, sustainable designer today mean to you?
It means choosing the path of less harm and making the best choices each step of the way. It also means acknowledging that sometimes those choices are about the lesser of two evils. It means taking ownership of our impact and doing everything we can to lessen it. It means taking care of the people in our web and beyond.
How do you stay committed to racial and social justice?
We stay committed by keeping ourselves in the constant work of it, holding ourselves accountable, checking and rechecking, learning and unlearning. For me, it means that when defensiveness or wanting to look away rears its head then that is the exact direction I must lean into. It’s about owning my responsibility for the past, and ownership of the present and future in showing up and being vocal AND active. This company needs to rally and rage while holding people with love and kindness. I’m not sure the word “commitment” describes this because it’s about survival; survival of women, BIPOC, the Queer community, and all of their intersections. Commitment to those lives is our justice work.
What do you wish to see more of from the fashion industry in New York?
We need to see more collaboration, collectivism to push legislation that protects those most at risk from the harm of this industry, more care and consideration of the impact that we make as a whole, and more access to those who have been marginalized and continue to be oppressed and overseen by the corruptive systems in place. We need to hear less talk and see more walk.
What are your favorite places to go to in New York and why?
I love to walk the Williamsburg bridge, the art at Hannah Traore Gallery on the Lower East Side, the vintage shopping at Le Grand Strip in Williamsburg, and hanging out at our new flagship store in SoHo!
What inspired your latest collection? How did you approach this one differently than past ones?
I feel all of our collections are a continuation of each other. This current one is really about celebrating the warmth and joy that the summer months elicit, and yet as reproductive rights of women and nonbinary folks have just been stripped and the lives of Black and brown folks are now even more jeopardized and targeted by the overturning of Roe, tapping into these feelings is beyond difficult.
WORDS Sara Radin
PHOTOGRAPHY Courtesy of Mara Hoffman