Nov 01, 2023
by Karl Smith
Mara Hoffman’s Recyclable Dress Changes Everything. Here’s How.
by Karl Smith
Nov 01, 2023

Sustainability isn’t just about where something came from or how it got here, it’s also about where it goes. Not only in terms of air miles – although, certainly, those are important – but also beyond that, past retail and beyond a garment’s time with the its owner, right through to where it ends up at the end of its life.

Technically, what we’re talking about here is circularity – a wholistic approach to production that takes in the full lifecycle of a product – it’s billed as something separate, but “sustainability” as a concept doesn’t really work without it now that we understand how vital circular systems are.

Does it return to the earth from whence it came? Or, instead, is it designed to be recycled and re-used? These are the questions facing designers now when they make their material choices. And they’re questions that matter.

No stranger to breaking ground, Mara Hoffman seems to understand this better than most and has been working with next-generation materials for longer than some brands seem to have known what that term means, exactly. Having released a bio-based swimsuit back at the tail-end of 2022 – a two-piece, crafted from the wood pulp-derived Pyratex Power 3 – Hoffman became the first designer to use a non-nylon and polyester material for a swim line and set a new standard for more sustainable, planet-friendlier swimwear. Her latest work, however, is all about the land.

“We’re so excited that together with Circ we have created this dress, which signifies what the future of fashion should be. Sustainability is at the core of our brand, and we wanted to create a very special, limited edition dress to show our customers just how significant this collaboration is.” – Dana Davis, VP of Sustainability, Product and Business Strategy at Mara Hoffman

Partnering with the Virginia-based materials science and engineering company Circ, Hoffman has – for the second year in a row now – produced another world first: a dress. Okay, not just a dress. A dress that is not only made from Lyocell – itself created from 50 percent recycled textile waste – but which, at the end of its life (whenever that may be), can be returned to Circ and turned into new garments using the innovator’s low-impact process.

To circle back for a second, though: Where we said this isn’t “just a dress,” we glossed over something important. The fact is, this garment is a dress – it looks like a dress, it functions like a dress, it fits and feels like a dress. And this, too, is groundbreaking in its way – slotting in seamlessly with Hoffman’s other garment offerings, the collaborative product doesn’t stick out or announce itself in any obvious way. Only a digital care label, printed with a QR code leading its new owner the to a full sustainability breakdown gives the game away.

In short, avoiding a regular criticism of materially-innovative clothing, it’s entirely wearable.

This should go without saying, but there is no cause to create clothing in 2023 that either can’t be worn or which people aren’t likely to want to wear. At best, it’s posturing, and at worst it’s wilfully destructive. Which also neatly brings us to another fact about Mara Hoffman’s Circ dress: only thirty-five were made.

“We are committed to working with next generation fibers across our collections with the goal of moving away from relying on natural resources, like trees. Circ was the perfect partner to accomplish this, as they are a real solution to an overarching problem when it comes to fashion and textile waste.” – Dana Davis, VP of Sustainability, Product and Business Strategy at Mara Hoffman

Now, if you’re thinking, “What’s the point? At that scale, surely this isn’t enough to make any kind of lasting impact?”, that’s not an entirely irrelevant thought. When brands like Nike or adidas release an Earth-friendlier shoe as part of a small-scale collaboration or as part of a very limited sub-label run, these products can feel gestural and empty – especially when measured against everything else those corporate giants are pumping out.

But, also, consider this: Mara Hoffman is a wholly independent business – it’s not part of a group and receives no outside investment. This dress hasn’t been releases in parallel to a thousand other products with completely different standards. Quite the opposite. Hoffman has been focusing energy on this release since first meeting with Circ five years ago, taking a risk to pour time and energy and money into something entirely new.

“When we met Circ five years ago, we immediately knew that we would collaborate on a project together. It has been incredible to work together to create a material that is elevated and luxurious; their innovation has the ability to change the way all fashion designers source their fabrics and we hope the collaboration will inspire others.” – Dana Davis, VP of Sustainability, Product and Business Strategy at Mara Hoffman.

That there are only 35 of these garments does not speak to a lack of commitment, but rather to total commitment and totality of vision: regardless of their lower impact material construction, to create thousands of these dresses would pander to consumption a scale that is wholly in opposition to what the dress represents. To create 35 dresses, made to be worn and kept and appreciated over time as a piece of clothing, a piece of art and a piece of history, however, makes perfect sense.

The fact, too, that the gown – dubbed, by the way, “The Dress That Changes Everything” – is available only at the Mara Hoffman store in SoHo, having been cut and sewn in Hoffman’s New York studio, speaks to just how thoroughly each detail has been considered: as a finished product, the dress will not rack up a single mile of air or ground travel (although, of course, potentially its scarcity might draw buyers in to travel from a greater distance than usual).

“Not only are we looking at our own impact reductions from this partnership, but we are also hoping this signals to the industry that we must all commit to working with these new textile innovators if we are truly serious about lessening the many negative impacts this industry has on the environment and on people and to heed the call to action to work to a more sustainable future together.” – Dana Davis, VP of Sustainability, Product and Business Strategy at Mara Hoffman.

While it’s possible to mount a critique of the dress based on its price tag – if, for some reason, you were so inclined – then, perhaps there is room to say that this garment is “exclusionary.” But the truth is, while it won’t be in everyone’s price range, it’s no different to the RRP of some other Mara Hoffman gowns currently on the market and considerably less than garments by other brands that are trading solely on name and eschewing innovation entirely.

This, however, is something new. This is something better. This is, if nothing else, something worth investing in.

The Mara Hoffman x Circ “Dress That Changes Everything” is available now, in person at Mara Hoffman SoHo, priced at $1195 USD.