Maggie Marilyn Spring 2021 Ready-to-Wear

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Maggie Marilyn Hewitt has checked nearly every box in the “sustainable brand” criteria. She only uses organic, recycled, or sustainable materials; she avoids fur and leather; she visits New Zealand sheep farms to confirm the wool is sheared from happy, non-mulesed sheep; she ships her clothes in dissolvable bags made of cassava root; she holds her manufacturing partners to strict labor codes; and she’s aligned her strategy with 12 of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, or SDGs. This year, she’s even rolling out a take-back program for her organic basics line, Somewhere, so worn-out garments can be collected and upcycled into new ones.

It all coalesces under her brand’s mission statement: to use fashion to create a better world. But for all of that dreamy idealism—and Hewitt often describes herself as a dreamer—she’s also a hardcore realist. Much of fashion’s impact comes down to the less-romantic stuff that happens behind the scenes, like textile production, factory emissions, and shipping. She’s the first to say we aren’t going to save the planet with recycled polyester; in fact, what she’s most excited about now isn’t a buzzy new fabric or technique, but simply changing the way she does business.

Since her launch in 2016, Hewitt’s biggest challenge was reconciling her forward-thinking ambitions with an industry that’s in many ways stuck in the past. The disconnect was particularly jarring in her wholesale relationships, with stores asking for more and more product, much of it put on sale or never sold, inevitably leading to waste and inefficiencies. So in 2020, she took her business direct-to-consumer, exiting high-profile retailers like Net-a-Porter, Nordstrom, and Saks Fifth Avenue. At the time, when I asked if the wholesale model itself was inhibiting sustainability—not just for Hewitt, but for all designers—her response was a blunt “absolutely.”

Fall 2021 marks her first ready-to-wear collection since, and the shift has proved invigorating. “I fell in love with designing product again,” she said, “and designing real products for real women—not designing collections for companies.” She opened her first store in Auckland, where she’s able to connect directly with her local clients and understand what they want, rather than dictate what they need. Hewitt is also passionate about retooling the transactional brand-customer relationship, and views those customers more as “citizens and stakeholders” than consumers. Through events and panels she’s hosted in the store, she’s been encouraged to see her customers forge real friendships and build that fabled “community” designers are always hoping for. “The brand has become a conduit for like-minded individuals,” she adds, inspiring conversations and changes beyond the clothing itself.

Of course, it’s the clothes that count. With her Somewhere line of organic tanks, button-downs, jeans, and leggings as her foundation Hewitt’s ready-to-wear collections now function as capsules for bolder statement pieces. That might sound more radical than what Hewitt showed here; many of the pieces were still quite minimal, and Hewitt is generally feeling a more streamlined look. She understands the long-term benefit of creating clothes women will keep for years, not just a few seasons. (To wit, she refers to these as “Forever Capsules,” not seasonal flavors.) Here, bright shades of cayenne, daffodil, and lime lent a touch of novelty, while a checkerboard motif tweaked with hearts brought Hewitt’s signature whimsy.

A checkered tank style had a row of functional covered buttons from the neck down to the hem, so you could unhook them into a subtle (or not-so-subtle) slit or all the way up to the waist, the better to wear trousers underneath. The opening number, a sheer black organza gown with puffed-sleeves and shirring through the bust, was less everyday-wearable, but could become the party dress you reach for once we reemerge.

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