By Maggie Hewitt
Reflecting on Maggie Marilyn’s journey over the past five years, it still surprises me that some of the toughest days in our business have also become some of our brand’s biggest moments as well as some of my proudest. When I founded MM in 2016, I envisioned a business that made it possible for people and the planet to thrive: A transparent supply chain where workers were paid fairly and treated with dignity and respect. Where clothing was repaired, repurposed or recycled, not discarded to landfill. Where decreasing atmospheric carbon and increasing biodiversity through regenerative farming was not only possible but commonplace. But most of all, I imagined a future where climate responsible fashion was accessible to not just a privileged few, but the majority. But four years in, we found ourselves fully immersed in the notoriously ruthless and rigorous fashion industry cycle and I found myself increasingly disconnected. Maggie Marilyn was experiencing huge growth, international acclaim and we were dressing people I’d only ever dreamed of seeing in my designs, but despite our brand’s determination to challenge industry norms and influence change, I could see Maggie Marilyn drifting further away from my original vision.
Having spent four seasons pushing our wholesale buyers to continue telling our sustainability story, by February 2018 they had started candidly saying, “Sustainability just isn’t important to our customers, Maggie. This isn’t a story we are ready to tell.” That was a fork in the road for me – I knew then that if I wanted to educate the women wearing my clothes on the importance of ethical, sustainable fashion, then wholesale was not our way forward: We needed direct communication with our customer. Put simply, exiting wholesale was the only way I could continue running this business of mine in good faith and twenty years from now I believe it will remain the single most important decision MM made on our mission to become circular and regenerative.
Today, the flow-on effect from that decision in 2020 continues to steer us in the right direction; the flexibility and time afforded to us by not needing to meet wholesale deadlines allowed us to increase our dependence on sea shipping – resulting in a decrease in our carbon emissions by 73% and making us New Zealand’s first carbon positive clothing brand. In other words, we can now accurately prove that Maggie Marilyn is having a regenerative impact on the planet. But there is no finish line; the nature of the climate and biodiversity crisis means we will always encounter new challenges and problems to solve. And I know we’re up for the fight.