Mara Hoffman gathered fashion fiber and climate enthusiasts for a lighthearted yet stimulating conversation at her Lafayette Street store.
It was the first time the contemporary designer had hosted an industry talk at her incense-scented, plant-filled retail store that opened last year, as previous gatherings took on a more intimate atmosphere for fireplace chats with artists. The certified carbon neutral brand has been a dedicated and vocal advocate in the sustainability community for a number of years, when Hoffman decided to realign their company’s mission.
Dana Davis, Mara Hoffman’s vice president of sustainability, moderated the session billed as “Climate Beneficial,” which featured Chantelle Davis, a new designer and founder of the label Boe Davis; Liz Alessi, a coach brand and sustainability consultant; Stacie Chavez, President of Imperial Yarn; and Laura Sansone, founder of the New York Textile Lab.
For many of the panelists, the chat was an opportunity to reflect on their careers and sustainability progress. “For the first time in my entire fashion career, I can say that I feel comfortable in my job,” Alessi said, describing how easy it is to take sustainability ideas — including using materials like seaweed leather — right to the top now that she’s something of an outside sustainability consultant and no longer in Coach’s procurement department. In her case, she speaks directly to Coach’s creative director, Stuart Vevers. (Though the seaweed material isn’t announced in any Coach bags just yet, it’s a glimpse of things to come, especially as Vevers puts circularity at the heart of the American brand).
While Coach isn’t perfect, the Tapestry-owned brand has committed to sourcing 90 percent of its leather from gold- and silver-rated leather tanneries and using regenerative leather by 2025.
Chantelle Davis, founder of the label Boe Davis, is also driven by a similar fiber motivation. “I wanted to stop being so disinterested in clothes,” she said. “The polyester that was mixed into everything was never really to our advantage.” She is committed to natural fibers and local manufacturing.
During the discussion, New York Textile Lab founder Laura Sansone sought to convey the importance of bioregional ecosystems, or the fibrous scale systems within a 300-mile radius, which represent unique growth constraints and capacities.
For her, fibers represent a “growth logic” that allows new ideas to seep through and creates added value for the end user in the end product. But consumers need to know the special story behind it. An example? “Tick leather,” as she noted, sounds questionable but is actually the result of minor imperfections in the hides (or farm life) affected by ticks. “Doesn’t that make it nuanced and special? Doesn’t that connect it with the country?” Sansone asked.
But being special comes with a price shock for now, until the system gets behind new projects like “C4,” a cotton sourcing initiative by Reformation, Fibershed and others, which Stacie Chavez, president of Imperial Yarn and partner at Fibershed, mentioned to, when she spoke about the reasons why climate-friendly products deserve more in the industry.
For over five years, fibershed in the US has been verifying climate-friendly wool and sourcing it from land managers who improve carbon removal through farming practices that regenerate soil health. Mara Hoffman, for example, uses the wool for her knitwear.
“Are we more expensive? We are, but we pay our ranchers more,” Chavez said. “Our ranchers deserve a bonus for maintaining these carbon farms. We’re doing a good job. The greatest compliment I’ve ever received is [when] One of my ranchers called me and said, “You know, wool is on our balance sheet now. It works. We actually made money with our wool this year.”