Few conscious labels have impacted the international fashion scene with the buzz and attention of Maggie Marilyn, the eponymous label from 22-year-old Auckland graduate Maggie Hewitt, launched in late 2016.
The term “overnight success” is oft overused and misplaced, but in Hewitt’s case it’s a fitting descriptor. The Whitecliffe University fashion graduate’s first collection was quickly praised by retailers and press during Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Australia, most notably scoring a global online exclusive with Net-a-Porter – the only time the influential retailer has ever bought a designer’s inaugural collection. With many pieces selling out within 48 hours of launching on the site, the label’s meteoric rise was confirmed.
Hewitt’s conscious backbone is something the designer has cultivated from the beginning of her university studies. “My whole graduate collection at Whitecliffe was ethical and sustainable so a lot of the fabric suppliers I use now, for example, I found when I was at university. It’s definitely not something you can do easily, but being ethical and sustainably produced is really important to me and the brand,” Hewitt says.
The Maggie Marilyn approach marries numerous concerns, balancing care for the environment, humans and animals. Hearing Hewitt explain the importance of each practise demonstrates both her purpose and passion. “Being made in New Zealand is the first thing. I know everyone, from the sample machinists to the cutters, individually. I know the working conditions; I go there at least once a week. Having that really special relationship and connection to the makers is really important.”
The use of ethical fabrics is another side to the label that brings its own challenges and rewards. All silks for example, are sourced from wild silk cocoons rather than from animals farmed in small boxes. “They literally go out into the jungle and harvest the cocoon, they’re just sitting there and the moths have already flown away instead of being killed whilst they’re still growing.” Leathers used are by-products from the meat industry, obtained from small producers with animal welfare in mind. “I’m not a vegetarian so I’m not opposed to using leather, but it’s really important for me to know the living conditions of those animals,” she says.
Cotton is another fabric with huge social and environmental implications that Hewitt is keen to help clean up. “Our hoodies and T-shirts are produced using organic cotton – there’s this crazy statistic that something like 250 farmers kill themselves every month in India because of genetically modified seeds, which don’t re-germinate, so the farmers have to re-buy the seeds every month and it’s financially crippling for them. They also only get half the crop they used to so they don’t earn as much money each season. It’s also nice using organic cotton because of the health implications of pesticides on cotton industry workers, and for protecting the environment because the pesticides are ruining the topsoil and getting into the local water table.”
Conscious clothing for Hewitt doesn’t begin and end with sourcing issues. Clever design plays an equally strong role, and is something that guides her ethos. “I’m passionate about fabric manipulations that use offcuts and waste from the collection,” she explains. “For the first season I used laser cut circles from the remnants of white silk from the collection, so there was no waste. For the second collection there’s pleated ruffles that use up all the little bits of waste fabric. That’s something from a design perspective that for me is really fun and exciting.”
Slow fashion is another principle Hewitt adheres to, avoiding trends and disposability, using quality fabrics and construction, and ensuring each season works harmoniously together. “It’s all just this beautiful collective wardrobe that you’re building that’s hopefully still beautiful in 10 to 15 years.”