Working with Maggie Marilyn

On a Wednesday evening at the start of November Maggie Hewitt, designer and founder of Maggie Marilyn (MM), announced to those in attendance that after 4 years of business as a fashion brand they would no longer be selling their garments to wholesalers, only direct to customers – they would no longer be following the global fashion industry’s “seasons”, instead designing and creating unique pieces (titled Forever) in their own time – they were launching another new line (Somewhere Sport) with 100% traceability and designed for a circular system, able to be composted or recycled – and they have opened their very first store, located in Britomart, Auckland. 

These announcements were sooned followed via their communications channels with further news that they would no longer be putting any garments on sale.

“On average, from farm to finding you, your Maggie Marilyn has connected with at least 6 separate companies. The hard work of these countless individuals doesn’t de-value over time, therefore neither should your clothing.”

Maggie Marilyn

Having worked with Maggie Marilyn for over 2 years through our Part-Time Sustainability Manger service it was a flurry of very rewarding announcements for us as well. 

If you aren’t aware of the massive social and environmental degradation the fashion industry is responsible for globally then you’ve been living under a rock or you really are well out of touch with the state of our world (now might be a good time to do a little research). 

What excites us the most about this is not just that MM are changing their entire business model to achieve their circular, regenerative and inclusive mission but the impact it will have on the global fashion industry, and the New Zealand business coimmunity. Some may think it was too much change at once, but MM realise we are living in a time when we are being told by the world’s climate scientists that we“require rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society” to limit global warming to 1.5°C. And MM aren’t waiting around for others to fix the crisis. 

From the moment we first started working with MM we were enchanted by their commitment, imagination, and determination to use their platform to create a better world. We sat them down (a team of 8 at the time) and gave them our ‘Intro to Sustainability’ presentation and then asked them what their current state of business was and what their vision and goals were for MM. Or in sustainability talk, what was their “desired state”. 

From the outset they were very open about their desire to care for everyone in their supply chain, be completely transparent about the business operations (every garment on their website lists where the fabrics came from and who made them), and be trailblazers that impacted and influenced the industry to change drastically.  

The result of our first whiteboard session with Maggie Marilyn. 

Following this, we drafted their first-ever sustainability strategy that set them specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timely (SMART) targets to reach their goals. We then went through the process of refining this draft to land on the final document which you can read here

This strategy has been my northern star, even at times when I have felt as though I am driving in the dark, it has been there reminding me of why I am on this journey. We have no choice, our industry must change.

– Maggie Hewitt

Although MM had a strong understanding of the social impacts of fashion supply chains such as modern-day slavery, brands canceling and / or not paying for orders, sexual harassment, and discrimination they were less clued up on the environmental crisis we are facing and the impacts and influence they could have on those. But a shared quality of the MM team we have always found so admirable is their willingness and openness to learn.

It was this willingness that ultimately lead them to the realisation that to truly be “sustainable” (able to be sustained) that the fashion industry, and the global economy, had to become circular.

The natural systems of the planet that ensure there is life can quite simply not sustain the continual extraction of resources and dumping, and polluting, of materials – the linear model we have inherited. 

With this learning came an even stronger conviction from MM to be bold and brave in their decision making. The realisaiton that the planet is so damaged that just sustaining our current state isn’t enough, we have to repair and regenerate our natural environments, lead to MM committing to becoming a business that is not just “sustainable”, but has a regenerative impact. 

On top of all this, with 2020 being a year that has brought to the forefront the struggles for many to still be treated equally despite their race, religion, sexuality, gender, age, and physical ability MM felt they had much to do to ensure their business was not inadvertently contributing to discrimaiton. This brought about the construction of their Diversity and Inclusion Policy despite it not being part of their strategy. It was just the right thing to do. We contributed to its construction and it was an incredibly eye-opening and rewarding process to be involved with. 

Hence their stated mission now being “to transform the fashion industry to one that is transparent, circular, regenerative and inclusive”,  and purpose “use fashion to create a better world”.

It’s important to note that these announcements and their well defined purpose and missions came after 2 years of continual improvement, problem solving, honest conversations, courage, and ultimately a redesign. 

It was this time last year that Maggie announced the launch of their Somewhere range. A range of “everyday essentials” that were affordable, traceable, and capable of being recycled or composted. 

It came from learning that for a garment to be viable to recycle in today’s world (anything can be recycled it just all depends on the economics of it) it needed to be made of one material. Blending fabrics made it worthless to any recyclers. 

So Maggie and her team designed a range that used only one of three materials (organic cotton, organic linen, recycled nylon, and merino wool). They also made the Somewhere range a direct to customer model due to the continued struggles with their wholesalers not joining them on their mission.

It was the success of this bold decision that ultimately gave Maggie the confidence that the rest of the business could go the same way. 

And so here we are at the end of the most disruptive and challenging year any business could ever have imagined, that so brutally showed business as usual has to change, and change quickly – with a young New Zealand fashion brand leading the way.

And don’t for a second think the MM team are done. We are currently in the process of finalising their second sustainability strategy as the first one comes to its expiry date (you can read their halfway update here – released early this year), with the really fun stuff about to kick off. How do we ensure not a single MM garment ends up in a landfill, furnace, or polluting the environment? How do we ensure that every interaction the business has with the natural world has a regenerative impact? How do we reduce carbon emissions? How do we ensure the growing team is diverse and inclusive? And how do we do all this while ensuring the business remains financially sustainable? 

Well you might just have to wait for another announcement. 

It’s not what you do, it’s who you are.

– Maggie Marilyn   

As we reflect on our time working with MM and the success they have had some key qualities shine out. 

  • Leadership – Maggie leads her team with courage and conviction while remaining humble, generous, and open-minded with an incredible thirst for knowledge. 
  • Teamwork and Culture – Maggie Marilyn is an incredible team who have worked hard to get the business to this position while always remaining committed to improving and open to change. They have created a warm, and fun culture where everyone is proudly themselves. 
  • Commitment – We visit MM every fortnight as part of our Part-Time Sustainability Manager service to advise and guide them through their strategy. Over the two years perhaps twice they have rescheduled those meetings. “Sustainability” was always their purpose, not a “need to have”. 
  • Problem-solving – The journey to date has been riddled with challenges and things not going to plan. There have been many times when other business may have simply said “too hard” but the MM team have excelled at finding solutions to their obstacles.
  • Communication – MM want to be more than just a fashion brand, they want to help influence the shift to a circular, regenerative, and inclusive world. They spend a lot of time and resource using their platform to engage and educate their various stakeholders, often about complex topics, in an authentic and transparent way. 
  • Transparency, authenticity, and vulnerability – they are uncompromisingly themselves, knowing they are shaking long-held beliefs and ways of doing things within the fashion world while hiding nothing. 

We are at a truly pivotal moment in history. This isn’t just about fashion. Here and now is where we decide what the world will look like for future generations. We must adapt to a changing world. We must choose to be better than those before us. We must know our purpose and we must do everything in our power to be the change we wish to see in the world.

–  Maggie Hewitt

Nick Morrison

Founder / Director

Go Well Consulting