Happy Clothes for Practical People

Mara Hoffman has become a reliable and sustainable go-to for fun, functional fashion gold.



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IN LIFE, THERE are big fashion questions: Where do I find an outfit for a wedding? Who designs swimwear that will make me feel good about myself? What should I wear to a job interview? One name consistently features in the answers: Mara Hoffman. Go to any cool, buzzy event in New York City, and there’s a good chance that a smashingly dressed person will confirm that their outfit is Mara Hoffman. Since launching in 2000, Hoffman has developed her brand into a kind of stylish safe haven. Her popular bathing suits add a dash of playfulness to the often-fraught category, and the unexpected patterns, cuts, and shoulders of her vibrant garments impart an aura of fascination. In short, Hoffman makes clothes that women are actually happy to wear.

“Practicality is a beautiful word, and I don't think that it has to be separate from artful and exciting. I want people to be able to live a life in these things,” Hoffman says. “There’s something about the clothes that you are noticed in. You get complimented a lot. It creates a feeling for the wearer. Stronger, sexier, more confident, whatever it is. Someone says, ‘Wow, what an interesting dress.’ There’s your conversation. It’s begun.”



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Of late, it’s her so-called “popcorn” style that is sparking conversation, a look so omnipresent it’s inspired think pieces in various fashion magazines. The popcorn series is a colorful mix-and-match assortment of mid-length dresses, cropped tanks, and pencil skirts, all form-fitting but forgiving, and made from a sweetly crinkled 100% Tencel Modal. It’s comfortable yet chic, formal or casual — depending on how you wear it — and sensuous without being overly clingy. “People just respond to it,” Hoffman says. “It is, first of all, intriguing. It really can fit so many body types. We go up to a 3X, which fits up to a size 20. It’s incredibly flattering. You would think that it could feel self-conscious to wear it if you’re not somebody who’s into body-con [a certain classification of form-fitting items], but somehow this is a bridge. The texture almost creates this safety veil. You can move in it, you can sit in it, you can lie down in it.”

This same uncompromising marriage of beautiful form and considered function applies to Hoffman’s foundational business philosophy. About eight years ago, she reoriented the company after realizing that fashion was at odds with her values around sustainability. She decided that if she couldn’t have a greener brand, she didn’t want a brand at all. “I was in so much pain that I would’ve closed it down. I didn’t want to be a part of it,” she says. “You have to adopt this level of responsibility: the least amount of harm. Because in its nature, what we’re doing cannot be sustainable — we are still creating new things.” Hoffman’s line now prioritizes natural and recycled fibers, works with fair-trade-certified factories, and has a peer-to-peer resale program called Full Circle. “The goal is that you are designing the fullness of this thing — not just that it’s organic cotton and then decomposes in a landfill,” she says. “Possibly, the product starts from a regenerative farm. The garment is something that can come from the earth and go back into the earth.”


Unlike many ambitious company heads, she discusses honing the vision more than she does dominating the globe. It’s not that she doesn’t want to reach more women; it’s that she only wants to do it if it’s in line with her values. “The way that my business is structured, I need to make more things to make more money. Would I like to rearrange that? Absolutely. To narrow my offering down to the things that I can have full control over,” she says. “I love helping people. The more I can grow an audience around that, it feels in alignment.” To that end, she opened her first brick-and-mortar store in New York City in 2021, a beautifully lit space that reads more like a friend’s living room than a boutique, with furniture to sit on and art on the walls. “You come to catch a vibe. It’s an emotional thing. In that dressing room — how can I make this moment between you and yourself a little bit better?” she says. “That’s it. If I can make you feel better in any way, we’re a little bit closer.”

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Our Contributors

Alex Frank Writer

Alex Frank is a contributing editor at Departures. Based in Manhattan, Frank previously worked at as deputy culture editor. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, GQ, Pitchfork, New York Magazine, Fantastic Man, and the Village Voice.

Kat Slootsky Photographer

Kat Slootsky is a Brooklyn-born photographer and director. Her striking and emotive work has been featured in a range of publications, including Teen Vogue, The New York Times, and Tidal Magazine. When she's not behind the lens, Slootsky can often be found tending to her garden in her old Victorian home in the Heights of Jersey City.


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