If Maggie Marilyn isn’t satisfied with her sustainability efforts yet, then two things must be true. First, that virtually every designer is miles behind (because who has more ambitious goals than Marilyn?), and second, that for all of her progress and dedication, there are bigger systems in place that simply won’t allow for certain changes. Much of it comes down to economies of sale—regardless of how great a new sustainable fiber or solution might be, it also needs to be commercially viable. The old-school, out-of-touch wholesale model is also a culprit.
Marilyn admits she’s “hit a brick wall” with certain retailers that refuse to embrace her missive: Some of them have told her sustainability simply isn’t a priority for their customer. A few e-commerce sites present her collection without mentioning the word “sustainability” at all, while others share little to no information about her organic and recycled materials, her open-source platform, or her efforts to rebuild New Zealand’s manufacturing industry. It’s only on her own website and Instagram (and in reported features like this) that Marilyn can tell you the full story and go into detail about where her merino wool comes from, why you should do less laundry (did you know the sun is a natural detergent?), the problems associated with virgin synthetics, and so on.
Not surprisingly, it’s through her direct channels that Marilyn’s customers are the most engaged. Since her 2016 launch, she’s received heartfelt emails from women around the world who relate to her values, but many of them can’t justify spending $755 on a silk party dress or $1,400 on an organic wool blazer. “It really made me think about how sustainability shouldn’t be a luxury, it should be something everyone can buy into,” Marilyn says.
It sparked the idea of a new “core” collection of simple, accessibly-priced items that every woman has a purpose for—T-shirts, button-downs, sweaters, blazers. (Not all of us need a party dress more than once or twice a year, so it isn’t really worth the investment, but everyone could use a great T-shirt.) Aesthetically, Marilyn also felt she needed some minimal, no-brainer basics to ground the statement-making fashion in her main line. “I wanted pieces that would make it really easy to wear those colorful, out-there skirts or jackets, but I don’t think our customer should have to pay $300 for a T-shirt,” she explains. Her existing model would have required that, to allow room for wholesale margins. So Marilyn took a different route: She’s selling her new essentials line, titled “Somewhere,” exclusively on her website, with prices starting at $65 for an organic cotton tee. (A cotton-wool blazer tops out the range at $420, with $90 turtlenecks, $170 jeans, and $205 cardigans in between.)
At a celebratory dinner on Hester Street on Wednesday night, Marilyn made a compelling case for buying one of each: She wore the T-shirt, blazer, and jeans in head-to-toe cream. Her shoes were the same strappy heels the model wears in the lookbook here. She joked that it was probably the first time any of us had seen her not wearing neon pastels or primary hues, but she admitted there are days when she isn’t feeling pink stripes and periwinkle trousers; sometimes you just want something easy, comfy, and vaguely nostalgic: straight-leg jeans, a fine-knit sweater, and maybe a just-oversized-enough blazer to grab on your way out the door.
That ease and straightforwardness belies the serious work that went into the capsule, which was two years in the making: “We pushed back the launch a few times, because I really wanted to get the product perfect,” she says. Much of her time was focused on tweaking the length of a sleeve or refining the jacket’s tailoring, but just as much—if not more—energy went into the materials sourcing and manufacturing. Like Marilyn’s main line, the fabrics here are as sustainable as it gets—mostly organic cotton and organic merino wool, plus one pair of recycled nylon leggings—but she took it a step further: Every item was designed with the intention of one day being recycled when Marilyn launches a “take-back scheme” in 2021.
“I realized that if I want to create this accessibly-priced line of basics, even though they’re made with the same values [as my main collection], inevitably if something costs less, people attach less value to it, and maybe it feels disposable,” she says. “I had a problem with that, so I knew that when a garment has been loved a little too much, there has to be an opportunity for it to be taken back and recycled into a new one.” It’s a concept that’s still new in the industry; the Los Angeles company For Days makes organic cotton T-shirts and sweatshirts you can send back to be recycled into new ones, and earlier this year, Adidas introduced the beta version of its fully-recyclable running shoes. It’s the recycling technology that’s complex; designing into it is simpler. While many “organic cotton” T-shirts still have polyester threads or tags, which impede the recycling process, Marilyn’s are 100 percent organic cotton, so they can essentially be thrown into a shredder and spun into another T-shirt.
Even the merino-cotton blazers will be a breeze to break down, because natural fibers are the easiest to recycle, and Marilyn considered the recyclability of every additional detail, from the stitching to the interior construction to the buttons. “The problem right now is that people are trying to find solutions for recycling [existing] garments that weren’t designed this way.”
Since the capsule will be sold exclusively online, it’s worth mentioning that the fabrics are more luxe than the prices suggest. The cotton is substantial and velvet-y; the blazers are gently structured, not rigid; the tech-y recycled nylon leggings (which are fully recyclable, too) have a touch of evening-worthy sheen; and the layer-able turtlenecks aren’t cotton, but an ultra-fine merino wool. Marilyn’s website will outline precisely where every fiber was sourced, spun, and dyed, and eventually where the garment was actually manufactured. The cardigan, for instance, uses wool sourced from Homebrook farm in Blenheim, New Zealand, which was spun and dyed at the GOTS-certified Sudwolle mill in Zhangjiagang, China, and manufactured at Textile Creations in Auckland, New Zealand.
Marilyn doesn’t hesitate to admit that these pieces are “better” than many of her past collections, in terms of sustainability. “It’s really been a back-to-school process for me, to be honest,” she says. “The main line still has our foundational values, where we can trace the supply chain and use the best fabrics that are available now. But when you get into the nitty-gritty of knowing the farmers that make your wool, you really start to understand the challenges they face along the supply chain, and then you can work on helping everyone improve their processes at every tier. With the main line, that’s something we’ve never had the time to do, because once we get to that step, a new collection is arriving,” she continues. “So this new collection is almost like a laboratory for how a ‘perfect’ fashion system could work. And hopefully in a few years time, we’ll be able to adapt all of these learnings to the main line.” You can stock up at maggiemarilyn.com starting today.