After decades of working in fashion, sustainable designer Maria McManus never planned on creating her own brand. “I always said I wouldn’t do it because I know how difficult this industry is,” the Irish creative and luxury house alum (her CV includes stints at Rag & Bone, Tory Burch, and EDUN, Bono and Ali Hewson’s defunct socially-consciously line) tells me over the phone. But McManus, who has spent the better part of her career seeing the system’s wasteful practices in action, reached a point where she could no longer be complicit when there are greener ways to create clothes. “I was becoming disillusioned by the industry’s slow progress in terms of sustainability.”
Now, over fourteen months into designing her eponymous range of laidback and elegant wardrobe staples, McManus can count herself a game-changer in the green and ethical fashion space. Her fabrics (including organic cotton, recycled cashmere, and nylon) are all responsibly sourced; her pieces are produced in safe, clean conditions; her factories are mainly domestic and the employees receive fair pay. She also uses her line to support the philanthropic efforts of Every Mom Counts (an organization dedicated to the pursuit of quality maternal care for all), most recently through a dedicated T-shirt collaboration that funnels forty percent of sales back into the charity.
But perhaps most notable of all is that McManus consistently puts out clothing that’s both beautifully made and beautiful to behold: Think fluidly draped trousers, sexy-yet-sophisticated LBDs, and the crisp banker stripe button-downs of your dreams. These are the type of elegant essentials that somehow both feel like a statement and are simple enough to go with pretty much anything in your wardrobe.
Of course, this one-two punch of quality and desirability comes at no small cost when you’re an up-and-coming label that insists on vetting all its materials.
“It’s not hard [to be more sustainable], but it is expensive,” McManus explains. “We take the margin hit ourselves because I don't want [price] to be the reason people don't purchase.” Not that this means the Maria McManus experience comes cheap: Her prices start around $120 (for a polished white T-shirt) and top out at about $1,600 (a sumptuous cashmere trench). But that’s a range comparable to that of mid-level luxury contemporaries who aren’t paying a premium for eco-friendly certification — and a worthwhile investment on designs that won’t deteriorate over the course of a few short seasons.
“For me it's not just about the sustainability of the materials, it's about the way we create the garments,” McManus says firmly. “We put a ton of effort into the craftsmanship. We teach our factories how to make clothes that will last.”
All that extra attention shows in the designer’s upcoming new collection for Fall 2022. Equal parts timeless and modern, the understated pieces are perfect for anyone who wants to put their athleisure from the last two years in the past — but without sacrificing ease and comfort.
“We really hit our stride with it,” McManus says of her latest work, a mix of relaxed, minimalist tailoring and soft, slouchy knits. Featuring abstract prints (inspired by trees), richly textured materials (including glossy deadstock patent leather), and strategic jolts of colors (like lavender), the pieces are carefully thought through right down to their very linings.
“The inside is just as beautiful as the as the outside,” says McManus. “The piping, the binding, the bookended seams — all those things are very pretty. It makes me feel good about the garments we are producing.”
McManus’s attention to tiny details has certainly paid off. As she rounds the corner on her company’s first year (its official anniversary was in February), she can already count a who’s who of famously well-dressed women as her clientele, including Gwyneth Paltrow, Caitriona Balfe, Christy Turlington, and Jenna Lyons — who just posted a dedicated Maria McManus appreciation picture to her grid last week. And as the line’s fan base continues to exponentially grow, she anticipates doubling the company’s sales in the year ahead.
But while McManus certainly appreciates these big wins, what really fulfills the designer professionally is a far humbler pleasure.
“It’s nerdy, but seeing people just organically shopping on my brand’s website when I don't actually know them is really cool,” says McManus. “Those are probably my happiest moments: getting direct sales.”
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