(Scare-Free Sundays)

Mara Hoffman’s Environmental Efforts Extend Beyond Clothing

Her mission includes humanity... and herself.

TZR; Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images for Nordstrom
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In TZR’s franchise Scare-Free Sundays, industry leaders discuss the all-too-common weekend anxiety (aka Sunday Scaries) that can rob one of the relaxation and rest they so desperately need to properly take on the week ahead. Here, we sit down with designer Mara Hoffman for her tips on how to keep work stress at bay.

Mara Hoffman’s relationship with nature has been longstanding, with her first major milestone hitting back in 2015, when she pivoted her namesake company (founded in 2000) in a more eco-friendly direction. The label, known for its whimsical, print-filled daywear as well as easy, elegant “core” essentials, has since become a leader in sustainability, continuing to roll out practices and policies with an “ultimate goal of a fully transparent supply chain,” according to the brand’s site.

These relentless efforts include prioritizing responsibly sourced materials like recycled, organic, and natural fibers, and avoiding fur, leather, or feathers. Hoffman and her team also focus on and monitor fair treatment and pay for workers and ensure their manufacturing partners follow social compliance standards and work with Fairtrade Certified products and factories. And that’s just scratching the surface.

“Our approach is not limited to just our fibers, just so that's clear,” says Hoffman on a recent call with TZR. “We have a take-back and a resell program on our site, peer-to-peer, called Full Circle, which [encourages] longevity of garments, controlling end-of-life, or giving longevity to that. So that's a really big part of our initiatives as well.”

Most recently, Hoffman has set her sights inward, focusing her latest efforts on caring for the well-being of her own in-house team in New York City. “We've just implemented half-day Fridays for the whole year,” says Hoffman. “We're really trying to explore what it could be to have a four-day workweek within our company.”

The designer explains that a large part of her commitment to do less harm and, “for lack of a better word,” sustainability, is taking care of one’s being. “Our bodies, minds, and spirits are at the core of sustainability,” she adds. “And if we're not doing that as a brand and we're not reaching towards deeper levels of care for the humans that are part of the efforts, then we're really not doing much at all. We can be doing all of these environmentally focused initiatives, but if the humans aren't given the space to get well or to heal, then the planet has no chance at it. And that's really at the core of my philosophy.”

This deeper level of care includes her own self. Since moving her family (husband Javier Piñon, and 12-year-old son Joaquin) to upstate New York during the 2020 lockdown, Hoffman found herself discovering new methods of nurturing — and protecting — her mind and body. These newfound habits largely involve connecting with nature and allowing herself adequate rest. Ahead, the entrepreneur speaks to the routines (and boundaries) she relies on for inner peace, self-love, and stress-free living.

Can you walk TZR readers through a typical workday/week? Do you allow yourself days off?

So during the pandemic, [my family and I] moved upstate. I still have my place in Brooklyn, so I spend between one to three days a week in the city depending on what I have going on. But I try to be upstate like Thursday through Monday. And then I come into the city on Tuesdays and usually, [the first couple days] are packed with in-person design meetings, fittings, anything that needs hands-on [attention], or working in the store. So it's very physically present work. And then if something's up and they need me on Thursday or there are events, I make that happen, too, and then I come back [upstate] and I do things remotely. [On] Saturdays and Sundays, I'm with my family.

I’m a big nature person, so I spend a lot of time walking and I am in deep relationship with the trees up here. I'm a tree-talker, and it really saved my life on so many levels. When we moved up here, I had what I thought was a really strong relationship with nature, but I think what I realized when I actually planted myself in it, that my previous relationship was a little bit more intellectual than actually experienced and intimate. And so that's a huge part of my life now, being in that space and being in that conversation with nature, so I do a lot of that.

Ohhh, tell me more. Is talking to trees your secret power or mechanism for fighting work stress? Also, how does one get started with this practice?

You just go out there and [do it]. It takes a while to not feel self-conscious or like a total weirdo where you're like, ‘Ew, I'm saying this.’ I'm also half-Larry David, so I really get it.

But it just takes committed practice, and it can be any way [you want to do it]. It can be bringing them your stuff, bringing them your sorrow, or bringing them your trouble. And it’s about just saying it to them, letting them take it for you, letting them work with you on it. [Over time, this practice] starts to transform you if you can stay with it. And it doesn't mean to just tell them what hurts, but also tell them what feels good or bring them your wishes, bring them your desire, be in conversation. It's also an excellent place to be in a gratitude practice because, as you're bringing your stuff to them, you can also be in a space of deep [admiration of] them.

[These interactive walks have] helped me learn about the cycles of the seasons and how we correlate to that. I used to feel so disconnected from the trees in the winter. I was like, ‘Ugh, they're so wiry and naked and I don't relate.’ And this [past] winter, walking with them, I understood what they were doing. They were rooting so deep into the earth and they were gathering all of these nutrients and all of this information in their roots and doing all this below-ground, internal work. So, by spring, they had the energy and the nutrients to be born again. And I'm like, ‘Holy sh*t.’ That's what we're supposed to do, right?

Now, I'm looking at these little buds, and I'm like, ‘Look at how beautiful! Welcome back. Look at your buds. This is so beautiful.’ When you compliment something out loud, it gives you hits of endorphins. It feels good to genuinely compliment something because you connect to it. So you can do it with nature.

What are some common or typical anxieties or concerns you face ahead of a busy workweek?

If I see my week ahead and it's filled with event after event after event, I'm [concerned] just because I know what it does to my system and that it will definitely take its toll.

Just packed weeks I'm not into. I don't want to work as much. Or I do want to work, but I want to do it differently. I want to be a better kind of contributor. And I think I'm learning that my contribution can be way more meaningful and impactful if I approach it differently than this classic patriarchal push and approach to what success is.

What does your Sunday evening routine look like? Do you do anything in particular to mentally prepare yourself for the week ahead?

So if I have a packed Monday ahead of me, I am not into that. I've done a really good job in these past few months of re-shifting my Monday to feel really good. My husband and son will leave for work, and I'm here alone, and my first meeting doesn't start till 10 a.m. So if I'm up and moving at 7 a.m., exercise in the morning, by the time I sit down for my first meeting, I'm really good.

Do you have any strict rules you abide by during the weekends or OOO days to avoid working or thinking about work?

My family, again, they've sort of learned now how to respect and care for me and the rest that I need. On Sundays, we really try to have my son off the screens so that we can be more in collaboration of what we're doing together and to also help him rest a little bit as well. I think we're also really beautifully, luckily a group of people who really love being with each other, so we just like to hang out.

I will say that another game-changer for me has been a crystal mat. I am a huge devotee of the HigherDOSE Infrared PEMF crystal mat, and I brought it in last September. I'm someone who gets cold a lot, so having this hot space to lay on with the infrared has been hugely helpful in my restoration over the weekends, and just being able to ground into that. So spending a lot of time on that mat is big.

What are your Sunday Scaries like?

[This type of stress] exhausts me and leaves me less sharp. It leaves me less in my capability to who I'm supposed to be in this business, in this family, who I'm supposed to be as a mother, a wife, a friend, who I'm supposed to be in relationship to myself. It dulls it.

And this is particular to me. I think [in general] we've trained ourselves to really surpass our limitations, which I guess is cool, but we sort of abandon our bodies in it and what is really needed. And I think that we need more pause. I mean, again, if we want to use the planet as a mirror, what could the planet deeply use right now? And it's us to slow down, it's a pause, it's less. The planet really wants us to do a lot less.

And so if you use her as a guide and you say, ‘OK, this is our direct reflector here,’ then you can sort of see what's actually happening for you, that we're burning through our lives. We're doing so much, we're going so hard because we're all tuned in and plugged into this one belief system around how we win at the end or what that looks like. And it's how many hours, how hard you went, how much money you made, all of it.

And look, I'm not separate from that, I'm not like an enlightened being that's overcome my desires and my also wishes for financial success and security. I desire that too, and I work towards that. But I just feel that in a lot of ways, we serve the wrong memo and it's very much why we're in the mess that we're in right now.

So, then how do you combat these stress-inducing, overwhelming intrusive thoughts when they come on?

The things I say to myself and the dialogue that I have between me and me is so different now. It's like how a parent would talk to this beautiful little kid now. That's my language. That's the conversation I have inside of Mara to Mara ... or Marita. I call her Marita, Little Mara, and we talk and it's loving and it is so sweet.

And again, I want to make sure that it's really clear that this isn't a coffee mug or a couple of yoga classes that it’s like, ‘Oh yeah, love yourself. Cool, got it.’ Because I also think that it's been a really unfair societal thing to be like, ‘Women, you got to love yourselves. Here's your yoga class.’ [...] I think that most of us have had to relearn so much. It took me into my 40s to actually get [this self-soothing dialogue] to click where it didn't sound fake, that I wasn't faking this love language to myself, but that it came in and was real. And I, again, come back to slowing down, prioritizing things that make me feel happy and give me joy, moving my body and being in nature. It started to change my language.