As with most new ideas, our new line was born to solve a problem. There were multiple catalysts that converged to spark its creation, each of utmost importance. The story may at first appear to have many touchpoints and complexities however told chronologically, it really is quite simple. I would like to tell you Somewhere’s story, as it is an important one to tell and includes truths about the fashion system that I don’t feel are discussed enough.
It was February 2018. One year and 4 seasons after Maggie Marilyn’s launch. By the end of this first year we had landed in every major stockist in the world, our international success had been a whirlwind of dreams come true. I started MM because I believed the industry was ready for change and I was here to make clothing ethically and sustainably and to share this mission with the world. I was excited as I saw our global wholesale stockists as exciting platforms through which we could amplify our sustainability message. However, in February 2018, during Season 5 sales in Paris, it hit me (like a ton of bricks) that I was wrong. The fashion industry was not ready for change. They needed it, yes, but were they ready? No.
Having pushed buyers on telling our sustainability story over the past 4 seasons, by February 2018, buyers had started actually saying to me in person, ‘sustainability just isn’t important to our customers, this isn’t a story we are ready to tell’. I knew then and there that if we wanted to educate the women wearing Maggie Marilyn on the importance of ethical, sustainable fashion, wholesale was not our way forward. We needed direct communication with our customer. This was catalyst number one.
Catalyst number two, also a result of push back from our wholesale buyers, was price. Every season our buyers pushed us saying the clothing needed to be cheaper. However with our mainline, there are multiple reasons why this isn’t possible. From the cost of seasonal sampling and the complexity of design, to the margins we need to add in order to sell to wholesalers. Let alone our uncompromised added cost of using sustainable fabrications and ethical manufacturing. A cost which we largely absorb, reducing our margin, in order to compete with other brands in our wholesale category who do not operate with these values. I had always wanted the mainline to be accessible. I had always styled the clothing with dirty sneakers or bare feet, thinking aesthetically this made it accessible, however not understanding that the true barrier to accessibility was always going to be price. Also, at this same time I had a customer reach out to me and tell me how she wishes she could support our brand because she shares in our values. However as a single mum from a small town in New Zealand, she just couldn’t afford it. I don’t believe that sustainability is something that you should have to afford, hence catalyst two, the need for sustainable clothing at an accessible price.
I knew then, that a fashion revolution that embraced sustainable, ethical practices needed:
1. Everyone, not just those who can afford luxury and
2. A direct line of communication with the customer
in order to educate them and recruit them for the revolution.
The direct line of communication had an easy solution - we had to sell direct to consumer. It was clear that wholesalers didn’t feel the same responsibility as us to take action and we couldn’t wait around for them to decide it was important. We are in a climate crisis, and action is needed now. So we knew how we would sell the product. Next we had to ensure the product was more affordable.
Here is how we made this possible:
1. Cutting out the middleman - selling direct to consumer means we don’t have to add margin for wholesalers. No added price for wholesalers = no added price for customers.
2. Efficiencies - these products won’t have an expiry date, they will be made season after season. This means sampling and prototyping costs are a one-off. Unlike the mainline where each new season requires new sampling and prototyping. Reduced time and resources = reduced price.
3. Scale - with designs and fabrics staying the same, we can order larger quantities of fabric at a time, meaning better prices from our suppliers. Better prices from our suppliers = better prices for our customers.
4. Simplicity of design - simple design means it takes less time for our manufacturers to make, meaning it costs us less. Lower manufacturing costs = lower retail costs.
I think it’s important to note here what ‘affordable’ means to us, as when I say we had to ensure the product was more affordable, I don’t mean we have developed a $20 t-shirt. To us, affordable means a price where both our customers and the people in our supply chain are getting the best value. For the customer this means getting a quality product at a good price. For the people in our supply chain, this means we continue to operate ethically and sustainably, while having enough margin in our sales to reinvest into revitalising the New Zealand manufacturing industry and supporting our international suppliers in bettering their practices on each level of the supply chain.
In determining how to make a more affordable product, it didn’t escape me that people may then perceive it to have less value. Despite being of equal quality to our mainline, the cheaper something is, the less value people perceive it to have. And the less perceived value, the more people tend to buy and the easier they dispose. I am not in business to encourage mindless consumption or promote the fast fashion ‘take-make-dispose’ mentality and the possibility of this mentality being adopted to our clothing, simply because of the price, was not something I was willing to accept. I knew that if I was going to make an affordable line I needed to rethink our entire business model. It was around this time that I first came across Ellen MacArthur and her circular economy model. This was a pivotal moment in the development of this line and I knew then, that it had to be circular.
Circularity means eliminating waste and keeping products in use for longer through reuse, repair and recycling, as part of a closed-loop system. Any waste should become food for another process such as compost; a regenerative resource for nature. Naturally, then, the next step in developing this line was choosing fabrics that had this ability.
We decided on 3 key fabrics:
1. Organic cotton - natural, renewable, recyclable and compostable
2. NZ merino wool - natural, renewable, recyclable,
compostable and requires little washing
3. Regenerated nylon - made from plastics redirected
from landfill and oceans, making use of existing materials
All of these fabrics have the ability to be recycled, meaning that if, over time, people fall out of love with their garments, or they are looking a bit too loved, through our collection system (launching 2021) we will take them back and recycle them into new items, creating a waste-free, landfill-free fashion system.
We believe the future of fashion is circular. However, we also want to encourage people to buy less, buy consciously, and buy for forever. It is our job to encourage this mindset and to ensure our customer has every reason possible to keep their garments for forever. This led us to determine our 3 design principles for this line.
1. Luxury quality - it will last a lifetime
2. Seasonless style - it will never go out of fashion
3. Perfect fit - you won’t want to take it off
To test both the quality and fit, each style has been wear-tested over a minimum of 6 months. They have been redesigned, re-worn, hot washed, warm washed, cold washed, fitted on multiple different body shapes, sizes and heights, wear test surveyed, social media surveyed and redesigned again. The t-shirt for example, has had over 15 different iterations. We have ensured that the products in this line are of the highest quality and perfect fit, it’s not just another white t-shirt. My hope is that this is the best, and last, white t-shirt you will ever buy.
So finally, it comes to why we chose to design the seasonless styles that we did. Over my first year in business, fashion had swept me off my feet. It had taken me from my small town home to cities all over the world, places I once only dreamed of visiting from the pages of my magazines. Ironically, I soon found that it had transported me so far from what I knew that all I wanted was to return to my roots, both literally and aesthetically. I had made dresses to make me dream and shirts to lift my spirit but I was missing those simplistic pieces that made me feel at home. So when it came to designing a line of seasonless styles, I designed what I wanted in my wardrobe. I craved the simplistic pieces I grew up wearing, white t-shirts, simple singlets, dad’s old merino jumpers and easy, throw on jeans. And so the line was created.
And to bring everything together, the icing on the cake, the name. What would we call this line of circular, seasonless, affordable essentials. In keeping with my desire for the aesthetics of this line to reflect coming back to my grassroots, the name came naturally; Somewhere. Somewhere is the name of my childhood home in the Bay of Islands in New Zealand. Somewhere represents that place where arriving feels like a warm embrace. Where your feet feel grounded and your spirit recharged. It’s about arriving home to that place in the world you truly belong. I hope that when people wear this line, they are transported to their very own Somewhere.
Somewhere isn’t for our wholesalers, it isn’t for us, it is for our customer. It’s for the environmentalist who is firm in her beliefs, kind, yet never afraid to speak the truth. It’s for the mother, lover, sister, daughter and friend who pays attention to the little things, fights for the underdog and believes that anything is possible. Somewhere is for all of our powerful women who are going to change the world.