WHO: Maggie Marilyn
FROM: Auckland, New Zealand
“The Maggie Marilyn girl is a dreamer,” reads the label’s swing tag. “She is quietly confident, strong yet sensitive. She is firm in her beliefs, kind yet never afraid to speak the truth. Elegant and timeless yet never boring. A feminist, while openly vulnerable and obsessionally passionate, she believes anything is possible. She is an environmentalist, pays attention to the little things and fights for the underdog. She is an extremely loyal friend, lover, sister and mother.” There is no better way to describe the brand’s founder, Maggie Hewitt.
The flaxen-haired, doe-eyed designer, who hails from the Bay of Islands, a tiny rural enclave at the top of the North Island in New Zealand, creates conscious clothing that is both lovely and luxurious, balancing fortitude with frivolity and dreams with action. When she speaks, it’s soft and treacle-like; you can’t help but get lost in her grand plans for the future of fashion. But, as much as she is a dreamer, she is also a doer; a restless, brilliant mind with ambition so unwavering it’s hard to believe she’s only 25.
Now based in Auckland, Maggie Marilyn – both the brand and the girl – is at the fore of fashion’s new guard. In its first year, luxury retail powerhouse Net-a-Porter picked up the label, an acquisition Hewitt herself feels she manifested. “It’s so weird looking back,” she says. “Not in an arrogant way, but I just had so much courage in what I was doing and blissful naivety that I was like, ‘Yeah, I’m going to change the world,’ of course Net-A-Porter will pick me out.” Such was the sheer resolve of the Hewitt, she even digitally edited her name into the designer list, almost willing it to fruition. “I Photoshopped my name where it would sit on the list on Net-A- Porter, which is so crazy,” she says. “I did that for like three weeks while we were waiting for the order, because she loved it in person and it was kind of this rollercoaster of a meeting, because they’ve never picked up a first-season designer in the whole 20 years of Net-A-Porter. The buyer was like, ‘I think we should just wait a couple seasons to see how the collections progress,’ but then an order came within two weeks and it was like, okay, we are in business.”
So how did a girl from “a little place at the bottom of the world” find herself in luxury fashion? “I’ve always been really creative,” she explains. “Our supermarket barely had any fashion magazines, but I would collage anything I could get my hands on.” There’s also that familiar refrain: the small-town girl who sought refuge in fantasy, the bright lights and big smoke proving all too irresistible for the girl with high hopes and a fecund imagination. “I think it was the allure of living in such a small town and looking to places like New York, London and Paris that really captivated me. So, since I was about 10 years old, I said, I’m going to do fashion.”
From the outset, her missive has been clear: to make a difference in an industry that was ready for change. “I’m pretty ambitious and I really wanted to be able to create actual, lasting and meaningful change – and I felt like I could do that if I was at the helm of a brand, so I decided to start my own label,” she explains. For Hewitt, that change is sustainability, something she began while studying. It’s now the backbone of the brand; the focus on beautiful pieces, served thoughtfully and sourced carefully. “For me, sustainability was completely understanding the supply chain, using the best fabrics that we could in terms of organic cotton and recycled polyesters,” she says. If sustainability was once considered a byword for hemp-imbued hippiedom, then Maggie Marilyn – with its jubilant, resolutely modern aesthetic – has changed that narrative. “Now, circularity is the future. The take, make, dispose linear model that we have in fashion is not sustainable on a planet that obviously has nite resources, so our goal by the end of 2020 is that 50 per cent of the collection will be from recycled or repurposed fabrics, and then the end goal is that nothing in the collection will be virgin sourced. There’s enough clothing and fabric in the system. It just needs to be regenerated back into beautiful clothing.”
Proudly manufactured in New Zealand, the Maggie Marilyn food chain is a long, convoluted but wholly ethical one. “There are so many hands that touch one garment that we make; we don’t just work with one factory,” Hewitt explains. Take, for example, the George III denim jacket, who has had his fair share of hands. “It’s the third iteration of that jacket and its made from 80 per cent organic cotton and 20 per cent post-consumer waste denim. So old denim jeans that were in the system were shredded down into what looks like a cotton bud, then rewoven into yarn, and then into new fabric, which is pretty amazing.” It’s a process that is not without its challenges. “I don’t ever want to make it seem like it’s rainbows and sunshine,” she says. “Manufacturing in New Zealand is difficult.”
Much like the designer herself, Hewitt’s designs are compelling, canny and courageous and defined by a youthful zingy exuberance, boundless creative energy and fresh point of view. She lives – and designs – in colour. In sunshine yellows, cherry reds, bubblegum pinks and apple greens. Indeed, her entire Resort 20 collection doesn’t use black – at all – an astounding rebuff for fashion’s favourite shade. “It’s not that I don’t personally wear black, but this season I needed colour in my life,” she says. “Sometimes we just need colour. Maybe the world doesn’t need any more darkness right now.” Full of pure fashion joy, they’re the kind of pieces that jolt you upright, even in the doom and gloom, and make you think, “Hey, it’s gonna be a good day.”