“They’re for the wearer’s pleasure, which I think is a really empowering thing – to be wearing something that feels great”
Designer Maggie Hewitt can only be described as an overnight sensation. Six months ago, no one had heard of her or her brand, Maggie Marilyn. Then, in September 2016, she launched her first collection on Net-a-Porter and 75% of the stock had sold within the first 48 hours.
“Net-a-Porter never launches a label firstseason,” says Maggie Marilyn managing director Jo Knight – the mastermind behind the brand’s rollout. An industry veteran, Jo had recently returned to New Zealand from London, where she’d spent 10 years as managing director at Richard Nichol, and was contemplating her next career move when a family friend introduced her to Maggie. Her first piece of advice to the then 21-year-old was to get some overseas experience, but Maggie had other ideas. “I thought, no, I have this collection sitting in my lounge and I want to sell it.” Jo went to check it out “and the walls instantly closed in”, she says. “I was just like, oh my goodness, here we go, this is happening – I’m not walking away from this.”
Creating the collection had been Maggie’s sole focus since graduating from Whitecliffe College of Arts and Design in December 2015. “I knew straight away that I wanted to start my own label, so I did,” she says, aware now of how naïve she was, but making no apologies for it. “You need to be really positive when launching a brand, so it’s good to be quite sheltered,” Maggie laughs. “You don’t want to know how many other brands are out there trying to get noticed.” The reality hit her on a sales trip to Paris in October. “I was looking at the Paris Fashion Week schedules and I recognised the big names, but the rest of it I was like, who are these people? It just shows what a privilege it is to even secure an appointment with a buyer.”
The Paris sales were a success, with several international boutiques expressing serious interest in the brand. “But even though we are getting that amazing response overseas, it’s so important for us to be accessible to New Zealanders and support this market,” says Jo. In addition to having local stockists, this means manufacturing on home soil. “There’s a really strong craft industry here that we want to help build up,” says Maggie, noting that working with local makers also allows her to keep a close eye on production and ensure that all her garments meet the highest possible standard of ethical and sustainable production. “My graduate collection was based around the negative impact the fashion industry has on people and the environment,” she explains. “It made me quite tormented, because I love fashion so much, but it also gave me this sense of purpose. I decided that if I was going to be in the industry I was going to make it better, and I’ve held myself to that. I’m committed to knowing where my fabric comes from, where it’s made, and who made it.”
Although this means more hard work and higher production costs, it pushes her to be more creative, “and it’s increasingly what people want,” she says. “A few years ago ethics and transparency weren’t important to consumers – it definitely wouldn’t have been the thing that they took notice of and celebrated – but nowadays I think you are crazy as a fashion brand not to think about it.”
As for why else Maggie Marilyn is resonating? Both Maggie and Jo believe it comes down to the brand’s ethos of luxury garments that are meant to be worn and lived in – “livable luxury”, if you will. “They’re for the wearer’s pleasure which I think is a really empowering thing – to be wearing something that feels great rather than suffering for fashion,” says Maggie. “It’s definitely the right look for this time.”