Celebrities who’ve turned their hands at fashion have become so commonplace, it’s almost unremarkable. There’s the oft-cited Victoria Beckham, whose eponymous label sees its 10th year, and the effortless transition of the Olsen twins from tween stars to billionaire fashion moguls with their couture line The Row and its contemporary spin-off Elizabeth and James. In more recent years, Rihanna cemented her place in the “serious” fashion industry with her cult Fenty line with Puma.
Off the vaunted runways, numerous famous personalities have also joined the fray: Jessica Simpson’s astronomically successful mass-market label and Gigi Hadid’s well-received collaboration with Tommy Hilfiger. There’s also Ivy Park, Beyoncé’s sportswear line for Topshop, whose initial launch received such overwhelming response that it crashed the Topshop website on the first day. Admittedly, there have been more misses than hits — Lindsay Lohan’s failed leggings line 6126 comes to mind. Even Beyoncé’s ill-fated 2006 venture, the House of Deréon clothing line, did not manage to survive in spite of the fact that it’s a Beyoncé project.
However, the newest kid on the celeb-turned-designer block stands apart: Rooney Mara’s new fashion line, Hiraeth. Named after an old Welsh word relating to the complex emotion of homesickness and nostalgia with a tinge of bittersweet longing, the fledgling label is most notably entirely vegan and ethical, both in the sourcing of materials and construction, and production of the final pieces.
The decision to launch an entirely animal-free fashion label is perhaps a no-brainer — Mara herself has been vegan for seven years, and is dating fellow vegan actor and animal rights activist Joaquin Phoenix. “Three years ago, I began to transition my wardrobe and lifestyle to fully align with veganism and got rid of my leather items except for the sentimental things,” Mara explains over a telephone interview. “I wanted to replace the things that I loved that I can’t find anymore, but there were very few options.”
Despite the multitudes of faux leather fashion and accessories available at fast fashion brands, Mara eschews them, citing the fact that even though the item might be animal-free, she still has no knowledge of where it was made, or who made it. “Hiraeth really came from my own need.”
At Hiraeth, Mara is partnered with her best friend Sara Schloat, who grew up across the street from Mara and also shares a similar fashion style, and fashion industry veteran Chrys Wong. Interestingly, both aren’t vegan, although they do make the effort to consume fashion mindfully. “I didn’t know that animals were farmed to make the bags and luxury goods that I don’t need, but want only for pleasure,” says Wong. “So, I’m trying to reduce and find alternatives, although it’s hard for clothing and accessories.”
The trio announced the brand’s August launch date earlier this year, teasing out pictures of the brand’s pieces and aesthetic inspiration on its Instagram feed, which has already garnered 13.7 thousand followers even before its launch. Elegant, minimalist and classic with a touch of Gothic romanticism and rocker edginess, the tightly edited debut collection features diaphanous dresses with puffy sleeves and silky slips, beribboned jackets and peplum coats alongside combat boots, an under-bust harness, and trousers made of buttery faux leather. Prior to launch, the label made its red carpet debut via “Stranger Things” actress Sadie Sink at PaleyFest and the Kid’s Choice Awards, the 15-year-old being a vegan herself.
“I’m not a designer and I have no aspirations to be one, but I’m the creative director of the brand, and all the designs come out of my own aesthetic,” Mara says. “It’s contradictory; I’m drawn to romantic, feminine vintage pieces, but I also love the edgy, avant-garde and minimalist.”
The pieces are also named after female artists and personalities whom the trio admire and consider “ground-breaking”, including photographer Diane Arbus, writer Margaret Atwood and printmaker Kiki Smith. “We’re also a female-led, female-oriented team, and like these women, we want to break the mould,” cuts in Wong, who oversees the production and manufacturing for Hiraeth — the “nuts and bolts”, according to Schloat, who supports both Mara and Wong in their roles as well as handling the brand’s marketing.
Hiraeth also attempts to set itself apart from fellow vegan and ethical fashion labels, like high-fashion Stella McCartney, cult indie brand Reformation and the numerous “sustainable” lines offered by fast fashion giants like H&M and ASOS, with its approach. “Our stuff is 100 per cent animal-free, and the quality of the clothes as well as the design aesthetic are equally good,” says Mara. “You don’t have to be a vegan to buy it, because it’s the aesthetic [of the clothes] that should draw you in.”
“We’re also in a different market position,” adds Wong. “Hiraeth’s price points are more accessible as we are catering to a different generation [as compared to Stella McCartney]. But there’s still not enough offering for a conscious lifestyle. Pure animal-free is hard to find, and we want to be a brand you can count on.”
While the classic designs are meant to last beyond a season and to stay wearable and relevant for a long time, Mara acknowledges the often-poor quality of synthetic materials, but notes that technology has gotten better since demand for animal-free fabrics has increased. For Hiraeth, extra care has gone into sourcing the highest quality faux leather and fur, as well as a mix of natural and synthetic fibres for the fabrics. Despite being animal-free, Schloat remarks that there’s no difference in level of care and that the pieces are easy to travel with and are long-lasting.
“Quality is a concept,” says Wong. “Having worked for Valentino and Balenciaga, their fabric comes from small firms like family mills in England and France. For faux leather, we went to the smaller, family-owned manufacturers in Italy, where they have options that aren’t seen in the market. We want to recreate the quality in the luxury products we’re used to, but also know where the materials come from and who makes the products.”
Another factor that differentiates Hiraeth from the rest is that the entire collection is produced in Los Angeles, by people whom the trio have met and interacted with. “When we first started, we looked into Europe because of their quality in production, but when we looked locally, we found many skilled workshops and they come from all over the world,” says Wong. “Once we found the skilled workers, the only thing to make it comparable to European workshops was to convince them to use nicer fabrics. Once we incorporated the imported fabrics with the local craftsmen, we got great quality.”
Even though they agree that they could’ve produced the collection for much cheaper if they had outsourced the production, that was never an option for them. “It’s so important to be connected to the people who make the clothes, and to value the material that we own,” says Mara. “Each item is small, handmade and genuine. I want to think of every person along the way, as we’re all part of a greater ecosystem.”
Still, despite Hiraeth being a fashion brand that “happens to be vegan”, Mara hopes that by offering up one more animal-free option available in the market, more people can be educated about the cruel realities of animal agriculture for food and fashion. “When the options are there, it’s easy to convince others,” she says. “I’m really lucky because big brands like Givenchy would make things that are vegan specially for me, but I know that the average woman wouldn’t have that kind of access.
“There’s the hardcore activist in me who wants to yell and show people photos [of animals being mistreated], but that’s not the most effective way to inspire others to make the change,” she continues. “The most effective way is to live the lifestyle, and show myself as an example. With Hiraeth, we’re catering to a group of people that aren’t vegan, but maybe they’ll look at it and start to question our decision to be animal-free and ethical, and it’ll make them more conscious about these issues.”
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