From her time as a celebrity hair and makeup artist to founding her own and one of my favourite ethical and sustainable magazines – A Green Beauty –
I was honoured to catch up recently with Mara on all things fashion, the environment, and her recent move from New York back to her hometown of Melbourne, Australia.
It was so amazing to read your journey from Melbourne to the US and New York - and now back to Melbourne - tell me about your journey?
I had worked in Melbourne and Sydney for a decade as a hair and makeup artist before I left. I was at my peak, and yet feeling uninspired. I felt that I was missing out on the creativity that was happening in Europe and the US. As a young adult, I had strategically planned to have a job where I could pack up and travel, so with my trusty hair and makeup kit, I took off on an adventure, as we Aussie love to do. Finally, settling in NYC after finding both creativity and earnings in abundance, I could have a good quality of life and be inspired. I had many opportunities through work assignments to go back and forth to Europe, which wasn’t too far a flight from NYC, so I positioned myself in the biggest and most diverse city in the world. NYC is truly unique.
But all things must change: I grew older and found myself yearning for the vast open spaces that I had grown up with as a young girl. And to be honest, what’s happening in politics right now did not make me feel safe anymore. There are too many guns and not enough protection for its citizens. It felt like the wild west was making a comeback. So here I am.
We first worked with you on your amazing magazine, A Green Beauty, tell me about the journey to establish that?
Thank you, AGB/A Green Beauty grew out of a passion I have always had for a healthy lifestyle and environment, and frustration that people around me were either not aware, or didn’t have access to the information of its benefits. In 2009 I began to replace all my professional hair styling and beauty products to plant-based products. I then started to blog about it, which became an outlet to reach a broad audience, nationally and internationally. I have always been health-conscious, even as a young teenager, experimenting with all the latest nutritional trends. So, to further my amateur expertise, in 2012, I studied with The Institute of Intelligent Nutrition and became certified as a Holistic Health Couch. The blog started to expand, and because I had been in the fashion industry for a long time, I began to produce fashion shoots using only sustainable and ethical fashion. I was determined to make it cool and sexy and to rivel the high-end magazines that were on the market. I wanted the editorial looks to represent an imaginative, courageous woman, who was not afraid of taking a stand against producers of toxic materials, and mass marketing. It was a gamble, but I couldn’t ‘not’ do it, I felt it was too important. I don’t know whether I would have had that drive to create AGB if I was living elsewhere. Growing up in Australia, I started going to naturopaths in the 80’s. Australia seemed to be advanced in holistic healing modalities, more so than the US. I found one naturopath in NY, in all the time I had lived there, that informed me that it was not legal to call herself a naturopath. So being energized by the NYC attitude: that nothing is unobtainable, and the lack of naturopaths, and accessible healing news or media, I just went for it.
AGB PRINT from A Green Beauty magazine on Vimeo.
Is AGB now your primary focus?
As far as promoting sustainable brands, it’s a great outlet and a way for me to showcase the many fashion and lifestyle options out there. But it can’t be my primary focus at the moment, only because I don’t earn revenue from it. I decided way back that I didn’t want to compromise its integrity with lots of advertisers that didn’t have the same vision as AGB. And honestly, the advertisers that I do have, or like, usually have minimal budgets that rely on social media for promotion. I had met with various investors that, in the end, just wanted to change it so much that I felt would ruin its high-end aesthetic, and compromise its commitment. To run it on a large scale, it needs serious backing, and when that comes, then I will make it my main focus.
What is your best or favourite success story from AGB (it seems like there might be a lot!)
I think my favourite was when I had the print magazine, and it got accepted into Wholefoods, and then Barnes and Nobles. I couldn’t believe it! It was surreal and fantastic. I had achieved real distribution around the whole of the US, which was beautiful.
How has Melbourne changed since you left having now returned?
OMG, it’s changed so much! I tell people when I was growing up, and into my young adult years, we used to call it Melboring, sorry, but it was like a one-horse town. I mean, I had fun, and there were places to go, but nothing like now. I live in Fitzroy, which is ‘Williamsburg’ of Victoria, and there’s so much to do and see. The shopping is excellent, the food is fantastic, and everyone is so sweet and so sustainably minded. It’s wonderful.
What are/were your favourite places to eat in New York?
One of my favorite ‘was’ Pure Food and Wine; it closed a few years back. Located in Gramercy Park, this raw food restaurant had the most imaginative recipes on the planet. Mas Farmhouse is a modern farm to table restaurant that changes their menu often; it’s pricey but a great experience. Fat Radish is another Farm to Table delight on the Lower East Side. And Bare Burger, with their organic ingredients for take-out, or on the run food, is delicious.
What (if anything) do you miss about living in NYC?
These past three years, I had moved out of NYC to the Hudson Valley. Hudson is a small town with 6700 residents, and lots of open space and farmland. So, I wasn’t missing NYC by the time I left. I loved my time there, but it had changed, and after living in various suburbs like Williamsburg and Dumbo, as well as the Financial District, I found that the yearning to get back to nature had led me to seek out other options. I’ve only been back in Melbourne for two months, so I haven’t had the chance to miss anything yet, I’m still soaking in Australia.
What is the best thing about returning to Melbourne?
Being close to my family, and getting reacquainted with them, that’s first and foremost. The quiet. The familiar sounds of birds waking me up in the mornings. People’s polite and caring attitude. And the health care system. The rights of the indigenous peoples had come a long way from when I used to live here. It’s not perfect, but a stark contrast to when I left over twenty years ago. I’m so happy about that.
What do the next 3-5 years hold in store for you?
Oh wow, so many plans, at times, I get overwhelmed, with how many things I want to achieve, but I take it one step at a time and let my heart lead the way. I’ll be studying at Melbourne College of The Arts, next year, that’s going to be very exciting. And I’ll be doing some Master Classes in eco Makeup and Hairstyling, and I’ll be working on AGB to solidify its new presence in Australia.
How has the fashion landscape changed in your mind in the last 5-10 years?
Thankfully in the past ten years, we are all aware of the amount of pollution the fashion industry produces each year: through documentaries, media, and celebrity activists. There are many ethical and sustainable brands now, more than ever before. Climate change is at the heart of the sustainable fashion and beauty movement, and as everyone is driven to do something about the health of our planet, so is the desire to buy consciously.
This Circular Economy model that has appeared in the last ten years tells us to think with our dollars and not with our ego’s. Even the big fashion iconic powerhouses are trying to restructure their supply chain and become more transparent. Eileen Fisher is one that has been leading the way, with a solid strategy, and aspiring goals. I interviewed Eileen and listened to her plans: I felt that her desire to be fully sustainable has always been part of her personality. Other brands don’t have that in the brand’s DNA, so it can be more of a struggle for them to get it right. Mega brands like Gucci or Prada would need to change their business model entirely. After so many years of doing whatever it took to create glamorous designs, using every synthetic, fur, and skin known to man, and being owned by corporations, it would take a lifetime for them to make considerable changes. Don’t get me wrong; they have been inspiring in their artistry, but unfortunately at the expense on the planet’s reserves. It’s an incredible challenge, and I hope, above all, that they make the changes needed to preserve this glorious planet.
What do you think the next 5-10 years hold in store for fashion?
Technology is leading the way: Producing bio-materials from plants, and the earth many resources, are pathing the way to creating original fabrics, that can leave the planet unscathed. Not only in fashion, but in architecture, farming, and home design, all across the design sector, designers and engineers are developing all sorts of techniques to reform our way of living organically.
How has the shift towards more ethical consumption/consumerism changed your outlook and practices?
That’s an interesting question: In my youth, I was cynical and tortured over the fact that no one around me was doing anything to support the cause. Then as an adult, I found ways to do it on my own, but that was very isolating, so that’s why I started AGB. Now I feel that I’ve gone from being obsessive about buying everything eco to thinking well if I keep living like this, I’ll be homeless soon. It’s not easy living green (how Kermit the Frog of me). It can get expensive, only in the way that there are so many fantastic sustainable items to purchase. So, I’ve had to give myself some leeway to not be as obsessive as I’d like. But at the back of my mind, I’m always bargaining with myself: saying things like ‘well you can get that cheap plastic pot because you’re going to keep it forever, and upcycle it when the time comes.’ It’s an ongoing conversation with my choices. But otherwise, I buy from local designers, shop for groceries from the farmers market, and I haven’t owned a car in over twenty years. I also give to varies charities. It’s a balancing act that needs to be kept in check. When I do get a big paycheck, then it’s so much fun to adorn myself with the latest eco-fashion and accessories, knowing that I’m supporting the efforts of like-minded sustainable advocates.
Who inspires you?
Anyone who has a passion for the planet. Who understands that climate change is genuine, and who are willing to do something about it. I applaud the courage of Greta Thunberg, and now celebrities like Robert Downing Jr., who has stepped up to promote smart tech to clean up the planet. There are so many people doing their bit, some in small ways, and others who have access to capital. The thing that keeps me going is people like you, who reach out and support our efforts, and who aren’t jaded. Sometimes life can beat you up, but then there’s always this inner voice that tells you to keep going. When I have those moments, I say to myself, what would I do if I wasn’t doing AGB. And I think hard, and the answer is always, I’d be doing precisely what I’m doing now. Without a doubt, this is my passion and my destiny.