Environment, Sourcing, and Waste Managment
The fashion industry is one of the most notorious industries for underpaid labor and unethical production. There’s too much clothing produced at too low a cost, too much clothing bought unconsciously, too much clothing wasted, thrown away after a few wears. And it’s affecting all of us and slowly smothering our planet. We need to make a swift change if we are to ever repair the damage already done. We need better producers and more conscious buyers. Some of us are already on the path to bettering our practices; others still need to have their eyes opened.
At Maria Heller Designs we believe in slow fashion, in quality, and ethics – these words are not empty for us.
When you buy from Maria Heller Designs you know who makes your clothes. It’s Oana and Maria Heller, a couple living and working together in their home in Transylvania.
This tiny women-owned business has quality, ethics and inclusivity at its core.
Catering to clients of all shapes and forms by carefully crafting made-to-measure garments, built to fit each client like a glove.
We, at Maria Heller Designs, both as a company and as the individuals behind the brand (the two owners, Oana and Maria), are proactively interested in a sustainable, low waste and no plastic lifestyle and mentality.
We do our best to use up all the resources that we have, we only order as much fabric as we need and we keep everything that is single use or disposable at an absolute minimum. We are also making efforts in selecting our suppliers and collaborators to fit the environmental standards of our business.
Many of our items are designed to produce little or no fabric waste.
Such items include all the linen chemises that come together with our Marybeth, Sarabeth, Marigold, Elizabeth, Forestyne, Arietta, Ravena and Morana dresses – these chemises are made up of rectangles for the top and sleeves that use the entire width of the fabric bolt and produce 0 waste.
The tulle chemises of our Morana and Ravena dresses are also made up of rectangles that use the entire width of the fabric bolt and produce 0 waste.
Whenever we have to cut pattern pieces that have more complex shapes and therefore do produce waste, we always keep the offcuts to be used for other smaller pattern pieces, such as cuffs, pockets, straps, and so on.
From the leftover fabric that remains from the skirts we usually cut the top and sleeves of these dresses, using up as much as the fabric as possible.
We have a few dresses that have circle skirts, which take up a lot more fabric, and whenever we cut such skirts, we keep the fabric leftovers to cut the top of the dress from them, and even to be used in other designs that are made from the same fabric and color.
We always keep even the smallest offcuts, because we use them as stuffing, or to make fabric quilts that we then use to make new items.
Ravena is a dress that was specifically designed to make use of fabric offcuts and it’s entirely made of waste fabric.
We plan to introduce many more such items that will turn fabric offcuts into valuable products.
The suppliers we are working with are Romanian, Hungarian or Turkish textile producers, local to our area.
We do not buy our fabrics, our tools or our sewing machines from China, India or Bangladesh, nor are we supporting the exploitation of underpaid workers for cheap prices in products. We price our products so that we can afford a living wage, and to insure that we can always provide the best products and services for our customers.
Our items are made by the two of us, Oana and Maria, we don’t outsource anything and everything from the making of the custom pattern, to billing, answering emails, posting on social media, cutting, sewing, wrapping and making the transportation documents needed, is made by the two of us alone.
We always strive to reduce the waste produced by our business.
We cut each of our items one by one out of fabric, looking to create as little fabric waste as possible.
We do not cut in bulk (layered), a process used in factories that is known for producing very much fabric waste. We arrange the pattern pieces in such a way as to use of as much of each meter of fabric as possible.
Leftover fabric pieces that are big enough to fit another pattern piece are saved for a later use, labeled (what fabric it is and from which roll of fabric) and they get used for another commission. Smaller pieces are saved to make cuffs, collars and other small components of clothing items that we offer in our shop.
For all other fabric waste we create items especially designed to make use of fabric offcuts.
I, Maria Heller, create all the designs and all the patterns.
I usually create a sample first, so that we can photograph the item and list it on our site. This sample is either made adjustable, or it’s made on my particular measurements, or on the particular measurements of my girlfriend, Oana, so one of us can be a model in the photos.
Since we are a tiny business we can’t afford to hire models, so we model our items ourselves for product photos and we also take and edit most of our product photos ourselves. If the items are not adjustable, then original samples are never sold, they’re just used for photos or renting.
Some items are made on stock, and all items on stock are either one size (like capes), or adjustable.
We do not believe in using standard sizes. Each person’s body is unique, so any attempt to make them fit in narrow boxes will leave a lot of bodies out of the equation.
The standard sizing chart, no matter how many sizes you add to it, never takes height into account, so tall and short people never find clothes that fit them right. But we always take height into account, even for our ready-to-ship items! We adjust the length of skirts to the custom height of each customer!
When you order from us, rest assured that we cater to ALL bodies.
All the items that are made-to-measure have a custom pattern made especially for you, on your unique measurements.
I start by drawing your custom pattern, then cut the fabric and sew it all together, press the seams, and take the greatest care in making your new clothing fit you well, and last as long as possible. With good care, the items we make should last you a lifetime.
Check out care instructions for details on how to clean your clothing.
Then the item is wrapped and shipped. All the steps are done by either Maria or Oana Heller. The items on stock are made with the same care. All capes are made from circles of fabric, so they are wide and fit on all bodies. All dresses on stock are adjustable, so please check individual item to see what measurements they can accommodate.
We are always open to customization of all kinds, whether it’s the design, the cut, the length of an item, or the color, fabric or size.
If the few dresses we have on stock cannot accommodate you, please request us to make you a custom size dress.
We do not charge extra for plus sizes! Never have, and never will!
However we will request a custom color fee if you decide you want your dress to be in a color or fabric we do not currently have in house and that needs to be ordered especially for you. All items, on stock or not, can be made-to-order especially for you so feel free to request any customization!
Maria designs all our items, creates all patterns and makes the first samples.
When creating a new item she makes a mockup to test the pattern, and tests the fit on herself.
So we always photograph all our items on ourselves first: either Maria is the model and Oana takes the pictures, or the other way around.
For some items we don’t take any more pictures than that.
We are a tiny business and don’t have a budget for product photography and marketing. So we photograph our products ourselves, modelling them ourselves or asking friends and acquaintances to model for us (in our product photos you’ll often see our sisters, cousins and friends).
On one hand we like this idea, as we think regular people should be modelling clothing in product photos, not models with unrelatable and very curated figures. But this has a disadvantage for us. Romania is not at all a diverse country: we have a racial minority group of Romani people (8% of the population), and other present ethnicities are mostly from neighboring countries (other white Europeans, like Hungarians, Ukrainians, Germans); people of Asian or African descent are too few in number to appear on any census (under 0.1%).
So finding diverse models is almost impossible here.
We can’t afford to hire models from a modelling agency, but even if we did, there are no POC models (with the exception of 1) in any modelling agency in Romania.
Our only option if we seek diversity, is to send our gowns abroad, to be photographed by a foreign photographer.
As you, can imagine, this is expensive, only shipping alone adds up a lot.
So whenever we send gowns abroad for collaborations with various photographers, we cover those expenses from our own pocket, and it’s not easy.
But we try to show some diversity even with our limited resources because we are aware that representation matters.
However, we think all these aspects should be taken into account. If we were based in the US or UK, or even Western Europe, it would be a lot easier to hire racially diverse models. We’re doing as much as we can under the circumstances of our location and financial means.
We strive to use cardboard boxes and paper envelopes for packaging to reduce plastic waste.
We try to use as little packaging as possible. Our clothing won’t come in luxury boxes but rather in packaging that is basic and functional.
Any plastic used by our shipping carrier is provided by them and we can’t opt out of using it. We are a tiny business and we can’t influence their policies, so please dispose of the plastic mailers and envelopes responsibly. We hope that in the future our shipping provider will have plastic free options as well.
When shipping our items we always opt for packaging that is as small as possible and we fold the clothing really tight as to occupy as little space as possible.
We do this to reduce the price of shipping for customers (shipping is paid by volume, not by weight), to reduce material usage, and to reduce the shipping footprint.
If packages contain bubble wrap, they have been recycled from the packages that we have received from our suppliers (fabrics, electronics, tools, etc).
We believe in using up what we have, before buying anything new, so if your order came in a plastic mailer with the TNT logo, know that these were given to us by our shipping provider, TNT, when we signed our contract with them and we’ll continue using them until we run out of them.
We, Oana and Maria Heller, are the only employees of Maria Heller Designs and we run our business from our home, there is no commute and no need to drive to our workplace thus our carbon footprint is small. All our devices, sewing machines, computers, cameras, etc, are turned off and unplugged when they are not in use, as not to waste any electricity.
For our business we use two sewing machines, one Desktop PC and one Laptop, and we do all the work in one single room which we only light during working hours, so our business’ electricity consumption is conscious and regulated.
Whenever it is possible we use digital forms of communication and digital mailing services, thus reducing the consumption of paper.
How we operate
You want to know how our business operates? We offer full transparency.
All the following tasks are completed by the two owners and only workers:
– Designing all the Maria Heller Designs items and sketching them
– Creating our original patterns for each design to make each sample item, and testing each pattern with a mockup
– Cutting the fabric, sewing, pressing seams, ironing eac of the sample items
– Organizing a photo-shoot (including makeup and styling) to create product photos for each sample item
– Modelling for product photos
– Editing the product photos
– Listing each item on the website, writing product descriptions, titles, tags, adding photos, links
– Administering the website and all the social media platforms of the brand
– Posting on social media daily
– Administering all online marketing
– Administering all legal and bureaucratic needs of the business: receipts for purchases, invoices for clients, payments and fees
– Organizing collaborations with international photographers
– Managing the rental service of our business and keeping track of available dates; shipping the gowns back and forth
– Customer service, answering emails, inquiries, commission requests, collaboration requests, rental requests
– Travelling to the capital to buy fabrics and supplies in bulk once or twice a year
– Ordering supplies online, including supplies for custom commissions
– Using our original patterns, producing each stock item by cutting the fabric, sewing, pressing seams, ironing, packing and storing them
– Storage organization: keeping track or stock items and remaining supplies
– Creating new patterns by adjusting the original patterns to the unique measurements of each individual buyer for made-to-measure items
– Cutting the fabric, sewing the clothing, pressing seams and ironing each made-to-measure commission
– Hand sewing, embellishing, adding appliques etc. if the commission requires it
– Communicating with customers that requested custom comissions, consulting on decisions about color options, fabric options, measurements, offering reference photos, sketches, discussing deadlines and budgets
– Managing ongoing payment plans for all clients, and remembering to send invoices for their remaining payments at the appropriate due dates
– Verifying each order before delivery
– Packing each item and adding an envelope to each order sealed with a wax seal and containing a handwritten thank you note, a business card, and a discount code for the buyer’s next purchase
– Scheduling the shipping pickup
– Cleaning the dresses after each rental client