You know when you discover a brand for the very first time and you immediately want to not only wear the clothes, but meet the owner, too, and also find out the whole story behind it? That’s the feeling I got when I spotted Ocean + Main online less than a fortnight ago. A brand that does things like turning ethical clothing on its head. Like sourcing the fabrics that the fashion industry tosses away and re-purposes them by turning them into luxurious caftans and tunics. Like using zero water in production. Like making everything locally, in Los Angeles. Like being a small company, making limited edition garments in order to make a small difference in our big world. Like not sacrificing style and quality in order to do things mindfully. Like being born out of the desire and courage to follow your dream.
As soon as I discovered Ocean + Main, I reached out to the founder and creative director, Mary Price, to learn all about her journey to create the perfect caftan and to carve out a lifestyle dictated by her own rules and passions.
“I think my woman is a bit of a free spirit, and age is inconsequential. She loves travel and is mindful of the planet and the people in it.”
Mary, why tunics and caftans? Why not something else?
Caftans and tunics have an enduring appeal to me. They conjure up visions of exotic holidays, bohemian villas and air perfumed with jasmine. Their effortless ease speaks to relaxed, artistic life unencumbered by convention. Maybe by making them, I’m hoping to achieve that lifestyle! There is a bit of nostalgia in my choice. As a child growing up in Hawaii, my Mother and her friends left a lasting impression, floating effortlessly across the lanai; exotic, free, and happy in their flowing caftans. I also find the universality of the caftan incredibly appealing. Every period in history, every climate and every culture has their take and I love scouring thrift stores and flea markets across the globe in search of each society’s version – kurta’s, banda’s, muumuu’s, kimono’s, yukata’s, abaya’s, dashiki – the list for inspiration is endless.
What are the core tenets on which the idea behind ocean + main is based? And what does the name ocean + main stand for?
The name ocean + main is both figurative and literal. First, living near the ocean is a huge inspiration. I love being in it, around it, near it and, most importantly, saving it. As we use no water in production, we aren’t further polluting the oceans waters by dying, treating and manufacturing more fabric. Second, the collection can be worn both at the ocean and on main street. And third, all our garments are made in downtown Los Angeles on Main Street. So, the collection is actually inspired by the ocean, and literally made on main street.
Who do you design for?
I think my woman is a bit of a free spirit, and age is inconsequential. She loves travel and is mindful of the planet and the people in it. She wants clothes that suit her lifestyle and makes choices that are on-trend, not trendy. At the beach, she wants to look chic and have a bit of sun coverage. On the street, she is comfortable in her own skin and dresses with her own perspective on life and style.
A philosophy that translates well into the values of ocean + main. What are the perks and challenges of a socially conscious brand?
One of the great perks of being a socially conscious brand is it hones your strategy and informs every decision you make. If an action doesn’t serve your overall mission, you can let it go. The down side is there is still a perception that being socially conscious comes at the expense of quality, luxury and style. I think that is changing, however. It feels like a moral imperative today for any business to have a socially conscious pillar to their strategy. It’s not only the right thing to do, the customer today expects it. We have reached a saturation point of consumerism and availability of options that buying one more thing doesn’t provide the retail therapy it once did. Many consumers are looking for an experience more than they are looking for things today and when those customers can buy into a brand’s philosophy, they are buying into the experience. When we can “buy good” and “do good” for ourselves, others and the planet, it feels like a win-win.
Who and what inspires you?
I’m inspired by anyone who is living a truly authentic life, regardless of their vocation. You know when you meet someone who is just in their lane? They are doing exactly what they were called to do and they are completely genuine about it? That inspires me. As far as what inspires me, I feel like I’m inspired by something new everyday. It may sound like a cop out, but I’m inspired by nature, art, photography, travel, a conversation with a friend. Just about anything can spark a new thought or idea.
What are the pros and cons of starting a fashion company in Los Angeles, away from the fashion capital of New York? And how does living in Los Angeles influence you creatively?
I think there is no better place to start a business than LA. Los Angeles is so alive with creativity, collaboration and support. The barrier to entry is much lower than NY, from the cost of living to the accessibility of raw materials, manufacturers, and other entrepreneurs and experts. Everyone’s door is literally open and the attitude is always “you can totally do that!” I once read, “NY is a place for making it. LA is a place for making things.” Truer words have never been spoken and I wish I knew who said it so I could give them proper credit.
What’s in store for ocean + main? Are you planning to extend your range of products?
We will definitely expand into other apparel categories that remain true to the ocean + main ethos. Look for new dress options and even possibly the ‘man tunic’.
What drove you to the fashion business in the first place?
I’m a bit of a numbers nerd and I’ve always leaned towards the creative. It may sound surprising, but fashion is a great place to blend the two.
How exactly is fashion a great place to blend the two?
Many people think of a career in fashion as simply ‘glamour, travel, play with clothes’. In actuality, that is only about 10% of your job on the merchandising, designing and buying side. A good merchant and designer has to employ many different skills, and a strong sense of analytics is invaluable. Number skills are important in everything, from calculating the amount of fabric you need to buy to projecting and managing your inventory. It is always helpful to understand the cost of running your business and how to analyze it. Without those skills, or a strong partner who has them, it makes success in the industry an uphill battle.
You spent years as a designer and buyer for luxury brands like Neiman Marcus and Jigsaw London, and eventually grew weary of the fashion system and your place in it, the tremendous waste in the industry being one of the factors that prompted you to start your own company. How do you see the future of fashion? Because so many of the people I admire and who I come in contact with prefer mindful shopping and meaningful brands, such like yours.
Sadly, I don’t think mass consumption is going away anytime soon, but I do see a huge shift in the industry. People are shopping differently and customers are truly democratizing fashion. They are starting to dictate, as they should, when and how fashion is delivered and they are forcing every fashion house to take a hard look at their established practices. For commodities, consumers shop for price. For something unique, they want an experience or a compelling story, and that’s where ethical brands can make a difference. I think it is a hugely exciting time for anyone who is ready to embrace the change.
How much talent, how much hard work and how much luck would you say that is involved in a successful fashion brand?
Hard work is certainly number one. Like in anything, luck and timing play a massive part. Did I mention hard work?
Mary Price, founder and creative director of Ocean + Main
What does style mean to you?
True style is both timeless and effortless.
You’ve been working in fashion for many years. How has that influenced your personal wardrobe?
By fashion-girl standards, I am a huge disappointment! Having the latest and greatest used to be important and I did accumulate a nice collection from designers I respect and admire. Today, I’m practically an ascetic monk. Traveling so much forces you to simplify and I’ve pared down my wardrobe to a few key pieces. If it doesn’t fit in a carry-on, it doesn’t go, so I only buy pieces I know I will really wear. I also find a simple wardrobe frees up my creative energy to channel into my passions like ocean + main.
You love to travel, and travel is also an important part of your work. Which is your wardrobe item with the most beautiful story attached to it?
Years ago, I was in Milan during an unusually chilly March. I went into the venerable 10 Corso Como and bought an amazing jacket from a young upstart label, Helmut Lang. It was one of his first collections and I wore that simple, one button single breasted jacket all over Europe that Spring. It is still in my wardrobe today and remains in heavy rotation. It inspires me every time I wear it not only because it reminds me of an incredible time in my life, but also reminds me that well made, great design never goes out of style.
“I love the feeling when you spend an entire day outside in beautiful weather doing something active, and you fall into bed completely spent, like you used every minute of the day and just breathed it all in.”
What is your one favourite thing to do in Los Angeles and which you would miss if you lived anywhere else in the world?
That’s easy. The ocean.
One thing you can not start the day without: One cup of coffee and at least 10 minutes of quiet time to reflect on my day or meditate.
Where would we find you when not working?
Paddle boarding, an art museum, a yoga class, the beach, on a hike, or dinner with friends and family.
Latest book you’ve read, latest film you’ve watched:
The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead. Moonlight.
What makes you happy at the end of the day?
I love the feeling when you spend an entire day outside in beautiful weather doing something active, like paddle boarding or a long hike, and you fall into bed completely spent, like you used every minute of the day and just breathed it all in.
photos: Ocean + Main