This month, I was honored to interview Marissa Maximo of Anaak Collection. If you haven't yet seen her line of artisanal apparel, get ready to be swept away by her collections. They evoke ease and approachability. Marissa scouts the globe, searching for the highest quality craftsmanship and materials, presenting a chic, bohemian line of feminine apparel.
Marissa shares her thoughts on how Anaak competes in the competitive luxury market. Our candid conversation includes her take on artisan as a luxury, her most successful marketing strategies and how she balances artisan and machine-made products to keep up with demand (her key to creating a sustainable business model).
To start, can you tell readers about your background and what led you to start Anaak?
Ever since I was a small child, I have always been interested in drawing and painting my surroundings, particularly nature. I studied painting at Rhode Island School of Design. As a fine artist, I juggled multiple jobs from waitressing, art installation and teaching art to underprivileged children. For one of the classes I was asked to teach printed textiles. I would take the children’s drawings, print them onto fabric and make t-shirts, pillows and upholster a chair. It was in that moment of seeing their joy in transforming artwork into an article of use that led me to go back to school to study textiles and fashion. I worked for 15 years as Design Director at a major corporate fashion retailer. From there, I felt a pull to return to a more personal, hands-on approach to fashion and wanted to make a difference in my work. That’s what led me to start Anaak in 2015.
What struggles do you face while competing with other luxury brands?
The biggest struggles are brand awareness and educating the customer. In the luxury market, the customer can more easily trust and equate higher price points to brand names they recognize, such as runway designers. However, as a fairly new brand who does not have press, it becomes difficult to gain new customers. In addition, it is challenging for a customer to understand the true cost of an ethical and limitedly-produced item. They will often resist the higher price point.
With Anaak, I try to offer a unique point of view in the market. Though our style is simple and understated, it is the subtle details of quality fabric, finishing, and the use of natural and/or azo-free (low chemical) dyes that make us special. In addition, Anaak aims to be fashionably relevant, but not beholden to the whims of fast-changing trends. That said, we are slower and that can be a great challenge in a society hungry for change and newness all the time. However, I really strive to make each piece easily approachable and hope that women feel beautiful and comfortable in the clothes.
Do you think artisanal as a theme within your designs is an advantage? How are consumers responding?
I think of artisanal less as a theme, but rather a constant bedrock to the brand. I am endlessly inspired by the works of textile artisans throughout the world. I feel it’s a duty and privilege to be able to share their work to a larger community. For Anaak, that means utilizing their textiles in a modern, compelling, and wearable way. Our customers are most interested in the final garment, with or without knowing the story behind it. They are often pleasantly surprised and even more enthused once they understand the artisan component. For me, I believe the success of design should be that it is strong and compelling, independent of being artisanal.
When we think about the number of items that we have to sell to really “make it” in this field, how are you able to reach your target goals?
It is a tricky balance. For Anaak, our model is to offer product at a more assessible luxury price point. Our prices are at the entry level compared to other luxury brands. However, the only way we can do this, and at the same time pay fair costs, is to work at a lower profit margin. In addition, the Anaak production is split between artisan cooperatives and small factories with machine-made production. Artisan production stays small and limited with a longer amount of production time, while larger orders are produced at well-vetted facilities that have the capabilities to handle volume. This helps to protect the artisans and works at manageable pace and scale; ultimately building a more sustainable, long-term business for them.
What marketing strategies have worked best for Anaak
The most successful marketing for Anaak has come from curated photography and authentic storytelling. Anaak is a very small brand with limited budgets. I am fortunate to work with an immensely talented community who are invested in Anaak. They make up the brand and play a role in our storytelling from the artisans to photographers, writers, models, muses, graphic artists, interns, production and more. Every choice is deliberate with Anaak, and often this can be hard to maintain when there is pressure in the market for constant marketing stimulation. My big tip would be to do what you feel is right and to do it in the most honest way you can.
How many collections do you produce per year? Is that sufficient when competing with other fashion brands that are able to produce much faster?
At the moment, there are three collections a year for Anaak, but we only show in the market twice a year. There is pressure from buyers to create more collections and to show more often. However, in an effort to manage a realistic workload for the artisans and production, I chose to limit the amount of collections. I also work well in advance and am unable to accommodate quick production turnarounds. With this, it is asking buyers to work outside their normal industry calendar, to see the collection outside regularly-scheduled market viewings and to commit to buyer collections earlier. It is unconventional and difficult since it is not the norm for buyers, but I felt that I could only manage with what is possible. So far, it is working.
What is your take on the luxury market today? How do you stay ahead?
I feel the luxury market is a mixed bag. I grew up coveting luxury labels. Yet today, the current retail market has been so unpredictable and volatile that even these well-known and highly established brands are struggling to survive and doing what they can to stay relevant. Anaak can’t even begin to compete with these brands – I don’t have the resources, bandwidth, nor capital. But I can continue to work to have a unique point of view and to offer our customers something that will have purpose and meaning for them personally.
Where do you think the artisan sector is moving? Do you see differences between the US and European markets in their appreciation for artisan?
I believe the artisan sector is growing. In some ways the US seems to be more advanced in educating, marketing and promoting artisan work from small brands to larger corporate retailers. Yet, Europe has a more intimate and everyday relationship with artisan work since craftsmanship and quality are engrained in their culture and heritage. I think Europe is more willing to pay the true cost, and the US is just beginning to be open to this concept.
Where do you go to see trends and just a bit of inspiration?
I worked for years as a Director of Concept and Trend and traveled all over the world to see different cultures and places. For Anaak, I still travel, but mainly to visit the artisans and work on-production. The artisans and their craft inspire me, and each collection is sparked by their work. The creative process is inspired internally; it is a story that I am continuously exploring via the fabric, structure, people, places and all that encompasses the story of Anaak.
For more info, please visit: www.anaakcollection.com/