This month, I sat down for an interview with Amira Marion of Archive New York, a designer and friend I’ve had the pleasure of knowing for years. She offered her insights on how she’s seen the industry change, for the good and for the bad. She sheds light on the role social media has played in instigating some of those changes, as well as what's working best for her business, where she’s struggled, and how to stay competitive in what has become a very saturated market.
Tell me how you first go into this field and came to start Archive New York.
I studied fashion design in college at Parsons. That’s where I started getting really into textiles. I started researching indigenous textiles and realized that went far beyond what usually comes to mind. You can find indigenous textiles in almost every county, things like Scandinavian Sami textiles or Argentine textiles from Salta. My research led me down a rabbit hole and when a friend asked me to start a company with her a few years later I thought – “where are the coolest indigenous textiles that are not so far from NYC [where I was living at the time] and what can we make?” That’s when I found Guatemala. I had heard all about Guatemala from my parents, who used to rent a little house on Lake Atitlan in the 70s for a few summers before the civil war. They loved it down there but hadn’t returned since. There were photos and textiles around the house growing up, but I didn’t think too much about it until I started googling “Guatemalan textiles” in my 20’s and never looked back.
You have been in this field for quite some time. What are some of the biggest changes you have noticed?
There are now so many new companies that have opened in Guatemala, making textiles and other products. When I first started in 2011 there were very few, just some that had been around for a long time and had boutiques in Antigua or that were more in the style of non-profit made artisan products. I think Instagram changed all of this. It’s opened up a new world for people to see what is possible and now there are so many small companies making textiles all around Guatemala. Some are very good and are product/quality focused and I really love them (Behind the Hill, Palorosa, Crudo Textiles to name a few). Unfortunately, others clearly just want to have a “brand” but have no design experience. In all cases I still think it’s a positive thing as this means more weavers are being employed and hopefully the industry will be saved from dying out.
Where do you think "artisan" is moving considering it is quite a trend these days?
Well I hope it’s not a trend that’s going away! I think people in the US are really appreciating knowing where their products came from and that they were made ethically. It’s the new luxury, which I think is connected to people wanting organic food, yoga and meditation, and self-enriching experiences. I read an article recently about this on qz.com. There’s a certain type of consumer that no longer wants to show their wealth with labels the way they might have 20 years ago, which is great for the artisan goods sector.
I realize you develop your own designs, sell wholesale and retail. What is working best for you in terms of sales and marketing strategies?
To be honest, I’m not so good at sales and marketing! I don’t like it and I don’t care about it. That being said I need to sell my products, so I do a trade show once or twice a year to meet new contacts and keep in touch with current interior design clients, buyers and press. I basically do the bare minimum…not good!
What do you wish you knew when you first started?
There were times that I stressed about press as I saw other brands get more recognition than me. I realize (though I have to tell this to myself often) that that’s all about my ego and it doesn’t matter. If customers are purchasing my products every day it really doesn’t matter if the “cool people” think my products are cool. Coolness does not matter. Making a product that is meaningful and has some sort of greater reason for existing is the number one concern to focus on! Many people struggle to make it work when selling handmade products.
What has been working best for you?
Make something no one else is making! I find a lot of artisan brands look the same. This past year circle natural fiber totes have been insanely popular, and so many brands were making them (or just buying them in the market and selling them). My advice – don’t! What’s the point? Make something new and stand out. If you’re not a designer, hire one. And make sure to hire one that understands the techniques and materials that the artisans are working with.
When you hit a roadblock, where do you go / what do you do for inspiration?
I visit my cataloged images of thousands of vintage Guatemalan textiles. Either that or my saved folders on Pinterest of so many images. But what really helps is going to Guatemala!!! Or any travel at all but being in Guatemala really solves this issue for me.
What are your thoughts on trade shows for those that might be considering them?
They are exhausting and I don’t like doing them but I’ve made some great business connections at them and it’s always great to keep in touch with your buyers and press face to face, or they may forget you! After doing Maison Objet in Paris a couple years ago I feel the European sector wasn’t right for my brand, price-point wise. I hope this can change! They seem used to Moroccan prices which are much cheaper than Guatemalan.
What's in the pipeline for Archive?
Tabletop!!! This is something I’ve always wanted to do. I just found a few good sources for tabletop textiles as well as Mexican glassware (thanks to the services of AOW Handmade!). Hopefully this will be for Winter 2020.
For more info, please visit: http://www.archivenewyork.com/