Conversation with ANNAMARIAANGELIKA
On a cool October morning in Manhattan, we opened up a highly anticipated package from Berlin. Inside, contained a medley of ANNAMARIANGELIKA’s colorful knitwear – stitched together from Peruvian alpaca wool and organic cotton. While we were instantly charmed by the soft garments and cheerful aesthetic, our minds soon wandered to the story behind the pieces…
Who held the needles that knitted this pompom beanie?
What statement is the cozy hugs sweater making?
While The Canvas is a collective of rising ethical fashion brands, we’re more importantly a collective of stories. And we’re bringing you an exclusive look behind the threads of our beloved garments - the tales of our brands and the people who created them.
We began with Julia, founder and designer of ANNAMARIANGELIKA. Shortly after we arranged her knitwear throughout the store, we spoke with Julia one night over Zoom. While currently traveling through South America in search of brand inspiration, Julia was able to make time to share her inspiring story with us.
So Julia, let’s start at the beginning. What are you doing and why?
Julia: We started ANNAMARIANGELIKA in 2016 by creating four different sweaters, each with a matching scarf and beanie. Every piece is inspired by Peru and tells a specific story. For example, one item is inspired by a coffee shop in Peru where I had a very nice interaction with the staff. Another tells of the time I lost my passport and received incredible support from the Peruvian people. Because I didn’t speak Spanish at the time, I wouldn't have been able to figure this issue out without their help. In the end, I was able to fly back to Lima without having a passport. These strangers immediately made my problem into their problem, and I will never forget it. These kinds of stories are my inspiration to create, so each product has a special story to tell.
Amazing. And tell me a bit more about the idea. And how did you get into sweater creation?
Julia: I have been interested in handicrafts ever since I can remember. I find the idea of creating something with my bare hands fascinating. When studying fashion design, I chose Peruvian handicrafts as the topic for my Master's in 2014. Peru has always been super inspiring to me - I’ve dreamt of going since I was a child, and was thrilled when I finally had the chance to go there during my studies for a research term in 2012. My focus was on sustainable production possibilities and artisanal handicraft of the indigenes cultures in Peru. I traveled to different parts of the country to learn more. I visited yarn mills, and met with knitters and artisans using natural dyes. During my time here, I started thinking about doing my own thing, and knew I wanted to incorporate the people and places that are so inspiring for me. The idea of starting a business in Peru sounded like a win-win as it would give me a reason to frequently visit the country and people I love.
Super interesting, and what was your next step?
After finishing my studies I worked in retail sales for a high fashion brand. I was in charge of customer service, merchandising and organizing VIP shopping events. This gave me good business experience as I came from a design background but now got to learn how to make sales, calculate prices etc. Soon after that, I decided I would start with crowdfunding for AMA on Kickstarter. I moved to Berlin around this same time, which turned out to be a perfect city to grow the brand as it heavily focuses on sustainability, sustainable fashion and the creative industry as a whole.
Absolutely. So regarding the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, do you pursue specific ones? And if so, why?
Julia: We meet several of them but not on purpose. Since the brand is built around Peru, it is very important to work with materials from Peru and keep the supply chain within the country. For example, if you source cotton in India then color it in Italy and produce the garment in Poland, it causes a massive ecological footprint. So my idea from a sustainability aspect was to keep the supply chain in the country - from the fibers we are sourcing until the finished garment. This concept is very important to me.
We also only work with organic fibers because I don't like the idea of micro plastic. Even if it's recycled plastic, you still face the same issues with micro plastic in clothing. Plus we follow a zero waste model where we work with leftover cutaways from garments and knit them into our designs. We use the same concept with our yarn - small amounts of yarn are often thrown away in production, but we actually prefer to use them. This idea is reflected in our designs as we mix different colors of yarn, making our pieces colorful and unique.
Because we usually have only 20 - 30 items of each design, we look for leftover material before adding in anything new. For example, we will ask ‘hey, what do you have leftover in red or in blue?’ If we are out of a certain color, we will change the design based on what material we currently have to work with. Our process is very organic, but always oriented towards the sustainable ideas we wish to pursue.
That’s so great to hear. So what advice would you give readers who wish to be more sustainable in everyday life? It could be related to fashion or sustainability in general.
Julia: I would say look at the little things you can do everyday. People often say ‘hey, I can’t afford to be sustainable.’ But sustainability is not only about buying sustainable products. It's also being careful with the resources you already have. Take good care of your belongings and look to repair them before replacing them. Turn off your standby at night. You know, it's the little things everybody can do that make a difference. Sustainability doesn't always have to be this huge thing that potentially scares people off. It’s more about looking at what you can do within your own environment.
Another easy component to look at is food. If you’re not vegetarian, maybe only eat meat a few times a week. Also, do you really need things wrapped in plastic when you go grocery shopping? Take a cotton bag or container instead. In terms of material goods, think about how long a product will last before buying it. If it’s a good quality product, it should last you a long time. This is especially true for garments - this way when it comes time to part ways, you can sell them secondhand or give them to friends instead of creating immediate waste. You can also look for clothing that is biodegradable. I love the idea of anything that closes the loop.
Totally. And may I ask, what was one of the biggest challenges you managed to overcome in your journey as a brand designer and entrepreneur?
Julia: I would say the biggest challenge is (and continues to be) getting visibility for a small brand while also working in the sustainability niche. Because you don't often have the finances to put a lot into marketing. But that's where The Canvas comes in - it’s a huge help in generating visibility. You know, to bring brands together to create a kind of force you wouldn't be able to create alone. I think that's the most challenging thing for me - to get the name out there and also keep moving forward. I believe this is a lot of brands' initial challenge. In the beginning, it's maybe not so smooth and everything doesn't work immediately. But it’s important not to get discouraged and to continue step by step - to stay focused and follow your ideas.
Great. And final question - what is your Canvas?
Julia: I would say daily life and things that are simply happening - in the way I observe and see them. At least that's how I work with my collections. For example, this inspiration from Peru is coming from how I see it. I think ‘oh, that's nice’ or ‘I like that’ but these are very subtle sources of inspiration. I look at it like collecting different experiences, or moments. And at some point, you choose a few and bring them together - that's how I create work and how I am as a creative person. And it’s so fulfilling. What gets me up every morning is truly the fun I have doing this work. I think it's so important that you like what you do - then you look forward to it. I'm really, I would say, proud of where this vision led to… seeing as it all began with four sweaters.