Representing the creative future

Anne Isabella: Starting a brand with a clean conscience

Discover the inner workings behind the Berlin-based emerging label

After graduating from Central Saint Martins and gaining much valuable experience in the industry, young designer Anne Isabella launched her own label in 2020, focusing on sustainably created clothing and footwear. Anne Isabella’s playful prints, reminiscent of past trends of the 60s and 70s. In catching up with the designer we have been allowed access into the inner workings of running a socially and environmentally responsible brand, particularly during the impact of Covid-19.

What is your brand about?

In my work, I like to rework archetype clothes and give them a twist. At the moment I am drawn to the 60s and 70s. The optical prints that I engineer for each style are a playful way to change the language of the clothes I design. In many ways, it is about subtle sartorial rebellion, created through changing and distorting details on familiar clothes.

Looking back, what advice would you give yourself as a student?

I’d probably start by giving my student self a hug! It took me quite a while to feel confident about my style and direction. Being in art school, you’re at a place and time in life where you get to experiment, to try out what works best for you. Not every project has to be perfect and if they are, then maybe you are doing something wrong. Eventually, the most important thing is to be happy with the work you are making and to know what it means. Sometimes it can be hard to communicate, but as long as your direction is clear, you will get there by putting the work in.

Anne Isabella's Process

“A difficult aspect of the pandemic is that you’re suddenly having to decide so many things outside of the design process, such as what company form to register as or in which countries to trademark the brand.” – Anne Isabella

How did you decide to stop work for others and set up your brand?

It was always lingering somewhere in the back of my mind, to have the creative freedom to build my aesthetic. At the same time, working at Courrèges was something that I was super curious about, so I had to take that opportunity when it came. After spending some time working there, I realised that I felt most comfortable working across disciplines, which is difficult to do in a company. I also had started something in my MA collection at Central Saint Martins that I wanted to develop further so the decision felt natural.

What are the best and worst things about running your brand?

Having creative freedom across the design process is of course one of the most appealing aspects. But it is also the transparency that comes with that – having a 360-degree view of a garment means I can choose the factory and the fabric. This allows me to make decisions based on what is important to me, not just in terms of design but also as it relates to the environmental and social impact of the garment.

A difficult aspect is that you’re suddenly having to decide so many things outside of the design process, such as what company form to register as or in which countries to trademark the brand. Luckily, I have many amazing friends, some of whom are also running their brands, and they are willing to share experiences and answer all the questions I have. We share our learnings and this is a huge help.

Anne Isabella's home studio

“Besides the fact that there is generally less demand from consumers, I think one big disadvantage of the pandemic is that no one has had the chance to experience my clothes in real life.” – Anne Isabella

How has Covid affected running Anne Isabella? Do you feel that there are added hardships that this has presented?

Besides the fact that there is generally less demand from consumers, I think one big disadvantage is that no one has had the chance to experience my clothes in real life. It’s a shame because I’m really proud of the quality that they are made in, the fabrics I have sourced, and the little intricate details. All that gets lost.

Anne Isabella Rasmussen holding one of the pieces from her new collection

What is the creation process of your digital prints?

Since my BA in Print Design, it had already been a big part of my work, something that I wanted to continue with my brand. The starting point for me is the silhouette, as it is like a canvas for my prints. The shape of the garment defines and directs the prints. So, at the moment, I enjoy working with archetype garments that feel very recognisable. In this way, the alterations in the details feel noticeable. It’s mainly playing with the idea of the double-take. For production, I need to work on one piece at a time and be careful in my cutting as the fabric moves in the printing process. When I grade my patterns, I need to readjust every single print, so it’s quite a hassle, but I enjoy nerding out with it. I like the subtlety of the prints warping around the details, and it’s always so rewarding to see the final piece.

Anne Isabella FW21, Photography by Valeria Herklotz

Shoes are a big part of your brand identity. What is your process when it comes to footwear?

Yes, I think shoes help tell the story of the brand. The gogo boots came during my MA at CSM and were a component I knew I wanted to include in the brand from the start. But it was a mission to find a factory willing to collaborate! Since finding a factory I have discovered that the development process is very similar to how I generally design, especially because they are made of fabric.

How do you deal with buyers and stockists? Is it hard? 

I am currently working on sales internally, which can be difficult to navigate. The past two seasons I took meetings with buyers virtually, which has a financial advantage, as I have been able to do everything from my studio, but of course, buyers don’t physically experience the clothes which is a shame. On the one hand, retail is great because of the added exposure it can generate, but it also pushes the prices to such high levels. So last week I also launched an online shop. Ideally, I would make both selling channels work.

“Brexit and the added customs hassle have made that more complicated though, as any requests from the UK are almost out of the question now.” – Anne Isabella

What is the everyday life of running your brand? 

Everyday life is constantly changing. The first season was all about working out my partners, for prototyping/producing the clothes and shoes. Finding mills and sourcing materials for the first time. The second season was about handling the production of SS21 while trying to design a new collection at the same time. It is a lot of multitasking, and a lot more emailing than you might imagine. I am excited to start with my third season. I feel that I have learned so much from these past two seasons and things are starting to become smoother.

Is it hard to get press attention or have you found fashion media accessible?

In terms of press loans, that has been easier and a useful way of getting some more exposure. Brexit and the added customs hassle have made that more complicated though, as any requests from the UK are almost out of the question now.

Anne Isabella FW21, Photography by Valeria Herklotz
Anne Isabella FW21, Photography by Valeria Herklotz

“As a small brand, it can sometimes be tricky, as you are not a priority to factories. ” – Anne Isabella

How do you find the motivation to create in lockdown? Have you been alone or do you have a team? Where are you based?

I am based in Berlin, working from a home studio, and my team is currently very small. For FW21, it consisted of Cissel, who was assisting me with pretty much everything 3 days a week, and my boyfriend Max, who helps me with everything admin-related. We wrote my business plan together, and he helps me navigate bigger decisions. It has been so crucial to have them on board. I also work with freelancers occasionally. During lockdown Cissel and I just kept on working as usual. I am still at the early stages of my brand and would need quite a bit to throw off my motivation. It is expected that the first few seasons will be difficult, and so in many ways, this is no different. At least I don’t know any different.

During these extreme circumstances, how has this changed production in particular?

I had started reaching out to potential factories in the first months of 2020 and was able to visit the shoe factory that I am now working with, in Portugal, about a week before Berlin went into lockdown. However, the factory was closed for a long time, and my designs were postponed more and more. As a small brand, it can sometimes be tricky, as you are not a priority to factories. We managed to get the shoes done, but only at the very last minute.

“I think it can also be challenging for emerging brands to live up to the fashion calendar, especially when you are not taking part in the official fashion week.” – Anne Isabella

What is the future for Anne Isabella as a brand?

It was really important for me to integrate responsible practices into my label from the start. I carefully sourced certified materials, whether they are GOTS certified, recycled, upcycled, or new materials such as tencel. This is something I intend on continuing. I also want to focus more on accessories, but it will take time before I can really expand on that. Lastly, I have a lot of plans for knitwear! All these are quite cost-intensive, so I plan on introducing these elements one at a time.

Are there any parts of the fashion system and industry that you think do not make sense for young designers? 

As a small brand, selling to retailers can eat up your margins, as you mostly buy small quantities of material and produce very limited amounts of clothing. This drives the final prices to levels that can be unappealing. I think it can also be challenging for emerging brands to live up to the fashion calendar, especially when you are not taking part in the official fashion week. But it is important to try and stay in sync with the buying season, as there are quite specific windows that you don’t want to miss.

1 Granary

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With unprecedented honesty and depth, 1 Granary Issue 6 dives into the work and lives of fashion designers today. As a response to the construction of desire and personality cults that govern our industry, the magazine steps away from the conventional profiles and editorials, focussing instead on raw work and anonymous, unfiltered testimonies. For the first time ever, readers are given a truthful insight into the process, dreams, fears, hardships, and struggles of today’s creatives.

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