Stefanie Anderson on Designing Sartorial Souvenirs

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Fashion's sense of escapism has paved the way for design luminaries to create clothing that appeals to our inner whimsy. However, what we love the most about the designers we work with at Brand Assembly is their commitment to designing for the modern lifestyle.

Stefanie Anderson rests firmly in this camp. Her brand Souvenir includes resort-ready staples that enable contemporary customers to not only escape in style but dress with ease, while still considering the universal needs when it comes to each garment's wearability. Every Souvenir style has a (global) story, as Stefanie derives inspiration from inspiring locales throughout the world that marry cultural traditions and new luxury through the lens of travel. And when it comes to Stefanie's own story, the designer has transformed her pain to create a brand, and life, that is rooted in celebrating experiences of all kinds.

In today's studio visit, she expanded more on the backstory behind Souvenir and gave us an inside look at her rustic design space in Los Angeles. Read on and meet Stefanie, who shared her thoughts on designing for the rising “destination wear” category, and the importance of collecting and honoring the souvenirs in our lives.

Hi Stefanie, thanks for having us by your gorgeous studio! Tell us a little more about the inception of Souvenir and your background.

I am Stefanie Anderson, the founder of Souvenir, a women’s brand of maximalist ready-to-wear collections, luxury resort wear, and unique designer swimwear. I am an artist with an immense passion for textiles and prints. I’ve been working as a fashion designer and creative director for 20 plus years and have run several businesses over the years. Last year, I had the honor of welcoming an incredibly supportive investor and business partner into my company. This allowed me, for the first time, to focus on building it full time.

What was your first fashion or style "souvenir" as a child that you've continued to carry with you?

That’s a good question. I don’t think I still have anything like that from childhood. I studied ballet and other forms of dance from a young age, so I’m always inspired by costumes. I love mixing bold colors, sequins, and whatever trims I can get my hands on. As a young child, I had a rock collection of beautiful agates and different colored stones I thought were pretty. I like to add details and hand-beading to every piece that are like jewelry. I still collect rocks and shells anytime I travel to a new beach.

Souvenir's story derives from a deeply personal experience. Can you give us a little refresher on your early motivation for starting?

The development of the brand came about years ago. I come from a family of entrepreneurs, so it has always been in my blood. My mom is the original “girl boss” in my world. I watched her partner with my dad, their desks side by side my entire life. They built a company from scratch, and it grew to great success. It's hard to be a just worker bee when you grow up with such inspiration.

I launched Souvenir the brand in 2011 after another trip and followed it by opening an e-commerce shop with the same name, continuing to work as a creative director for others. The loss of my father in 2009 left me with a lot of regrets. I spent most of my 20's and 30's focused on building my career in a cut-throat industry. My family and social life came second. I decided it was time to shift my focus and hopefully inspire other people to enjoy life more. I’m a bit of a workaholic, so I suppose Souvenir is also a message to myself to remember what is important.

Give us an overview on what it’s been like to build a brand in the Resort category. What void do you hope to fill?

We focus on what’s called the “destination wear” niche of the Resort category. Our customer shops for our category when they have events or when they're planning a trip. I design collections with print and fabric stories meant to be mixed and matched as a travel wardrobe. Customers can pick their favorite printed caftan and have options of solids or prints to coordinate swimwear to it. Versatility is key because packing is an awful deed. Most of our pieces can be worn in multiple ways and work just as well as a coverup as they do a beautiful dress for an evening out. A lot of our pieces also have some kind of adjustable detail because it's really the only way for something to fit perfectly. The majority of consumers today are beyond buying tons of cheap things to throw away each season. I’ve decided to instead focus on unique design and interesting fabrics that a Souvenir collector appreciates.

I’m not necessarily trying to fill a void, because you can’t reinvent the wheel in this space. Instead, I’m focusing on creating products based around unique design, art, and emotion; not commodities. Nobody needs a gorgeous dress; they want it. I’m making things people fall in love with and buy because they have to have it. I'm also focusing on the luxury resort customer who is already on vacation. The idea is to discover our collection while you’re on retreat and take something home with you to remember, as a Souvenir!

A big portion of Brand Assembly’s designer community works in Downtown Los Angeles, which has become an epicenter for fashion professionals and creatives. How does this city influence your process or aesthetic since Souvenir is a globally inspired brand?

It's true, and I’ve noticed an increase in individuals and companies moving to LA; particularly downtown. I went to college in DTLA, so it was my first experience here. I work and live here now, so it is very close to my heart. Our main office is in the Arts District, which is close enough to the fashion district but still peaceful and quiet.

New design is happening everywhere I look, and the energy is young. Some of the best restaurants are here, which is a global adventure in itself. The architecture here has a history that is being restored beautifully. I like to research history and discover things from that past, whether it's as close as California or as far as Ghana. I’m interested in bringing back techniques people stopped using and adapting them to create new ones for our products. Los Angeles is a melting pot, and Souvenir is about mixing all of these inspirations together. We don’t make things all in one place either. For example, we love the work our Chinese factory does with silk, but our embellishments are equally important so we might source those from India or Africa. Some pieces are like a little trip around the world.

What are the top Souvenir pieces that you always go to when in need of a "last resort" while traveling?

Our silk prints do well for the luxury traveler who wants a luxe look for lounging at high-end resorts. They like getting an entire coordinating travel outfit so they can just relax on their trips, instead of planning what to pack. Our bright red Moroccan inspired print just came in and is one of my favorites. Red is a signature color at Souvenir, like the red tassel on our label which pulls from the history of tassels, representing a reminder for the important things in life.

These are some amazing travel essentials we’ve done well with and sell at resorts like The Four Seasons. Travelers love the versatility of our pieces because you can wear them to the beach or pool as cover-ups or work into your daytime wardrobe.

At Brand Assembly, we are committed to creating a one-stop-shop for designers to do what they best: design. Tell us more about the experience in working with our team.

I’ve felt lucky to have been able to be a part of the Brand Assembly shows, and their team is amazing. I love the energy they have. Traditional trade shows, showrooms, and retail methods aren’t working anymore, and a lot of companies stopped doing them. For an emerging brand, it's one of the best places to showcase your products to buyers who are looking for what’s fresh.

What have you learned the most since starting the brand, and what are your top tips for fellow designers who may be struggling to stand out in a very niche market like Resort?

I’ve learned to trust my instincts. I try to remember why I decided to focus on the resort market. For one, I’m tired of living under a constant sense of urgency to meet fast fashion deadlines. I worked for a very successful costume company once, and my boss said he didn’t care about timing, he just wanted it to be good. That was so strange to me, but it's the way we should all be thinking in fashion in the sustainable age. It's not worth rushing things all the time if you can’t make the best product. It's better to take time on something unique that makes a better impression. I recommend beginning your process one year from your delivery date.

Secondly, I don’t believe in seasons. It's an obsolete system that makes no sense with climate change. With global warming, it's freezing from January to March in most places. Putting spring out in January or February is just dumb. California is hot until October, so who is buying fall in July? I design monthly deliveries for warm weather. I’ll be adding some colder weather pieces in next fall for windy beach nights and getting in and out of the plane/car! Our customer travels all year round. Pick a month you want something beautiful, and we have it. I don’t care what season you call it. Everything is merchandised methodically to mix and match wonderfully, no matter what you pick.

My advice to fellow designers is to be yourself and let that specific audience become your customer. You can listen to buyers, PR, sales reps, etc. but you need to be solid on what your brand is about and stick to it. Be confident in your decisions and remember that it may take a while for others to understand what you’re trying to do. If you sway to everyone’s opinion, you’ll never have a clear style of your own. Good planning and prevention are everything but think outside the box. If your goal is to stand out, do something to get attention. It helps to stop watching for a while, shut off Instagram, and get some organic inspiration. Most importantly, focus on why you’re in this business today and figure out how to make it worth all the time you spend on it.

What do you hope to assemble daily within your brand or in the context of the broader fashion industry?

I hope to build a brand that I’m proud to be the face of and enjoy doing it. Fashion can seem shallow and without any significant contribution to the world. It can be wasteful and all of the other negative things we’re all attempting to clean up with increased sustainability or responsible manufacturing. I’d like to be a part of making retail great again, by saying no to old systems that don’t work and coming up with modern concepts that work for today.

I’m making pretty clothes that can make people feel happy or remember pleasant times when they wear them again. If I can add some positive messages in with that, why not? Right now, I’m working with a group that is helping save the world's coral reefs. I also have a desire to help the homeless here in Los Angeles. As artists, we have the opportunity and platform to make statements for positive change. I’m sure you’ll see something from Souvenir, but first… the pool. I hope to inspire others (and myself) to take a break, balance your life, and remember what is truly important.

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Photos by Mikaela Hamilton for Brand Assembly