Made in Barceloneta
1 July, 2015
Present in 24 countries, Maians’ designs draw on the Barceloneta neighbourhood as the inspiration for a modern take on traditional rubber-soled canvas sandals.
Calisto, Inés, Rufino, Fátima and Sisto are just some of the shoemakers in La Rioja who produce models for Maians. The work they do is essential for shaping the designs of his Barcelona-based firm, which is why their names appear on the company’s summer collection. A small homage paid by Maians’ inhouse designer, Alfonso de la Fuente. An interior designer and man of unlimited imagination, he has been working alongside his two partners at Maians, Chad Weimer and Eleno Orzaiz, since 2008. The three committed seven years ago to opening a shoe firm that would unite the tradition and way of life of the city’s Barceloneta neighbourhood with craftsmanship, sustainable materials and a Mediterranean inspiration.
“The idea was Alfonso’s. He was the one who talked me into taking a new approach to espadrilles, their canvas top and rubber soles. He sourced factories that had the know-how to make the local neighbourhood sandals of old and give them a revamp through contemporary designs,” recalls Chad Weimer, an American who had previously distributed other products that de le Fuente had designed, and the idea was implemented in the summer of 2009 when they launched the first Maians collection. “Alfonso had tried marketing the same shoes a few years earlier but they didn’t take off.
This time round, they did!” Weimer says.
Origins in the sea
Fortunately, de la Fuente didn’t give up and continued to seek an opportunity to turn the footwear designs in his head into reality. “Later we had to come up with a name. Going over the history of the Barceloneta neighbourhood, I discovered that Maians was a small island just 100 metres off the coast of the Catalan capital,” Weimer says. He is happy to remind people of the origins of the company’s name because it is a “good metaphor” of what he wanted his fashion project to be, i.e. “a local initiative that is slowly but surely expanding,” he says.
The island was joined with Barcelona in the 16th century to form the city’s first breakwater, an initiative that made a decisive contribution to the development of the first port, a vastly important infrastructure for the internationalisation of Catalan trade. Looking back at the roots of this place name, Weimar believes that the company Maians also has what it takes to become known around the world. “The name works well in other languages, but more importantly it sums up our brand values: local production, the Barceloneta way of life and the recovery of the neighbourhood’s values”.
We are talking with Weimer in the Maians offices in Barcelona, where its parent, Monta Mundo, is located, which also owns the fashion labels Indhy and Me & My Friends. Other members of the team pop in and out and during the interview. It is a small group of 11 people, and they all say they are well aware of the challenges the company faces. As they say, the most important for now is to expand the store concept which Maians uses for commercialisation in Spain. “The store is called Camino and it’s a multi-label space that sells other Spanish fashion firms with which we share values and quality standards,” says the head of the Mains international department, Jean-Philippe Marchesse.
There are currently three stores of this type, two in Barcelona and one in Madrid, and plans are afoot to open more, always respecting the multi-label spirit. “We don’t want to open Maians-only stores here. We want to sell the sandals in the Camino stores. We do, however, have Maians own-brand stores in other countries, such as Egypt, Russia and China,” Marchesse says. These foreign points of sale operate under a franchise system and are in the hands of local distributors who are responsible for marketing Maians across the whole of the country.
In the world
Altogether, Maians is present in 24 countries, with Germany being the most important. “The purchasing power there is higher than in Spain and it’s a bigger country in terms of population. That makes it more important, but obviously the climate we have here is much better for our product,” Marchesse says. Outside of Europe, Maians mainly has a distribution network that represents the firm in the country concerned. Examples include Canada, the US and Asia. “Maians now sells in South Korea, Israel, Turkey and Saudi Arabia and, in Europe, in Portugal, Croatia and Italy. We don’t have a huge presence in any of these countries, but we are growing, and that is important if we want to raise brand awareness,” Weimer says.
The United Kingdom is a market Maians has yet to tackle. In July it will take part in the Jacket Required trade fair in London. Marketing manager María Baños says it will be “a good opportunity to make contact with potential local distributors.” However, this is a one-off action as Maians’ sales strategy has to date been less pro-active than this. Marchesse emphasises that the majority of the current distributors made contact with them through the website. “That’s because they already knew of us from previous relationships when the firm we used to have sold hats”.
How do they approach production?
This previous business project Marchesse is referring to also helped them gain good knowledge about production in China, where the goods were made, and be able to draw a comparative analysis now. “Maians production is 100% local. We do everything at the factories in La Rioja. It is an artisanal and highly personal process. Our collaborators give us the flexibility we need to make changes. They guide us in the process and we know that everybody is working under decent conditions. At the end of the day, we have a very close relationship”.
The executives behind Maians have no doubt that local production is not just a commitment they have made but also responds to market demand. “People are changing the way they shop. They demand quality and are interested in the story behind the brand. Not just in Spain but in China too, people want labels like Maians which have a local identity. They no longer want multinationals that try to attach the idea of a brand identity to something that doesn’t really have one,” says the Maians international department manager.
Another of the company’s brand values, also in line with new consumer demands, is sustainability, “not just in materials, but in processes, too,” says Marchesse, adding that the company “uses rubber that is almost 100% natural for the soles, and the majority of the designs also include natural fibres like cotton.
“However, when we talk about sustainability we are also referring to the processes and the conditions the people work under. They have to be decent and the people have to be happy to work for Maians – and they are,” Marchesse says.
Right now, Maians produces in three workshops in La Rioja, all headed up by the second generation of their founding families. “Thanks to them we have recovered many old types of shoes and traditional shoemaking processes in Spain for our collections,” Baños says. Each summer season, Maians releases 120 men’s and women’s models on the market, while in winter the figure is around 80 models. “It’s a product best adapted to the Mediterranean climate,” they say by way of conclusion.