Johanna Anaya colours cool leather bags
Leather is in Johanna Anaya’s blood. The Vancouver-based designer grew up in León, Mexico, where her father made and sold leather shoes and her grandmother, along with her uncle, ran a clothing factory that produced leather apparel for American labels. It was there that she learned all aspects of the business.
“I was the only one who could speak English at that time, so I was helping them with the customers up front,” recalls Anaya, who sat down with the Straight at Haiku Studios (644 Kingsway). That’s where she and 11 other local designers recently set up a collectively run clothing and accessories pop-up shop, which will be open until August 31.
“But I was behind the scenes as well,” continues Anaya. “I was actually burning threads and everything. So I saw how things were done from start to finish. So it wasn’t like I was just the owner’s grandchild or anything like that—I was actually in there with all of them [the workers]. And that helped me a lot.”
However, it would be 12 years before Anaya would officially put her childhood training to the test. First, she earned a degree in international trade at Mexico’s La Salle University, got married, had kids, and then in 2010, she started brushing up on her skills with some part-time hand-dyeing, pattern-making, and sewing classes at Vancouver Community Collage and Emily Carr University of Art and Design. And finally, in 2011, she was ready to carry on her family tradition with the launch of Anaya Leather, a stunning collection of handmade genuine leather handbags and jackets.
Working with gorgeous bright colours synonymous with her native land—marigold yellow, Spanish red, and grassy green—Anaya makes her floral-embossed bags look like pieces of art. That’s because they are. Each purse she designs here is then individually hand-chiselled, dyed, and assembled by a two-artisan team in León. Once the finished products are shipped back to her home studio in Yaletown, Anaya sells them either through Haiku or through her website. And if you can’t make it to Haiku or can’t afford an additional shipping cost, she will happily hand-deliver your purchase right to your door (as long as you live in Vancouver proper).
Standouts in Anaya’s debut Vibrant collection, which she’s selling at introductory summer prices (i.e. half off)—are the padded adjustable messenger bag (regularly $324; now $162), her tote bag (regularly $299; now $149), and her cute-as-hell Mexican-rose-patterned Petite Clutch with removable shoulder straps (regularly $199; now $99).
For women’s coats, the highlight has to be the brown fringed nubuck jacket (regularly $487; now $243)—this bohemian bad boy is the perfect summer road-trip staple.
As beautiful as Anaya’s designs are, so far they’ve been easier to sell to customers directly than to retailers. That’s why she was so pleased to be invited into Kim Cathers’s carefully curated Haiku Studios fold. Anaya’s products are a great fit in the funky little shop, where she sells side-by-side with other ultra-cool indie lines such as Daub + Design swimsuits, Bianca Barr Designs jewellery, and, of course, kdon by kim cathers.
Anaya’s also thankful that she’s been able to keep her family legacy alive, especially since most of the relatives who played such a pivotal role in her early childhood education have since passed away. So today, working with leather goods is a chance to reconnect with that seminal time in her life.
“I still remember the smell of that factory—the leather, the glues, the burning threads—I love it,” says Anaya. “And now, because I work from home, when I open the door, I get to smell it all the time and it reminds me of my childhood. It’s just a part of me.”