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This Filipina Worked for International Brands Before Returning Home to Start Her Own Label

Anika Martirez is set on making Filipinas feel pretty and special through her RTW pieces.

by Janey Aniban Rivera | Mar 14, 2019

"My designs are not meant to be avant-garde or 'cool,' you know? It's always something that makes the wearer look pretty. And who doesn't want to look pretty, right?"

There is a certain fire you see in Anika Martirez's eyes when you talk to her about her online clothing brand Anika. After all, she's learned from the best. After studying in The Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in Los Angeles, she went on to work for bigwig fashion brands BCBG Max Azria as a Fabric R&D Associate and then for Halston as a Material R&D Associate. Despite gaining a foothold in the States, she returned to the Philippines and took the route not many fashion designers take. Instead of putting up her own brand of bespoke creations, she decided she wanted to establish her own ready-to-wear clothing line online.

It was a daunting task given the absence of local fashion brands online, and Anika was one of the first. But in spite of this, she was able to create a brand with a very clear aesthetic: Anika represents women who want to dress for themselves, women who like clothes that are timeless and sophisticated, yet laidback and effortless. And Anika knows this about her clients: "They just really want to look good. Plain and simple." 


Below, we talked to Anika about how she started, the importance of representing Filipino craftmanship abroad, and where she's taking her brand in the years to come.  

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What is Anika? How did it all start for you?

"I went to Ateneo and then I studied fashion after graduating. I studied fashion in L.A., and then upon returning I worked for a startup. But then after working for 10 months for that startup, I decided to start something on my own because it was like I was giving away my ideas. And it's always been a dream of mine to start [my own clothing line]. I just dove in, full force. I didn't expect it to be well-received. We're still a work in progress, though."


What does your team look like now?

"I'm a one-woman show but I have an assistant who works with me full-time. In terms of production team, I have a team of 12 seamstresses."

How involved are you with your brand?

"Everything! From concept to production. I also do patterns; I studied fashion so I know how to do the actual garment-making."

What is your brand's overall aesthetic? What kind of Filipina are you dressing?

"I have a mantra: Understated is underrated. But you can't really box [the brand] in and say [the clothes] are basics, because they're basics but they're not boring. There's always something special about it. Upon seeing [one of my pieces], you might say, 'Oh, it's a simple dress.' but there's always something special about it. A twist. And they're not very trendy. They're more like, pieces you'll have time and time again that you'll keep in your closet and not give away."


Why did you choose this route to fulfill your dream of being a designer? Why delve into ready-to-wear versus bespoke designs?

"I chose this route because when it comes to designing for a client, the client ends up being the designer and not myself. That's why I love RTW, because it's very take it or leave it. If you like my design, then I'm happy. If you don't like it, I'm still happy. Whereas if I do custom, I end up taking the backseat and let the client design for me. So I didn't really like that process. I like to take control."

What kind of Filipina are you dressing?

"She's the type who is not looking out for designs that are groundbreaking. She just wants clothes that are very wearable, easy to wear everyday staples with something special. With the three years I've had this brand, the Filipinas who wear Anika are always the type who want to feel pretty. Not the type who want to wear my clothes because they'll look 'cool.' More of, 'Oh, I feel so good when I wear your pieces.' Because I get that feedback all the time, when they wear this top or bottom from my brand, they feel confident, they feel beautiful. I guess she's kind of the girl-next-door type of Filipina."


Why do you think it's important to cultivate a local brand?

"It's important to me that everything is rooted locally because I feel that, with fashion, it's a platform for us Filipinos to show international players that we are at par with their quality and design. I don't like that mentality that international brands are better. So in regards to being mostly local in most aspects of my brand, it's like showing the Filipinos and international clients that Filipinos are actually very talented.

"I ship globally now and I've had clients from the States, Great Britain, Dublin, and Estonia. And these are not Filipinos at all and I was astonished. They've also said that when they receive their items, they're surprised that the quality is actually at par with what is being offered internationally. And without hurting the pocket, either."

Isn't it sad that these international clients are so surprised about the quality of the items coming from our country?

"That's why! But it's a start, though. By being very conscious about rooting the brand here, it's showing international clients that we're at par with the rest of the world. It's just one step, but at least it's a start, right?"


How helpful is social media to your brand? Has it ever influenced your designs since you have an immediate reaction to what people want?

"With social media, I am more receptive. I listen to what my clients want through social media. I get direct feedback for free, so social media has played a BIG role. If there's a demand for a certain style or silhouette, then I give in to that. Because why go against what my clients want?"


So some clients actually give you suggestions?

"I try to tally what the comments say. This silhouette [I'm wearing], I've brought back a couple of times. This is actually the third time I've used this silhouette. So if there's a best-seller, I take note of it. Then if I come up with something new for a collection, I also take that into consideration. I'm not gonna do anything drastic. My designs are not meant to be avant-garde or 'cool,' you know? It's always something that makes the wearer look pretty. And who doesn't want to look pretty, right?"

How would you describe today's Filipina in terms of fashion?

"They're more experimental and creative now, but at the same time always go back to the pieces that are very wearable. And that's where my clothes come in. You have these staples with something special about them and you'll always revert back to these clothes.


"But not all the clients I have are the ones that are into staples, they also experiment a lot. Like, some of them might wear the top I'm wearing now with something printed on the bottom. I'm surprised with how they put outfits together and their style aesthetic."

What do you envision for your brand in the coming years?

"I take it step by step. This year, I'm planning two big goals, which I can't really share now. But every year I try to do something new and fresh in terms of marketing or where I sell.

"Right now I don't have a brick and mortar, I mostly sell online. But occasionally, I'll have pop-ups. So when people ask me if I'm going to have a brick and mortar store one day, I don't know yet. I'm taking it year by year. I like how everything is going right now. But this year I have something planned, so just watch out for that. I'm trying not to be complacent and leave things as they are. I want to change it up also and gain more clients."


Please tell us something about yourself. Apart from growing your online business, what else do you do during your spare time?

"I'm planning trips! I learned that I overworked myself too much last year so now I'm shifting the focus on self-love and taking a break because I find that integral to becoming a success. Not just hardcore working 24/7. So right now I'm busy planning some trips for myself and for the brand also. I'm trying to combine work and play."

As a brand thats been around since 2016, what initial impressions did you have about having an online business and what has changed now?

"When people heard about me starting a brand online and through Instagram, they said, 'Oh, so you'll be one of those Instagram sellers?' and I wanted to try to break that mold. Back in 2016, not many clothing brands were popping up, I was one of the new players. And Anika wasn't your typical Instagram seller, Instagram was just a platform. But I did have a working website and I would have pop-ups, too."


So when you started you didn't exactly have a business model or anything to pattern your business after?

"No, I just went with the flow. But I know I didn't want to be like those other Instagram sellers. First of all, if people commented asking how much, I don't say my prices on Instagram because I find that very weird. All my prices are up on the site, so people could just go there.


"There was something that was always more elevated about it. But then when they find out that the [campaign] shoots are so nicely done and they see the prices of my clothes, people don't think twice because it's not that expensive. But it's not cheap enough for you to question the quality. So my price points were just right for my clients. And the same clients I've had from the very start, I still have now. It's all about taking care of that client base that I love so much. They're really my bread and butter and were there since day one. Some who've even turned into friends."

How do you meet your clients?

"Trunkshows and also by appointment. I'm open to private appointments. I set up shop in my house so those who are hesitant about buying online can visit my showroom. Some clients even travel all the way from Corinthian Gardens to Alabang just to fit the clothes. So all these clients that I've gotten to know already, they've been there since 2016."


What's your demographic? What kind of people are drawn to your brand?

"Well, age-wise I feel like it's as young as 16 and as old as 60. The bulk of it is 25-34-year-olds, but I've had clients that are as young as 16 and old as 60 wearing crop tops. Well, my crop tops aren't super cropped, they end right at the belly button and you usually pair them with high waisted items. But, really, I feel it's the attitude. I mean, take my 60-year-old client, who not only has the body but an eye for style, too. And then you can also have this 18-year-old who wants to dress more mature. But it all reverts back to these are women who want to feel good about themselves. When they wear Anika they're not out there to look cool, they're not that type of girl. They just want to feel pretty!

"I feel so happy whenever clients send me photos of them wearing my stuff and they tell me that they got so many compliments, it really makes my day! And it helps me understand who my clients are. They just really want to look good. Plain and simple."


Produced and Styled by Yanna Lopez

Co-produced by Jam Nitura

Art Direction by Mark Buenaobra

Photography by Tarish Zamora

Hair by Jan Edrosolan 

Makeup by Patrick Alcober