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Emerging Designer: A Leather Love Affair With MANAM

Alluring boxers adorned in immaculately constructed leather garments flood the warehouse gym. Their bodies powerful and focus sharp,  they slip their hands into the padded white gloves…

“MANAM juxtaposes the soft, comfort of knit fabrics and lounge-wear with the tough, made-to-last nature of leather goods.  I aim to make both the soft and the tough into something functional, practical, and exciting to wear!”

Supple and strong, leather is the replica of femininity in fabric form. Using a combination of delicate knit fabrics and ever-lasting leather, MANAM’s latest collection— “Skin and Stone”, strives to amend society’s preconceptions on what it means to be a woman.

What was once viewed as meek and delicate, is now fiery and strong. Natalie Yaru, the founder of MANAM, sets out to redefine the female stereotype, communicating a message of female empowerment in her most recent campaign.

We sat down with the emerging designer to go behind the scenes of her collection, the campaign and the business of creativity.

Emerging Designer Natalie Yaru MANAM

What is MANAM?

My family (last) name is Romanian.  “Mana” is the Romanian word for hand.  I literally dreamed up this palindrome during an afternoon nap and found it perfectly fit the mold in my search for a name.  MANAM is “mana” spelled backward and forwards, symbolizing that any way that you look at my company, the hand of the artists and craftsman involved will be highlighted.

What makes your brand unique?

MANAM juxtaposes the soft, comfort of knit fabrics and loungewear with the tough, made-to-last nature of leather goods.  I aim to make both the soft and the tough into something functional, practical, and exciting to wear!  And MANAM will always remain with domestic production to support American industry and economy.

What has been the most difficult aspect of being an emerging designer and building your own brand?

Money.  I have been a bartender for private parties, Wolfgang Puck, and various restaurants. I also tried sales design for Closet World.  It is so hard to earn enough, and have time/energy left to “do” MANAM.  It has also been a huge challenge to try and trust other professionals to work with.

It is very sad that everyone is hell-bent on looking out for themselves (myself included) because we’ve all been screwed over in various efforts to do collaborative business.

How did you get into leatherworking?

I fell in love with leather and the craft behind it while taking a shoe design class at Woodbury during my final year there.  With a few months of leather-working experience under my belt, I created my senior collection, entitled “Stratosveil Inteligenta”, diving deep into leather construction and technique.

I got so into these puppies that I spent most of the semester on them, and left myself with one week to make two more pairs.  My instructor was mad that I came to final critique with about 1.5 pairs done.  But I think he was at least impressed with this one.

The following is a link to a small article with editorial shots of the original collection:

https://issuu.com/thelafashion/docs/september_2013_issue_2/52

Who is your ideal customer? Who is MANAM made for?

A woman (or man, someday soon) who works hard to have a good life.  She enjoys what she does even though it can be rough.  She is smart, and conscious consumer who seeks out ways to practice “better” consumerism.

What was the inspiration behind the Skin and Stone collection?

The “Stratosveil Inteligenta” collection was well received, so I thought it fitting to translate those designs from runway into ready-to-wear.  From there MANAM’s launch collection, “Skin & Stone”, came to life.

emerging designer MANAM

Your collection’s campaign photography is amazing. You communicated a powerful message around women’s empowerment in such a cool way. Tell me about the process.

I came up with the idea when I started boxing in April 2015.  I bought my first pair of gloves and some other gear, and I kept noticing all the use of leather.  Plus, I dig the look of a boxing shoe/boot.  I love the classic, yet powerful appeal about the sport.  And I found boxing so stimulating to train in because of the mixed use of mind and body; both equally responsible for success at the sport.

So, I had the concept, wardrobe, and boxing props all squared.  And the gym I was boxing at in Orange County was kind enough to let me shoot there, free of charge.  The rest was basically a freaking miracle!  I had a photographer and videographer lined up; sadly, I wasn’t all that confident that working with them would cut it.  No models had responded.  THEN, via my craigslist ad for hair and make-up, someone from LA reached out… she literally brought the whole team down to Orange County for me the very next day.  I.e. two models, hair, make up, photographer, AND videographer!!!  I am so, so incredibly lucky to say the least.

What advice would you give other designers and makers who are trying to build or grow a brand?

I would say “hang in there/never give up” but they most likely already have that frame of mind.  Though, we all need reminding sometimes, as this was me recently:

It is OK to need encouragement from others at times, but at the end of the day you have to be your own #1 fan… while being humble.

But here is the big one!  STICK TO YOUR GUNS!!!  You painted a picture in your mind of what you wanted to create.  Everyone, and their mother, AND your own mother will have input to give.  They’ll tell you how they think you should be doing it.  To which you should do your best to [calmly] respond, “Have you tried doing what I am doing?” Only you truly know what your heart is striving to create, and whether you feel like explaining the long version to people or just givin’ em the old elevator speech, don’t ever forget why YOU started, and the values YOU want to stand for.  And with that said, have so much patience because it takes time, but it will be worth it.

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