Fashion designer Anna McCraney comes home to Georgia.
1. What first drew you to fashion?
My mother sewed costumes for me and taught me to sew at a young age, and I always found dressing up to be a really effective way of expressing myself — I could be bold without being loud. Growing up with Southern traditions, it was always important to be appropriate, but the women in my family still liked to be noticed. As a teenager in Atlanta, I would make things to wear out, and then the shops in Little Five Points started to sell them. I loved being able to curate my own personal style, and I loved that other people responded to it. It’s almost collaborative in that it made me feel good to make a piece, and now it makes someone else feel good to wear it — then I can move on to the next idea. It’s a life cycle, and it feels organic to me.
2. Tell me about your first few spins through corporate fashion and how that led you to “The Fashion Show” on Bravo.
I moved to New York in 2000, and there were lots of peaks and valleys those first few years. I decided to pursue my own line while I worked as a retail manager in designer flagship stores in SoHo. I was designing shredded, colorful knitwear that I made myself, until I discovered that my landlord’s wife was running a knitwear factory in the basement of my apartment building in Brooklyn. I made my own patterns out of financial necessity and got pretty good at it.
Things seemed to be falling into place — I had my line in Fred Segal and Patricia Field — but living in New York was expensive, and I always had to have a day job. In 2005, I was hired to open three retail locations for the new brand Dolce Vita. The company was small, but six months in, the owners basically gave me a blank check to start a clothing line under the Dolce Vita label to complement the existing shoe line. I had no corporate experience and very few industry connections, but I knew it was an amazing opportunity. So I just did my research and worked hard. In three years, we grew the line to include a diffusion label and moved all of our production over to China. I learned how to source fabric, deal with sample rooms, manage production, create custom prints and trend forecast. I also learned about the wholesale end, how to calculate margins and how to negotiate. By the time I was cast on the “The Fashion Show,” I felt like an industry veteran. I went on the show with no expectations, but I credit my unconventional experiences with helping me win.
3. What do you love about the kind of private-client work you do now?
I spent four years as an adjunct professor teaching fashion design and merchandising in New York, and the role of educator comes naturally to me. The vast majority of my clients are beginners with an idea they want to bring to life. It can be a very daunting to break into the manufacturing world without having the right knowledge, and we’ve been able to make that a positive and (mostly) painless process for our clients. We break down everything so they know exactly what they are paying for, how long it will take and what to expect in terms of budget and marketing. We also advocate for sustainability, fair wages and American manufacturing. We do everything from custom bridal to athleisure to childrenswear to swimwear. It makes me so happy to see my clients succeed.
4. What brought you to Savannah, and what are some of your favorite things about living and working here?
I was in New York for 18 years. I missed the South, and I needed a change. I still have an office and apartment in Brooklyn, and my production manager works out of that space, but once I realized that I could be more mobile, New York was no longer the center of my universe. And what’s not to love about Savannah? It’s easily one of the most beautiful cities in America. Outdoor space and warm weather were things I always craved in New York. I also came to realize that as much as I love big cities because of the easy access to culture, smaller cities and towns all over the country are seeing a cultural renaissance, and I really like being a part of a smaller, growing community.
I went to college in Providence, Rhode Island, and I like to say that Providence and Savannah are sister cities with different accents. They are similarly haunted, only here it’s Flannery O’Connor instead of Edgar Allen Poe. An art school adds a lot of cultural value to a place, and I have started to employ Savannah College of Art and Design graduates to work for my growing development business. Not to mention, living here, I’m a stone’s throw from my family, I can go to the beach eight months out of the year and I live in a place that defends and preserves its beauty and history.
5. What’s your style motto?
The artist Louise Bourgeois said, “Tell your own story, and you will be interesting.” I think it’s about knowing who you are and what your strengths are, finding your way to express yourself, making something personal and honest — that’s what makes you unique and interesting.