Up Close With Anastasia Gerali
Posted on 23 August 2018
Founder and designer of Alasia Lifestyle, Anastasia Gerali was born and raised in South Africa of Greek parents. She spent all her summers in Greece and Cyprus, forming a nostalgic link with her heritage. In 2012, Anastasia quit her job as a graphic designer at an advertising agency and followed her heart in creating something truly Mediterranean.
Today, Anastasia divides her time between London, Cyprus and Greece, drawing inspiration from all things natural, practical and beautiful.
Can you tell us a little about your background? When and how did you discover your passion for designing beautiful sandals?
I finished art school in South Africa before moving to London to study Graphic Design. I moved to Cyprus after my studies in 2009 where I worked in advertising, branding and packaging design. I actually started making upcycled bags and notebooks as a hobby when I was working at an advertising agency, as I really love making things in my hand. When I wanted to start working with leather, I found a factory that used to make shoes who agreed to make my bags. As they already had experience in shoes, I also added a few basic sandals to my collection. That was back in 2012. One thing led to another, and the market showed me that sandals were in demand, and not bags. I also grew up in a shoe shop, as my mom had one when I was very young. So it was kismet to a certain extent.
You started your sandal brand as Love From Cyprus, what made you decide to change the name to Alasia Lifestyle?
It's not a name I chose for my brand initially. I started a website LoveFromCyprus.com where I would curate and sell other Cypriot designer's products. I was working on a commission basis with the designers and was having some problems getting people to understand my role as a curator because online shopping was still not very trusted in Cyprus at the time. When I saw it was not working, as I had invested money into the site and marketing, I adopted the name for my own sandal brand. At the time I had a brand called ReMade, which was the upcycled bags and notebooks I was making by hand.
You are a one-woman show, kudos to you! What are the biggest struggles you face having your own brand and doing everything yourself?
Time management. I work around the clock as I still haven't found a way to automate my tasks. Also working with a small workshop in the last 6 years was great, but also one of the reasons I have not been able to grow as a business. I have had to also manage my production and physically be present in the factory when I had orders because they work at a very slow rate. I've been functioning like a startup for so many years and am finally at a place that I feel the need for growth by working with the right partners, targeting the right stockists and designing a range that my new production partners can achieve. When you work alone, you have to consider everything and physically do everything yourself, and there are only 24 hours in everyone's day.
Tell us about the time your Instagram account @lovefromcyprus got deleted out of the blue after growing it organically for 6 years. How did you recover from it?
It was at the beginning of this year when Instagram/Facebook did a purge and deleted a whole lot of accounts, two of my accounts were deleted, @lovefromcyprus with 10k followers was the one that hurt me the most. I spent about a month trying to report it, contact Facebook's support team but to no avail. I cried really hard because it took me 6 years to build my following organically. But then I saw it as an opportunity to rebrand.
As Love From Cyprus as a name was not one I chose, but one I adopted, I was intending on doing a rebrand in 2019. This just meant I had to hustle and do it sooner. A fresh start and the timing was actually good too because I had just moved to London, so I made the most of it. It has also given me an opportunity to curate my feed more and keep it cleaner and more authentic to my brand. The website views went down, yes - because most of my traffic is from Instagram, but my new followers at 3k are more engaged now than they were at 10k. Everything happens for a reason, so I am now grateful for the fresh start, with a name which I truly love.
Alasia is the ancient name of Cyprus, so the link is still there, but not too obvious and not restricted anymore. As a brand name, Love From Cyprus was not helping me place my products in the stores that I wanted. You can't have a brand called 'Love From Cyprus' selling in the Greek islands. It sounds too touristic and limited to Cyprus. The ironic thing was that I wasn't / don't sell in Cyprus anyway because locals prefer international brands. It was a double-edged sword.
Sustainability and longevity are important to MISCHA as a brand and manufacturer. How do you source your materials and make sure they're crafted ethically?
I only buy my leathers from leather tanneries in Italy and Greece that are using vegetable dyes, not metal based dyes. In the EU these things are regulated so I know that these tanneries are certified. It's also the reason I choose to work with family-run workshops in Greece and Cyprus. This way I am supporting families who have been making Greek sandals for generations, and with our support will continue to do so. I know that I am paying fair wages and I know their working conditions because I am there all the time, and have worked alongside them. If I were making things in Asia, I would not be able to travel there as often, and I would not have a relationship with the craftsmen themselves.
Where do you see your brand in 2 years time?
Everywhere! Hahaha... It's really important to me to reach more consumers who care about the same things that I do. I do my best to educate my customers about the process involved in making a leather sandal, everything from choosing the right leather, to the person that physically makes it by hand. So in 2 years, I feel you will find Alasia Lifestyle products on more boutiques around the world that curate independent designers products, or have a sustainable ethos.
How do you split time between Cyprus and London?
Winters in London, summers in Cyprus. This is mainly because my production has been in Cyprus, although from 2019 this will be in Greece, so I will happily split my time between Athens and London, and reserve Cyprus just for holidays to see my family. My mom lives in a little village which is where I spent all my summers growing up. It's my favourite place to be and the authentic island lifestyle, where people still make their own things and grow or exchange their produce.
How is it to live a ‘slow life’ and how did you convert from the hectic lifestyle of London?
Although I now 'live in London' I definitely don't live the London lifestyle. We live in the suburbs that have a very small town feel. I only go into central London around once a week to get my fix of culture, exhibitions, visit some of my favourite stores or pop-ups, or for meetings for work or with friends. I very much follow a slower paced life, as I still work from home, and every weekend my bae and I visit country pubs and different villages and shop from local farmers. Very similar to my lifestyle in Cyprus too, as I stay with my mom in Simou village when I go, and only go to the city when I have to visit the factory or post my orders.
What are 5 items you must pack with you on a trip?
Sunblock, my face oils (Vanderohe No.1 or Korres Black Pine serum are my favourites), sandals (as I hardly travel to places where sandals are not suitable - so no snow vacations, thank you), a great tote bag (current fave is my MISCHA Jet Set Tote in Rattan) and I also take a face mask samples to pamper myself away from home.
Tell us how you caught the travel bug and what's one of your most memorable trips?
We've always travelled since I was born. Being born in South Africa, my father is from Greece and my mother from Cyprus, we would travel to Greece and Cyprus every year for the summer in July, which is South Africa's winter. I can honestly say I have not been to many places, and my most recent trips have been the most memorable. In 2017, bae and I road tripped around Kefalonia and Zakynthos and the islands are incredibly scenic and hilly. Greece is amazing and so vast. I will spend the rest of my life trying to discover as much of her as I can, not just the islands but the mainland too. This year we did a road trip around Sri Lanka and the wildlife and nature blew me away. Plus I've always felt the elephant is my spirit animal so when I got to bathe baby elephants in Sri Lanka I wanted to cry!