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Maris Collective
Maris Collective

With multi-brand retail stores around the world, 75% of which are at luxury hotels, the 10-year-old Maris Collective knows a thing or two about buying. And despite retail’s general malaise, this luxury collective is growing in size and scope—from boutiques at the Four Seasons to Fred Segal’s new flagship. At the September COTERIE show, the Maris Studio x COTERIE beach club was a buzzing hot spot for brands and retailers to sell, gather, network and learn at the three-day panel program.

The panel “Buying: A Dynamic Mix of Art and Science,” moderated by Accessories Magazine Editor-in-Chief Lauren Parker, featured the Maris team of buying experts: LeeAnn Sauter, Founder & CEO; Jessica Sanderson, Senior Director, Buying and Merchandising; and Jillian McAndrews, Senior Manager, Buying.

Here are some takeaways on why Maris is successful when other retailers are struggling:

They don’t allocate product.

LeeAnn: “Our dollar per square foot is higher than any multi-brand retailer out there. Why? Because we think about retail differently and buy for all our stores differently. First, we don’t allocate product. We start with the client, not the brand, and it’s all about them—from how we design the space to the visual merchandising. We don’t put our name on the door. We look at the client demographic and what those people do before we open the door. We don’t just buy something because we love it. We buy because the client will love it and be excited.”

They constantly scout and discover new brands. Then grow them. 

LeeAnn: “We take one international trip a year and buy international designers. We found 30 designers in a week that have never been to the U.S and brought them back. We went to Brazil and India when no one was going there. We’re a little ahead of the curve. We do what we do to bring newness, and also to help brands develop and flourish. We give an avenue and a platform to bring these brands online. We love to get these brands out there… we believe in the product women should be wearing.”

Jillian: “The brands also evolve with us. They spend time on the properties and do trunk shows and evolve with the customers.”

They buy with a specific customer in mind, literally.

Jillian: “We’ll buy the way we buy and it’s all pointed to a particular store. We’ll also say ‘so and so is going to love this’ because we spend so much time on property and working in the stores. We communicate to the stores and the stores will reach out to that person.”

They know that their customers are the real influencers.

LeeAnn: “One thing that many stores don’t think about is the fact that your customers are your influencers. Don’t just think about the industry influencers. If you have a client in your store and she loves something, she’s your influencer. She’s posting it on social media and spreading the word. Some of our customers have become our buyers. We’re launching our new online store at year’s end and it will be 100% contributed by our clients for our clients. What to do and where to go around the world.”

They make their buyers work in the stores.

LeeAnn: “Our buyers actually spend 6 to 8 weeks working in our stores around the world. We do that because they get invaluable consumer feedback…and not just the nightly recaps we make them read every day! In the stores they listen to people all day. It’s not about being a cool brand with an opinion; you have to spend time in the store to see what people are reacting to. It creates emotion and that translates into great business. It’s the best thing you can do for retail in general.”

They believe non-buyers should come to trade shows.

LeeAnn: “I’m a field person; I love working in stores. And while I was walking the trade show, I wondered how many store people—visual merchants and other store people who are not buyers—are at this show? Probably not many, and that says a lot because they are the ones in the stores who know what the heck is going on! When you come to a trade show, think about who’s coming from your organization.”

They follow last year’s data but aren’t chained to it. They believe in emotion. 

Jillian: “We absolutely do follow the data but we don’t let it dictate what we’re doing in an appointment. It’s important information to have and important to consider, but everything is evolving so you can’t be so tied to it. We do look at historical sales and if dresses are selling well we’re going to protect that business, but we’re not just evolving that navy blue dress. Our clients are coming to us for emotional special pieces; not what is selling season after season. They want the next thing.”

Jessica: “When retailers use data too literally and get too tied into their numbers, the emotion goes away. There has to be emotion for it to work.”

They believe in the scavenger hunt.

LeeAnn: “We’re not afraid to have a lot of different lines and make them work together. We work with over 4,000 designers, with product from chewing gum to the most expensive fine jewelry. Some retailers might think they only want to buy from 20 lines but that’s not the best strategy. Our stores are very assorted but it feels good.”

They think core is a bore.

Jessica: “We don’t do core; we always push the limits. It’s the best scavenger hunt. It keeps the customer coming back for more.”

They believe in change and taking risks… then they get out of their own way.

LeeAnn: “If you’re going to take a chance, find designers who believe in you and will take a chance with you. It’s a give and take. We’re not a small organization but we ebb and flow to make things work if we believe in it. Department stores and a lot of bigger companies stand in their own way with strict rules and hierarchies. You need to get involved in your business. If brands believe in you and you in them, it’ll work! Don’t look at the business the same way year after year. Provoke change. A lot of stores are where they are because they’re not changing fast enough. They’re not listening. Retail isn’t easy but if you stall and don’t change you’re going to be in trouble.”


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