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Designer Chat: Anne Klein – Fish Kiss

A chat with Fish Kiss Designer, Anne Klein.

Although family had been pushing the former Crocs and Lily Pulitzer designer to create her own line for years, it wasn’t until Anne Klein was giving her nieces and nephews playful “fish kisses” in 2014 that inspiration struck. “I started teasing I would call the brand Fish Kiss,” Klein says, noting that she was curious enough to see if that name was taken. “When I saw it hadn’t, I took it as a sign to pursue the idea.”

Combining her experience in the fashion industry with a personal love for mapmaking, the Colorado native got to work on creating her state- and travel-themed collection of children’s and gift items. “I wanted my designs to have a strong emotional appeal,” she says. “I drew on social media for help to avoid my map designs from being too ‘typical.’”

Polling in-state and out-of-state participants, Klein sifted through the feedback of favorite places before hand-drawing a map of nostalgic landmarks in a whimsical, colorful style. After her first two designs, Colorado and Texas, sold out immediately, she spent the next two years perfecting the other 48 states. The collection now includes one-pieces, hats and swaddles of every state, which have grown popular for birth announcements and newborn portraits. Klein always knew the details would be what makes the collection. “Our mission of reviving fond memories is carried through every aspect of the product,” she says, noting American pride carries through the entire production process. “The manufacturing is done in Georgia and the printing in North Carolina, then the product is sent to Colorado for packaging and tagging by hand,” Klein adds.    

This May, Fish Kiss made its debut in select Nordstrom stores and its website, in addition to independent retailers across the country. “We’re excited to get more Fish Kiss to people who haven’t heard about us,” Klein says, adding she has plans to branch beyond U.S. borders both in sales and design themes. She has already received requests to do countries in Europe, but she won’t necessarily go strictly the map-themed route. “We’re working on ideas that aren’t location-inspired, but inspirational to people for other reasons,” she hints. —Aleda Johnson

How’s business this year? Business is growing, but we’re also mindful about by how much. We’ve been approached by big stores but haven’t pulled the trigger because we want to do things well. If we explode into department stores everywhere, I don’t want to lower the quality of our product or the customers’ expectations of us.

Who is the Fish Kiss customer? We serve the modern family who wants beautiful designs that are relatable but not offputting. We try to make them affordable (one-pieces are $38 SRP) but also practical. We understand if you buy a tea towel or pillow you may spill on it and need to be able to wash it with ease.

What’s been performing best? We just launched this beautiful tea towel that even I use in my kitchen. Parents love using it as burp cloths because it holds up to being washed a million times and the illustrations are kid-friendly since they hide stains well.

What are you doing to gain brand awareness? Social media is important for us. I love working directly with customers. They’ve even given input on some of the designs. Moms will also send me pictures of birth announcements that include our brand, and I love sharing that.

Any secrets when designing for children? I learned this at Crocs: Have fun! Kids have such wonderful imaginations, and if you’re designing for them and can’t tap into that it won’t resonate. I have to think of who I’m designing for, which lets me be a kid at heart.

What do you love most about being a designer?
I love to draw. It’s like an off button for the world. I pick up my pencil or paintbrush, and it’s an escape. You tap into your imagination, and the possibilities are endless. This helps with the CEO part of me, too—I’m always looking to the future.

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