A photographer, curator, art director and all round creative wunderkind, Ana is the creative force behind some of the most distinctive and eye-gasmic creations Auckland’s small business world has to offer.
After the pandemic rendered her photography business DOA, Ana did what most of us tried during the pandemic, having a go at a crafty project. After many (many) batches of crumbling candles and an internal argument with her inner saboteur, Naaytu became the creative platform for local and international makers we know and love today.
Ana was the creative art director behind our latest shoot, Into Eden, we hope you enjoy this interview and insight from 'behind the creative veil'.
Tell us about yourself, and what led you to become the woman you are today.
I grew up in one of the biggest cities of the world, New Delhi in India. It’s full of architecture and history that dates back over 3,000 years, food and textiles, and art (both digital and artisanal) and it’s a melting pot of past, present and future.
Our family travelled extensively when I was a child, so seeing new and unfamiliar cultures, places and experiences became somewhat of a comfort. So it was only natural that when I was 18, I moved to New Zealand for University (having never visited the country!).
This was when I really grew into my own creative vision. My University years will filled with weekends full of sourcing inspiration, mood boarding, collaborating with local creatives and photographing. Photography has always been my happy place.
Talk to us about Naaytu, those early days of its inception and what was the deep burning motivator to turn your vision into a reality.
Honestly, I wish there was more of a noble dream and motivation behind it all but it started as a #covidcraft. It was September of 2020, and after my photography business essentially had been cancelled by the pandemic I felt quite creatively empty and unfulfilled.
On a whim, I bought some candle moulds and I poured our first batch out of our kitchen and there was no looking back! My first goal was being able to get one sale, the next goal was to be able to create our own unique shapes, next was creating a website. And when one goal after another began being completed, I finally sort of stepped back and began looking at the big picture.
I’ve always loved decorating and furnishing a creative home. After all, you are what you eat… or in this case you are where you live. Our homes should be a place where we seek solace but also inspire us. That combined with some very strong opinions on ethical labour and fair production led me to want to curate a space where each item was made by artists and creatives who have dedicated themselves to their craft.
Where as consumers, we can walk in and know that the pieces have been produced in a small batch, minimising waste and the impact on the planet and that the maker has been paid fairly.
How did it go from a dream/idea to present day enterprise?
Blood, sweat and tears haha! Okay, no blood (thankfully) but a LOT of sweat and tears. People always say that having a business is like having a baby, and I don’t have a baby but if it’s anything like having a business, you won’t see me signing up more than once hahaha!
Jokes aside, I think there is no quick and easy formula. It’s just a little step each day in the direction you want your business/ idea to go in. Focusing one day on social media marketing, another day on production, a third day on packaging, then thinking about future launches. It’s just all of these tiny steps that lead to the larger leaps.
The name Naaytu is intriguing. Is there meaning behind it? What’s the story?
Naaytu (pronounced Nigh-too) was a name my best friend gave me in high school, just a spin on my real name which is Anahita. There is no big esoteric explanation, I had this Instagram and I started using it to sell candles, one thing led to another and the name stuck! And now I sort of like it, it feels very 2022. When we think back to BIG businesses of the past, they are always named after a man’s name (for example, John & Peter law firm) and Naaytu is kinda the opposite of that (an immigrant woman’s nick name). Playful, and not taking itself too seriously.
Your work has such a distinct style, have you always had a super creative brain?
Ahhh, thank you! You are too too kind to me 😊
I actually don’t know if I’ve always had a super creative brain… my mum would have to answer this one haha!
In terms of having a distinct style, I think that’s something that’s developed over time. At the start, my images didn’t have any Anahita in them, they had what I thought was good. And then I sort of just stopped trying to be good and just did things in my lounge for the fun of it and one thing led to another…
You have a strong focus on pieces which are designed and created by makers. What drove this decision making?
I joked above about Naaytu, the name being very 2022. And I think this is true for the heart of the business as well… I think as consumers we have moved away from mass production for the lowest $ and instead are thinking more about the impact on the planet, people and longevity of the object.
As a society, we have started having difficult conversations about buying less and questioning our consumption choices and saving for one meaningful purchase rather than many impulse buys. And I think this is because of that concept of using our $ to vote for the world we want to see in the future.
All of this is linked back so closely to waste, and production methods and the way that labour are treated. I could go on and on, but essentially I always knew I wanted to create a business with a soul where it’s people over profit ALWAYS.
All of the candles you sell are made by you! Is there an art to candle making? Was there a lot of trial and error (and wax burns to boot?)
Oh my YES! I would say MUCH more of a science than an art. I absolutely underestimated the amount of learning and work that any new medium would require. There are SO many varieties of wax, each one has a different use (for example some are stronger while some are better for scents and others are visually smoother). Then there is the variables of temperature, humidity in the environment, scent profiles, blending and the list goes on and on!
So yes, it was roughly 6 months of many errors before I began to feel confident in our ability to make without having to recycle an entire batch because of cracks…
Have you got any pivoting business moments, or lessons / advice you can share with someone who is thinking of taking a chance on their dream?
I know this is such a cliché but get rid of the voice in your head that makes you think you can’t do it. The one that says you’re not rich enough or smart enough or able enough or cool enough or whatever it is! That voice is actually your biggest obstacle!
The other would be a more practical piece of advice, get yourself a good planning tool. Whether Trello or Asana, and organise everything big into smaller more achievable tasks. It is SO easy to get overwhelmed, that being well organised will be your superpower
You recently launched a new range of hand poured, soy wax candles – Chai, Kashmir and Flower Mandi. Can you share the story behind these?
These will probably be all sold out by the time this Q&A goes live! So maybe let’s not promote this ones hehe.
What bag are you wearing and what drew you to this one?
The Tilly's Big Sister! There's SO many great things about the Tilly's Big Sister bag! First off, it's made by our friends Saben and everything they make is absolutely fantastic! But aside from that, it's a super versatile piece! Easy for every day use and as easy to dress up, it's actually like the big sister I never had- familiar and comforting hehe!
Rumour has it, Naaytu is coming to hang with team Saben for a pop up in our Ponsonby store.
Sure is! I’ll be popping up in Saben’s Ponsonby store on June 17th, 18th and 19th. I can’t wait to spend the weekend surrounded by the beautiful bags I styled for the Into Eden photoshoot
Running a business often comes with steep learning curves, talk to us about the most valuable things you’ve learn in the past few months…
Business is always a rollercoaster. At the start of this year, I was finally feeling a bit more confident in Naaytu and then omicron happened… and everyone just sort of froze. People were feeling bleak, didn’t feel like joyous and all the industries from hospitality to retail suddenly just went on pause. It definitely shook me up a bit, and that’s when I thought to myself it’s not good to be anxious, but it is good to be prepared for these ups and downs. Just to remember that just because things are growing and doing well, doesn’t mean there won’t be a lull. And that’s okay, it is all part of the journey.
What values/ mantras do you swear by or new ones you’ll be striving to adopt in 2022?
Making more time for the human behind the business. I think it’s easy to have constantly moving goal posts when owning a business, but it’s really important to take a step back to celebrate the achievements by taking time for yourself.
By switching off, and stop giving into this hyper productive lifestyle that we are constantly fed. Just learning to slow down, take days to do nothing, and just be.
Where can we find more?
Shop Naaytu at naaytu.com or follow along Instragram @naaytu_ and one day I might resuscitate my tiktok: @naaytu_
Can't make the pop up?
If you love what you see - Ana has made a code just for our Sabenette's to use! Use the code SABENFRIENDS at checkout for 15% off all products on her website. Valid until June 30th.