Two life-long friends have come together to breathe life into a shared dream: to create a business. In 2013, Ana, who has a background in pharmaceutical sciences, and Daniela, who trained in radiology and marketing, created Maria Maleta. A brand of bags and purses with a unique concept: one reversible bag with two sides you can use. Get to know Ana Neto and Daniela Marques.
How did this project come about?
Daniela and I have known each ever since we were kids. We grew up together in São João da Madeira, and we’ve been best friends since we were teenagers. We went to college and lived together for many years, but we didn’t have the experience of having a business together, which was something we have wanted to do for a long time.
In 2013, when we were already working in the areas we’d trained for, we started thinking of starting a part-time project, since we were living through a global economic crisis and our professional prospects were not great. So we decided to begin a project that could offer us creative freedom and a little extra money at the end of the month. We had several ideas, but the fact we grew up in São João da Madeira, and both of our families are involved in the footwear industry, was decisive. Growing up in the middle of a footwear factory gave me the technical and material skills necessary for the creation of Maria Maleta. Initially, we thought of going into the footwear sector, but we realized there were already so many excellent and prestigious footwear brands in Portugal that creating something differentiating and innovative would be too much of a challenge. So we chose tannery, a field that excited us a great deal and which is in many ways linked to footwear.
Then, one summer afternoon, we scribbled down some sketches and ideas, and came up with our first product: a clutch bag!
In what ways is Maria Maleta different?
What distinguishes a brand is its differentiating concept and design: a bag, a woman, two sides to reveal.
The increasingly detailed choice of sustainable raw materials is also something that differentiates us. We are increasingly concerned with adding value to our products in balance with the environment.
It also distinguishes itself by its partners. The most recent partnership is with Big Blue Ocean Cleanup, an NGO that focuses on cleaning the ocean and recycling waste from the sea and beaches.
Maria Maleta doesn’t want to be just another product or concept. We want to highlight independent 21st-century women. An active woman, an entrepreneur who, without putting her feminine side aside, fights for women’s rights. Someone with a sense of humour, devoted to the causes she defends and values the details and history behind a product. Someone who appreciates quality and design in the way she expresses herself.
What have been the main challenges in this process?
There have been many challenges. From the product being what we conceived to the strategy of instantly communicating what we wanted to put into the world, as it’s often challenging to distinguish yourself in the fog of constant and infinite information in the digital scene. With the craziness about the ‘now’ and the ‘immediate’, trying to catch someone’s attention and give them a sense of the timeless and durable bag that lasts a lifetime is very difficult in this era of instant Fast Fashion.
However, we always try to face challenges positively and constructively.
In your opinion, what does the new generation of entrepreneurs have to offer the sector?
With the digital revolution, the world has been evolving in such a way as it has allowed stigmas and prejudices to crash down while creating unparalleled transparency and creative freedom. Products no longer have to follow colour or gender rules; they can be many things at the same time, which is very positive. This new wave of talent has much to offer and has achieved previously unseen creative freedom.
What advice do you have for a young person setting out in the industry?
The learning process is continuous, and there are no standard fits-all formulas. Hard work and determination, however, are undoubtedly essential, and resilience is a key characteristic for an entrepreneur. You will make mistakes and face obstacles, but the most important advice is not to give up and to always believe in what you’re doing.
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