Maaji, the Colombian bikinis that seduced L Catterton
Born in 2002 by sisters Amalia and Manuela Sierra, the company specialized in swimwear took a leap into international markets after being purchased by the investment fund.
In its short history, Maaji managed to find its way into one of the most competitive sectors in Latin America: swimwear. The Colombian company, which developed most of its expansion through the multi-brand channel, was able to remain in a niche market that already had big operators, such as Agua Bendita or the Mexican 98 Coast Av., and make a difference that got the interest of L Catterton.
Maaji’s origins go back to 2002, when sisters Amalia and Manuela Sierra decided to start up their own fashion business. With an initial investment of 18 million Colombian pesos (5,000 euros at the current exchange rate), the Sierra sisters launched Maaji, inspired by the fish that lives in Thai waters, Mahi Mahi.
The capital to start up the business was a gift from their father, a Colombian businessman that was linked to several companies in the South American country. Although the company specialized from the beginning in swimwear, Maaji was also for some years Agatha Ruiz de la Prada’s partner in the Colombian market. Currently, the Sierra sisters are still part of the management team of the company: Amalia is the Commercial Director of Maaji for the United States, while Manuela is now Creative Director.
The US is Maaji’s main international market, where it operates in Nordstrom, Bloomingdale’s or Amazon
Since its opening, Maaji had the ambition to export its products, strengthening the presence of the brand in several countries through the multi-brand channel, department stores and e-commerce platforms. Distribution through third parties is still the Colombian company’s main business, without neglecting retail. The first establishment of Maaji was set up in 2009 in El Tesoro shopping centre, in the city of Medellín.
“We had the big boost seven years ago, when we hired a US employee that made us notice about the value the brand would have in that country,” claims José Ignacio Soto, Maaji’s CEO. The brand started moving forward in the United States with clients like Nordstrom, Bloomingdale’s, Neiman Marcus, Anthropologie or Amazon.
The expansion of the Colombian company also set its focus on Latin America, especially in Venezuela, an important partner for many years for Colombian fashion. Mexico, Chile and Guatemala are other countries in the region where Maaji has spread its presence, as well as Europe, Asia and Oceania, where the company considerably operates through the multi-brand channel.
The company was also for some years Agatha Ruiz de la Prada’s partner in the Colombian market
As the Colombian company gained presence in several markets, foreign capital turn their attention to it. In April 2017, the Colombian group was acquired by L Catterton, the fund born from the union of L Capital (the investment branch of LVMH) and Catterton, where the French giant LVMH also participates.
The purchase of Maaji was carried out in parallelwith the acquisition of the Australian Seafolly, also specialized in swimsuits. Both companies are now part of Swimwear Hólding, a conglomerate specialized in beachwear, whose headquarters are located in Singapore.
With the entry of L Catterton, Maaji reorganized some areas in the corporate structure. The Sierra sisters are currently shareholders and also part of the managing board of the company.
Another of the group's major changes came just over a year after the entry of the investment fund. In September 2018, Miguel Piedrahita, CEO of the group, left the company and was replaced by Soto, who worked for a year in Maaji, holding positions of responsibility in the technology and in the operations department. Despite his departure, Piedrahita is still Strategy Advisor of the Colombian company, from which he is part of the managing committee since since 2015.
“The entry of L Catterton gave us a long-term vision and allowed us to see the horizon of the company beyond five years,” underlines Soto. “The fund has opened the doors to us on an international level; it is the right partner at the right time,” insists the manager, who also emphasizes the importance of maintaining the DNA of the brand with the entry of an investment fund.
One mile around water
Maaji started its diversification in 2010, when it began creating the first swimsuits for men, which nowadays are still part of the business, although they do not constitute the bulk of the distribution. One year later, the company followed the steps of some companies in the swimwear sector with the launch of its first activewear collection. “We always made an effort to be a company that goes beyond the product, and that is why we offer products related to the subject of water, from beach clothing to accessories,” explained Soto.
Another business the Colombian group started up was Casa Maaji, a resort hotel located in the Colombian city of Cartagena de Indias that was open only for a season, and that aimed to bring a brand experience to its most relevant clients, as well as to Colombian and international influencers.
Maaji also put into operation three years ago a Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programme that includes cleaning and taking care of the environment. Earth Warriors has the objective to clean oceans and beaches all around the world, as well as to recycle the plastics that are found in them.
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