Chat with ... Maria Asker, president of Ayablu, Inc.
FAIRFIELD — Maria Asker’s passion for fashion and retail shows; it’s essentially been her whole career.
The Fashion Institute of Technology graduate is president of Ayablu, Inc., a company in a licensed venture with Burt’s Bees since 2012, that specializes in newborn apparel and accessories for Burt’s Bees Baby, located in Fairfield.
The New Canaan resident talks about her interests and Burt’s Bees Baby’s future goals and projects.
Q: How did you get started with Burt’s Bees Baby?
A: We have a trademark licensing agreement with Burt’s Bees. They are the licensor and and we, the company Ayablu, Inc., are the licensee that has the exclusive license to use the Burt’s Bees Baby and Burt’s Bees Kids trademarks for apparel, bath linens, bedding, plush toys and accessories.
Burt’s Bees was bought by Clorox in 2007 and they didn't have any licensing agreements then. We began discussions with them and Clorox in 2010 and signed the trademark licensing agreement with Burt’s Bees Licensing in early 2011.
The company designs, markets, produces, sells and distributes Burt’s Bees Baby and Burt’s Bees Baby Kids products to customers including Nordstrom, buybuyBaby, Target, Whole Foods, and Amazon, as well as, having our own website, burtsbeesbaby.com and our brick and mortar store at Woodbury Common.
Q: Were you doing something else before?
A: I started my career in menswear at Joseph Abboud in design and merchandising, then Perry Ellis International responsible for the domestic licensing business. After that, I launched my own maternity wear collection while simultaneously consulting for Waterworks Inc., a bath and kitchen company. I left Waterworks in March 2011 to start this venture. My whole career has been in retail-focused in apparel and home. I studied fashion merchandising.
Q: What is the most important thing you’ve learned in your experience?
A: I’ve learned a lot, I don’t think there is a single one thing but ... the DNA of the brand is ultimately the most important thing to maintain and all decisions should be made with it in mind.
Burt’s Bees is the number one trusted brand in natural personal care and we strive every day to make Burt’s Bees Baby a trusted brand in the children’s wear space. Burt’s Bees has over 90 percent brand recognition in U.S. households. That’s grown over many years with their commitment to the highest standards in natural products and environmental sustainability.
In addition to being true to the brand, it’s important to listen to our customers, learn, implement changes and innovate product. I believe these are key ingredients to the growth of a business.
Q: What have been some of the new trends in recent years?
A: It’s an ever-changing industry and it’s important to always be curious.
What’s most important and relevant to our brand is the consumer who has grown up with sustainability in mind and conscious of what they put in to and on to their body, especially their babies and kids. They’re looking at what's right for their baby and the planet. That means natural and organic.
At Burt’s Bees Baby, 100 percent organic cotton is the primary material we use. Our designs are timeless and inspired by nature. We have a team of in-house designers that start by drawing and painting our designs, which is very unusual in this day in age and sets us apart from our competition. Yet, our price points are competitive with major brands such as Carter’s and significantly less than Gap Baby or Hanna Andersson.
Q: What are some goals for the upcoming year?
A: We’ve been working towards a significant goal: launching internationally. We currently are in Canada and the U.S. and this year we have our sights set on China and Taiwan, it’s really exciting.
The biggest major objective as a company that we have is realizing our opportunity to grow into one of the largest children’s wear brands. We’re a relatively young company and there's a lot of growth in front of us.