Anorak founder Cathy Olmedillas on creating new ventures and why slow success is the best

Since 2006, independent kids publisher Studio Anorak has taken children's magazines in bold new directions. As it celebrates its 18th anniversary, we caught up with founder Cathy Olmedillas to hear about what she's learnt on the way, how she's taking Anorak to new markets, and what creatives should keep in mind when embarking on fresh ventures.

They grow up so fast. Anorak may be the 'happy mag for kids' aged between six and 12, but it's recently hit a big milestone as it turns 18. Founded by Cathy Olmedillas, Anorak encourages its young readers to tap into their imagination, use their creativity and amplify their voices. It does this with the help of incredible designs and illustrations, and with new territories in its sights, it looks set to get bigger and better than ever.

Age is just a number, though, and for Cathy, being eight does not mean she feels that Anorak is all mature and sophisticated now. "I am majorly grateful, and a bit misty-eyed, that we have been able to last that long, and in disbelief over the support we are still receiving," she tells Creative Boom.

"Eighteen years is a lot, but every issue feels like a new creative experience, so I am far from being jaded yet! The last 18 years have been a lesson on how to just do something, silence the critics and keep going regardless."

Just like any publication, Anorak has had to adapt to survive. When it was first launched, Cathy points out that it was more of a lifestyle magazine for kids, with plenty of tips on what to wear and places to visit. "My model was The Face, where I used to work," Cathy explains. "I quickly realised that the last thing parents and children needed was more reasons to buy stuff, so I pivoted it to more of a reading and creative experience.

"That's when it resonated most with our readers, who appreciate it as a calm space where they can learn and exercise their imagination. I have also found that our mission to inspire children with the joys of creativity is becoming more and more pertinent, as education is obsessed with numbers and exams, and we are all hooked to our screens."

It seems to be a winning move. In fact, Anorak's success has led to it being approached by agents in Korea and China, offering exciting new regions for the magazine to expand into. "The publishers we work with understand our ethos and look after our titles really well, so we are very lucky! "

Far from being a strategic move, this growth occurred naturally, with publishers expressing an interest in Anorak's titles for specific reasons. "I think our high production values mean that we are seen as books rather than magazines, so it helps attract book publishers," Cathy reveals.

Branching out can be daunting, no matter how incredible your work is and how well it's received. Even Cathy can be cautious. "I love new ventures, maybe a bit too much!" she laughs. "But 18 years later and a little wiser, I have learnt that not all ideas are good!

"So what I do now is write projects down and let them unfold. I give them some time and then ask the hard questions with a bit of perspective: do they still excite me as much as when they first visited me? How much money would I lose or make if I went ahead with them? Do they really matter, i.e. are they vital? Will they benefit people and the planet, or will they waste resources? I find that these help me figure out whether I am absolutely convinced I can spend all my energy making them work."

As well as taking Anorak to new regions, Cathy has been busy launching her production and talent agency antonia&louise. Having worked in the advertising agency as an executive producer for 15 years and witnessed how the industry can get stuck on the same artists, she wants to use antonia&louise to shake things up for the better.

"While there is a lot of talk about representation and access, there is so much more to be done," she says. "Our premise is to help the less established ones get their foot on the ladder and support them all the way because we know they can rival the more established ones. Talent isn't all about having tons of experience. We work with many independent artists, more than we officially represent, and we picked up some amazing projects in 2023, so let's hope 2024 will be as kind!"

When it comes to supporting young talent, Cathy's agency will pitch them to art directors, advise them on all aspects of their careers, and invest in making things happen for them. "For example, photographer Emmanuel Cole's big ambition was to launch his first book to celebrate his ten years in street photography," she reveals.

"We know how to publish books, so we made that happen for him with Bearing Witness. We worked with designers/ printers and promoted it to the press. I am passionate about 'letting creatives create', so this is my way of facilitating that. We deal with everything the creatives don't want to do!"

Cathy's advice isn't limited to her clients, though. She's even got a few pearls of wisdom for creatives looking to strike out and do something new like her. "Be patient," she concludes. "If you had given me that advice 18 years ago, I probably would have rolled my eyes because who wants to be patient when you have a burning idea you want to launch?!

"Even though the world wants us to believe that success happens overnight, my experience is that it doesn't. It takes ages, and it's actually quite a good thing that it does. Slow wins the race, as they say."


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