"I want to give even the weird things a chance": Anna Šebestová on designing slug pillows and pangolin shirt worn by former Prague mayor
Sloths, slugs, and starfish – those are some of the unlikely patterns that young textile designer Anna Šebestová draws as the basis for the prints on her clothes and accessories, which she markets and sells under her brand annanemone. Her bold designs have won her the attention of Prague Zoo and even the former mayor, Zdeněk Hřib. I met her recently and started by asking whether she had always been drawn to the weird and wonderful.
“Looking back, when I was a kid I always liked drawing sea creatures and sea weed and weird stuff like that.
“I definitely also drew princesses and things, but I’m quite an empathetic person and I remember when we were at the beach with my brother, I always felt really bad for the dead things.
“So we played this game where he would find dead animals, like little fish or random sea things, and we would bury them. I wanted to make them little graves.
“I remember just feeling so bad for all these dead things, and I think that kind of connects to the philosophy behind my brand – that I want to give even the weird things a chance.”
I didn’t know that that was the philosophy behind your brand!
“Yeah, I do a lot of weird things, like slugs and cockroach patterns. It was weirder at the beginning, now it’s maybe a bit more likeable stuff, but at the beginning I really went all out – slugs were one of the first prints.
“Once there was a couple that got married and the guy’s surname was ‘cockroach’ (Šváb), so they actually got matching cockroach outfits for their wedding.”
So she wore a cockroach wedding dress?
“For the party, not for the actual ceremony – but still, pretty good.
“Also there was one time that somebody got a slug shirt for somebody whose name is ‘Slimák’, which means ‘slug’ in Czech, so that was also really funny. I love these stories, I’ll never forget them.”
Although you grew up in Prague and you and your family are Czech, you attended an international school. Why did your parents decide to give you that kind of international education rather than sending you to a Czech school?
“I went to a Czech school until the age of 12, but my brother did this exchange year in the States and when he came back he was always speaking English. Whenever he couldn’t think of the Czech word, he would say it in English, and I was so annoyed. I was like, ‘What the hell? I want to speak English too!’
“My mum at the time was working for Radio Free Europe – she was in charge of integrating foreigners that came to work here and helping their kids integrate, finding international schools for them and stuff like that.
“And through that she had some sort of possibility to get a scholarship for me, so she started looking into that and that’s how I got a scholarship at the International School of Prague. It was really tough at the beginning, but it was worth it.”
So when you started, your English wasn’t that great?
“No, I couldn’t really speak at all. I mean, I could say the very basics that you learn in Czech school for the first two years.”
Why did you decide to study in London after that?
“Because my boyfriend at the time went to London and I followed him – classic story. At first I wanted to study in Holland actually, and I even got accepted to an art school there, but then I got together with him and he was like, ‘Well, I’m going to London,’ so I was like, ‘OK, well I’m going to London too!’
“I’d always really loved London, but I thought that it was unreachable because it was so expensive. But my then-boyfriend was from really similar circles to me, so I thought if he could do it, then why couldn’t I?
“Then I got lots of help from my generous grandpa, who I couldn’t have done it without.”
When you finished studying in London, did you consider staying there and starting your career there, or did you always know you would come back to Prague?
“I didn’t always know, but at the time I was just ready to try something new, I think. My dream was New York – whose isn’t? So I went there for a few months for an internship which kind of turned into a job.
“That was a good learning curve for me too in terms of knowing what I don’t want to do, but I also learned some cool stuff as well.”
What did you discover you don’t want to do?
“Work for that kind of company. I was their textile designer and I basically had to copy trends from mainstream catwalk prints.
“My day-to-day was looking at trends for what Gucci and Versace had done and copying that, but not copying it so much that they could blame us for it, but enough so that people would want to buy it.
“And of course, I couldn’t do my own stuff – because at the time I had already started annanemone, but I had just put it on hold because I didn’t really know what was going to become of it.
“It was interesting to learn how the real world of fashion works, but I knew that I didn’t want to be part of it long-term.
“There were basically only three people in this company, so the sales rep took me to a sales meeting once, and it was just like The Devil Wears Prada. It was so weird. I really felt like I was on the set of that movie – everyone was so mean! [laughs] I was just like, ‘I’m so scared of these people.’”
Did you know pretty early on then that you wanted to start your own business and work for yourself?
“I had to go home because of my visa, so I was working for this company long-distance from Prague. Every day I was working until midnight and I never felt like it was enough for them, and I was getting almost no money for it because I was still an intern – they didn’t want to pay me, basically.
“But I just kept thinking, ‘It’s such a great opportunity, there’s so many other people lined up for this job, I just have to stick to it.’
“But then one day I asked myself, ‘Am I happy?’ And I realised I wasn’t happy and it wasn’t worth it and I was like, ‘I don’t want to do this anymore.’
“I don’t remember a specific time when I said to myself, ‘OK, I want to start my own business now.’ I just kind of tried it, tried out all these design markets just to see what would happen, but I didn’t have this big business plan from the beginning. I was just like, ‘OK, let’s try making a few pieces of clothing and see what happens.’
“And then I saw that people liked it, that it was something different. I felt like there was a hole in the market for it that maybe could work.”
You’ve said before that your grandpa was a huge influence on you and that he’s your biggest supporter. Could you tell us more about him?
“Grandpa’s turning 100 in July, so fingers crossed he makes it. He’s amazing – he’s pretty much like my second dad.
“He’s always been there for me emotionally – even though he’s a very different person to me, I always knew that I could come to him with anything. He and my grandma basically brought me up as much as my parents did.”
“He’s a very interesting guy – he just got married for the third time at 94! He was a civil engineer and he lived in Libya back during Communism. Even now I keep hearing things about him that I never heard before.”
And he always supported your career?
“He was always really supportive. He was the kind of grandpa who would always want me to try things for myself. If I asked, ‘Grandpa, how do I do this?’, he would be like, ‘Well, try and see.’
“I think that’s such a great way of dealing with kids, just to give them free rein a little bit and let them try whatever, with boundaries of course.
“He was always like, ‘Don’t worry, just see what happens and try it for yourself.’ I never had that fear of starting my own thing – it was always just somehow kind of in the family. There was never any doubt.
“I guess with the support of your family, you know that even if it doesn’t work out, you always have that support system. Not only financially, but also emotionally. They always had my back, so I was never scared to just try it and go for it.”
Does your granddad wear your stuff out and about?
“He does! He’s got a slug shirt, a rooster shirt, and a pigeon shirt. He always wears it proudly to any kind of family gathering. It’s amazing [laughs].”
I’ve seen a picture of the former Prague mayor, Zdeněk Hřib, wearing one of your creations – how did that happen?
“It was a shirt with a pangolin pattern that I created for the Prague Zoo. It actually happened through Instagram – it was the Covid phase and we were making lots of face masks and somehow the word spread.
“It was actually really cool – whenever I went into the centre, I always saw at least one person wearing one of my face masks. That was such a great feeling!
“So I have this really loyal customer in the Plzěn zoo, and she must have shared a photo of one of my face masks on Instagram, and this guy who works for the Prague zoo saw it, and then we somehow got connected.
“I think he messaged me, and I said, ‘I’m happy to make you something for a really good price if you help me get into the gift shop at the zoo somehow,’ and he said, ‘Ok, let me talk to the director.’ And I was like, ‘OK, what?’ I didn’t think it would go that far!
“And then he told me, ‘We’re actually getting some pangolins in a few months and we would really like to get some new merchandise.” So I ended up designing this pangolin pattern and got shirts made for them and some little accessories and things.
“It was last year that they had the official opening of the season and the mayor wore my shirt together with the director of the zoo, which was really cool.”
Is your stuff still available to buy in the Prague Zoo gift shop?
“It is, yes!”
You have a pretty big change coming up soon business-wise – could you tell us more about that?
“So in the last few months, I realised that I'd basically become a salesperson, because I have been making products all these years and I didn’t really ever have time to be creative. I always made one collection a year but I want to do that more because that’s what I studied and that’s where my strength is.
“I realised that this isn’t actually how I want things to go, I don’t want to just look up Instagram algorithms and stuff like that – that’s not what I’m good at, even.
“So I want to discontinue most of my products and concentrate on creating these custom patterns for companies and shops, whoever wants them – even individuals.”
“That would be perfect – yes, please!
“I don’t want to give up the products completely, I do still want to have some limited collections every now and then, because I do have loyal customers and it’s such a good feeling to see people wearing my stuff out and about.
“When I get photos from all over the world, or when people wear my stuff for their wedding, or just random photos of their everyday life in my clothes, it’s such a good feeling. So I wouldn’t want to give that up completely, but I definitely do want more time to be creative, and I’m excited about that!”
Anna's last spring in-person sale will be taking place:
Friday 21.4. 2pm-10pm
Saturday 22.4. 10am-1pm
Materialistic - Havanská 202/10, 170 00 Praha 7-Bubeneč