Interviewed by Sasha Sarago
Maria Kambourakis began in the field of science, before finding her true calling as a creator. She was born in Australia to Greek parents. Her brand, Anouk Gania, is inspired by her heritage and her time in Greece – it’s minimal, chic and playful. Launched in 2016 after two years of careful planning, the brand’s first product is a range of superbly scented candles. It was a joy to discover the creative processes of this wonderful, inspirational woman.
My background is very broad – I actually started off in science, as a lab scientist. I worked at Melbourne University, in the neuroscience lab there. I did that for a couple of years. I moved into the mental health sector, doing communications. I worked there in the health sector, probably for a decade. I guess I always wanted to do something more creative.
I went quite a few years ago, and spent two months there. One month with my boyfriend, who became my husband, and the other month I spent alone, which was the first time I’d gone anywhere on my own overseas. I think that’s when I finally came out of my shell. Because you’re travelling on your own you learn things about yourself, such as your decision-making ability, what you love and don’t love, the sort of things you miss. It was really transformative to me; I came back much more confident in myself.
I also fell more in love with Greece, because I saw parts of it I hadn’t seen before and that you don’t normally see on tourist pages, like the islands and the beautiful white buildings. But there’s another side to it that’s a lot rougher and rustic – these beautiful rugged mountains and rocks. It made me gain an appreciation for how diverse the country is.
I spent some time in the village where my mum was born, and got to know that side of it. I love how simple and beautiful it is in that area. From that village, if you go walking up the mountains, you can see across the border almost to Bulgaria. I love it up there.
It resonated with me, because I had a few experiences in Greece that challenged me.
For instance, I was staying with my grandmother in the village and she told me not to go walking to the next village because of all the wild dogs around. One day I decided I’d go and just stick to the main road. So I started walking and got halfway up this hill and there was a little shelter, where a farmer would’ve kept his farming equipment, and there was a dog guarding it. Quite a rabid, aggressive dog, and it started growling and showing its teeth. It was one of those moments where you go, “Well, this might’ve been a mistake.” There was no-one around – it was dead quiet. I stood still and the dog came slowly towards me and it wasn’t stopping. At that moment every part of me wanted to run. Luckily I told myself to stay still. I turned around and slowly walked off. It started following me, and followed me for about ten minutes, growling. I think if I’d have run it definitely would’ve mauled me!
Before travelling to Greece, I knew I wanted to have my own brand and business. I wanted to be able to have creative freedom. The older I am the more appreciation I have for my heritage. When I was younger I was forced to go to Greek school every Saturday, and I hated it! I thought the traditions were so silly, but the older I get the more I appreciate it. After travelling to Greece the appreciation grew even more. Plus, my husband, who isn’t Greek himself, embraces the culture and it’s really shed new light on it.
The candles came about because I wanted something that would connect with people, and I think scent does that really well. Scent is so tightly connected with memory and experience, so I thought it was a great way to connect with the country. So if you travel there, then smell one of my candles, it’ll remind you of that place and the experience you were having in Greece. I was lucky enough to find a wonderful perfumer who was able to translate my concepts into fragrances.
To be honest it’s probably been in development for about two years, from the time I had the concept to having the final candles. It’s because I was very fussy about the product – I didn’t necessarily want everything off the shelf, and I wanted to make sure they were made ethically. It was a long process.
I had to learn about what type of wax blend to use, the temperature the wax should be when you add the fragrance oil, the temperature it should be when you pour it into the container, the temperature it sets at, the type of wick you use. Every detail makes candle-making tricky, especially when you use mostly essential oils, resins and extracts. It’s really complex! But eventually it all came together.
My candle-maker, who’s local, runs a wonderful team that does everything by hand. I got to meet them all, which was important so I could make sure everyone was being treated fairly.
In a broad sense, she would be the kind of woman who is the playful minimalist. She’s a minimalist in the sense that she’s someone who is careful with what she purchases, because she wants what she brings into her home to have a story. Playfulness because she likes to travel and experience new things.
I’ve learnt that I’m a perfectionist! It’s a good thing for the end product, but not so good for internal peace. It means you second-guess and doubt everything in the process, but in the end it’s a good thing in terms of the product. Always trust your gut instinct.
One of the most beautiful things about Greek culture is how important family is. I can’t speak for other cultures, but I know in Greek culture family is the most important thing. When a parent gets older, the younger members of the family look after them, so you’ll often find grandparents living with children and grandchildren in the same house. Family is absolutely number one.
Candles, definitely! I burn a scented candle every day. I love scent – it’s very important to me. I have a very sensitive nose, so I just love scent in general.
The other one is my rabbit. I know it’s not exactly a lifestyle essential, but I couldn’t live without him! He’s a little brown mini-lop named Banjo. He’s like a little dog – he’s the most affectionate thing. He also has attitude.
I don’t envisage having hundreds of different types of products, but I’ll have more products in the future – a small collection, which will be a bit left-of-centre. I’ve got ideas for two other product ranges. One of my brand principles is to be unpredictable.
Sasha Sarago is the editor of Ascension Magazine. She is a proud Aboriginal woman of the Wadjanbarra Yidinji and Jirrbal clans ‘Rainforest People’ of Cairns, Far North Queensland. She is also of African-American, Malay, Mauritian and Spanish descent. Sasha’s dream is to savour the breathtaking views of Positano; Moscato in hand as the founder of a globally inspiring lifestyle and media company.