How Anthropologie’s in-house designers make a big brand feel personal

Walk into an Anthropologie store and you might feel as though the cool babysitter you idolized as a child has grown up and opened her own boutique. That handmade effect comes from a large team of people—people like Tram Pham (pronounced CHUM fam), one of the many in-house designers who provide those small, human touches that define the Anthropologie brand. An art director on the nine-member art team, situated at company headquarters in Philadelphia’s Navy Yards, her work makes its way to more than 185 stores throughout the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom.

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After graduating from the University of Cincinnati, Pham worked at two small design shops in San Francisco, then headed to Portland where she spent five years in-house at Oregon Public Broadcasting and six years at Wieden+Kennedy, working on accounts including Nike, Starbucks, and Target. She’d always been a huge fan of Anthropologie, and admits to spending more than a few lunch breaks perusing the racks of its Portland store. So when she got the offer to move across the country and work for the company nearly two years ago, she was all in.

“My team focuses on branding, which includes some product packaging, store signage, and anything the customer touches when they check out—gift-card holders, shopping bags, gift boxes—all the extra touches that go into gift giving,” she says. Every year, the team dreams up new ways to create colorful holiday gift toppers made with yarn, felt, colored paper, and, sometimes, even a little bit of nature.

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Given the size of the team and the breadth of the work, the designs achieve a surprising amount of consistency.

“Most of Anthropologie’s brand vision comes through our amazing creative director, Carolyn Keer, who has been here for 10 years. She totally understands the DNA of the company,” says Pham. “A lot of what we do is handmade, which any designer would love. Much of my previous client work was very glossy, crisp, and computerized, but here it’s all about putting away the mouse and grabbing the paint brushes, markers, and sculpting clay. It takes me back to my college years where there was a lot of experimentation.

“Sometimes I feel like we’re in Santa’s workshop, because I’m surrounded by so many talented people with clever ideas: Audrey Raudabaugh is amazing with cut paper and collage; Mirim Seo is an incredible painter; Jenna McBride creates stunning invitations. They’re all so good at achieving something a little magical with each product.”

And although much of the team’s work is simple, that’s not to say it’s easy. To make a gift-card holder with string and a frosted envelope, Pham spent several hours creating a working prototype, then teamed up with a vendor to ensure that the piece could be mass-produced at a reasonable price without losing its handmade feel, while also guaranteeing that a sales associate could assemble the item at check-out in just a few seconds.

Why so much attention to detail?

“I think that’s what makes Anthropologie unique,” says Pham. “We like to think our stores have a curated feel, more like a boutique than a shop at your local mall. Because of that, we spend a lot of time selecting what goes into our store, so we can create a special experience within the space. And I think all that effort really shows.”