We An Idea: Booming creative design agency rebrands, expands markets and extends into domestic channels

The We An Idea core team of 12 operates out of key offices in Miami and Medellin.

Well-known travel retail creative architectural and industrial design firm We An Idea has been on a whirlwind of development over the past year, expanding from its original platform in Miami and extending its services to high profile projects in related domestic markets.

TMI had an opportunity to speak with We An Idea founders Juan Trelles and Ernesto Cajias, whose agency has been behind some of the most iconic airport retail and cruise displays in the Americas since they started the company in 2016.

The company has produced projects in more than 40 cities and ships throughout the Americas, ranging from the Chanel shop-in-shop at LAX Airport with DFS, to Marshall Retail Group’s Beauty Hub for L’Oréal Group at New York LaGuardia Airport, to Hennessy’s stunning shop in shop project at the newly open Dufry store at Montego Bay Airport, to mention just a few.

Its impressive client list includes cosmetics brands from Chanel, Dior, Parfums De Marly, Bulgari and Carolina Herrera to Paco Rabanne and Diptyque, and spirits brands The Macallan, Hennessy, Glenmorangie, Chivas and Absolut, along with a growing number of new brands, says Trelles.

Operating from key offices in Miami and Medellin, Colombia, with a core team of 12 between the two locations, and production facilities in multiple countries, We An Idea provides a range of services that also include brand & corporate identity, custom manufacturing and project management beyond their architecture and industrial design solutions.

Bulgari at Palacio de Hierro Polanco Mexico City

New look, new offices

Sporting new branding and an updated, sleek new corporate identity, the company recently opened a new Miami headquarters in downtown Doral, which they designed and built themselves. The partners have also opened a permanent office space in Medellin, as they focus on strengthening the business in both regions.

Underlining the potential that WAI sees from Latin America, Trelles will be relocating his family to his home town of Medellin to enable him to have greater direct control over their manufacturing partners and provide full support to the local team. Cajias will remain in Miami to oversee the North American operations.

Calling themselves “a Company for the Americas,” WAI takes a regional approach for its operations in North America and LATAM. Using a team of inhouse designers and project managers, We An Idea manages the production through its partnership with manufacturing shops, alongside logistics and install networks, handling the projects from beginning to end.

The company currently works from three production facilities in Miami covering some 40,000 square feet for permanent projects, and there are additional production facilities for brand Activations, Animations and POP displays. In Latin America, WAI works with huge manufacturers in Mexico City, Mexico, and Sao Paulo, Brazil, in addition to nearly 220,000 square feet of production facilities in Medellin, Colombia. To handle its growing portfolio of clients and brands, it has also added production in Argentina and is looking to add more shops in Miami and Colombia, say the partners. This will also enable them to grow the teams in both regions.

Chivas and Royal Salute at Dufry Sao Paulo Airport 9K Store

Activations driving new business

While 95% of We An Idea’s business has traditionally been creating permanent travel retail installations – covering everything from space planning to custom manufacturing to project management— brand activations and animations are becoming increasingly important to the product mix and driving deeper market penetration.

“Animations and activations now account for 30-35% of our business and this could grow, as we are creating projects for both the travel retail and domestic market channels in liquor, cosmetics and fashion,” notes Cajias. This new business includes serving local U.S. perfumeries and department stores such as Saks 5th Avenue, Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom for luxury niche perfumes. WAI began rolling out animations for French luxury brand Parfums de Marly in U.S. Department stores last Thanksgiving, expanding with another push for Valentine’s Day (Ed note: Parfums de Marly is represented by Essence Corp. in the Caribbean and Americas travel retail channel.)

WAI also handled an important rollout for niche Initio Parfums Privés into the U.S. domestic market.

“It’s been an exciting journey since starting in travel retail,” says Trelles.

We An Idea is also expanding its product design consulting activities, helping brands create retail furniture as part of the overall design concept. Case in point are the display units WAI helped design and manufacture for Mijenta tequila. From the first small order for the launch in 2021, WAI added several hundred new units over last two years and is presently working on more.

“Our objective was to create furniture that translated the brand message,” says Cajias. “It is very fulfilling to be part of the development this way.”


High profile travel retail projects

We An Idea also worked on several major new travel retail ventures in the region.

In Jamaica, the designers worked on a shop-in-shop for Hennessey cognac in the newly opened Sangster International Airport in Montego Bay, in association with Dufry. This is the brand’s first travel retail store in the Americas, which Cajias describes as a “top-line project for the region.”

WAI also participated in creating the new shop-in-shop boutique for Chanel in Los Angeles Airport’s Tom Bradley International Terminal with DFS Group. The company had previously been involved with Chanel’s duty-paid boutique opened at Toronto Pearson International Airport in 2019.

“The Chanel shop-in-shop at TBIT is a retail space with great exposure in North America,” says Trelles.

We An Idea has also been involved with producing and installing the new branded corners for Carolina Herrera, Paco Rabanne and Diptyque at the new DFA Store in Panama Airport Terminal 2.

Family company, family values

Even as WAI experiences strong and continued growth, the principals point out that it is a family-owned and family-operated company, deeply committed to its staff and clients.

“We are very proud to say that we never let any of our people go during the COVID crisis. We found ways to keep all of our staff employed. We are also very aware of how important it is to keep a good life-work balance and make sure that is a priority,” concludes Trelles.

WAI is set to continue the path of growth and wide coverage in the Americas region and looks forward to the opportunities ahead.