As you all know, I am constantly on the hunt for incredible local shops and e-commerce sites, so when I found Cuyana (which means ‘to love’ in Quechua) while working for the Stanford Graduate School of Business, I immediately contacted them. After checking out their site and adding a few items to a wish list (hint, hint), I had to learn more about the line. You can say it was love at first ‘click!’
It turns out one of their founders, Karla Gallardo, is a fellow South American hailing from my northern neighbor Ecuador. Of course, I knew this was almost serendipitous and decided to go ahead and ask her team members a few things inquiring minds would want to know.
Grab your passport, you are about to go on a shopping journey!
Above: This Dulce de Leche Leather Briefcase will absolutely sweeten up your look
Ryzenberg On: What inspired Cuyana? Where did you get the idea from?
Cuyana: For me, it came from my passions and experiences growing up in Ecuador, where I witnessed the extreme disparity between rich and poor. But Ecuador, like most developing nations, does not lack resources, but leadership and opportunity. I created Cuyana to empower my country, and others like Ecuador, to use their skills toward making high quality products.
In the fashion world, you have to pay a very large price to buy luxury fashion items, when the cost is inflated by the process, including all of the middlemen. The mission of Cuyana is to clean up a lot of the supply chain and create a brand where we don’t need to charge huge markups. There is a lot of excess capacity with producers who used to work for luxury brands, like Valentino, Ralph Lauren and Lacoste, brands that have moved production to other countries. Cuyana brings jobs back to these craftsmen. That, coupled with selling only online, lets us to avoid those markups. Cuyana is creating a new category of products that are high quality at great prices.
Ryzenberg On: How do you pick the countries to do business with?
Cuyana: We start by developing collections around fabrics and materials. We seek the countries that are experts in those materials. These countries have long traditions and have developed micro industries around those materials because they have been worked on for generations in those areas. It is about discovering where the best materials are and what country specializes in them.
Above: Cuyana Co-Founder Shilpa Shah models one of their signature pieces, the Llama Wool Poncho
Ryzenberg On: Who is the perfect Cuyana customer?
Cuyana: Cuyana invites all women to participate in fashion. The Cuyana woman cares about quality and where and how her products are made. She wants timeless classics with a modern twist. She seeks pieces that will live in her wardrobe and be passed down to her daughter. We have seen this with our customers and have found that our products span generations. They are the special pieces that fit a range of women, and are often shared between mothers and daughters as well. It’s very special in that way.
Ryzenberg On: Is there one specific piece from any of the collections that you absolutely love?
Cuyana: I love pieces from every collection! The Alpaca scarf is definitely at the top of the list since it is a perfect example of the Cuyana brand. It is smartly designed and leverages premium materials. It is feminine and not too basic, and makes women of all ages feel beautiful. It’s a customer favorite! It’s one of my favorite travel items; it keeps me warm on the plane. I am proud that we are able to offer it at $65, where other brands charge over $200 for the same item. It is so soft!
Above: This Leather Tote is perfect for running errands, traveling and carrying all your precious cargo!
Cuyana donates some of their profits to charity: water. What motivated you to do that?
Giving back has always been important to me. I wanted to create an inviting fashion brand that is accessible on multiple levels. Through Cuyana, I wanted to bring fashion to people, so they feel they are welcome to come and shop. I also wanted to create a brand that gives back to micro industries and through charity: water. That way, we are closing loop in a nice way to create a brand that does good in every sense: We are transparent, we provide high quality and fair prices, and we give back to the communities that work on our products.
Is there a personal story behind picking any of the countries that have collections?
I started my first collection in Ecuador, my home country. It is known for the popular Panama Hats. We introduced the Cuyana version of the Panama Hat and it is now a best seller. It is now included in our permanent boutique.
Above: Cuyana Co-Founder Karla Gallardo sports a classic staple with a splash of color: The Leather Evening Bag
What are some timeless pieces every woman should have?
This is how we think of Cuyana. We think of what classic items a woman needs in her wardrobe. That is why we have a saddlebag, leather tote, evening bag and our best-selling canvas weekender, which are all essential bags for a woman to have. We also love the Alpaca scarf. It’s something to carry around with you no matter where you go, from travel to work to dinner.
What’s next for Cuyana? What countries are on the horizon?
We just held a Facebook campaign to ask our readers where we should travel in 2013. We want to continue to explore the world. There are great cashmere and wool fabrics coming out of the UK. Mexico continues to delight us with its color, embroidery, and ceramics. Turkey is similarly rich in art and textiles. Fan favorites were Morocco and Italy with its fabulous leather.
If you are in SF, stop by Cuyana’s Happy Hour at their headquarters on Thursday 1/17 from 5-7p. For more details check out and ‘like’ their Facebook page.
Can’t wait to travel through shopping? Visit their site at www.cuyana.com
PHOTOS: Courtesy of Cuyana
Ryzenberg On, is Signing Off