Baby alpaca. Cropped Italian trench coats. And these leather case sets (see above.) Yep, this is sustainable shopping at its best.
If you’ve never heard of fashion brand, Cuyana, get ready to fall in love. We’re head over heels for just about everything in this brand’s collection of high-quality, artisan-made (and totally affordable) pieces, each designed to give you a wardrobe of “fewer, better things.” Shopping mindfully isn’t always an easy task and the choice to buy “sustainable fashion” can sometimes feel like a contradiction in terms. Brands like Cuyana solve all our shopping conundrums with one sweeping motion of their Scottish wool cashmere capes.
We caught up with Karla Gallardo and Shilpa Shah, the ladies behind the growing brand, at their new Abbot Kinney shop here in L.A. and asked them to share a little about what inspires them, and what keeps them living in balance as they build a thriving fashion brand. Here’s what they had to say…
The Chalkboard Magazine: Tell us about the meaning of the word ‘Cuyana’. It’s perfect for the brand.
Karla: Cuyana means to love in Quechua. We want to take the customer back to the essence of a product through its materials, design and craftsmanship, and for them to buy the things that they love, that will stay in their closet for years to come.
TCM: How did you two end up birthing the biz?
Shilpa: We met when I was applying for business school and Karla was in her first year. Both of us shared a love of fashion, but felt unfulfilled by the way the industry was pushing us to consume in an unthoughtful way. Fashion should be empowering and when it came to a woman’s go-to essentials, there was a lack of quality available in the middle range, between fast fashion and luxury goods. So, we set out to fill that gap. We believe you can have amazing quality and beautiful design, and it can still be accessible.
TCM: Talk to us about the brand’s tagline “fewer, better.” We love it!
Karla: The problem with trends is that they fade quickly, and women end up accumulating all of these things they don’t use. We focus on simple, beautiful design. Our pieces are created to be versatile and timeless so that a woman always feels in style in things that she loves. It’s not about quantity, it’s about quality.
TCM: Craftsmanship and sustainability are so romantic. Talk to us about one of the coolest sources/elements:
Shilpa: Something that’s special about our brand is that the pieces themselves are infused with the stories of the countries in which they were made and the people who made them. All of our cashmere scarves are made in Scotland from Scottish cashmere, by a family-owned supplier that has been crafting cashmere for decades. Our capes are made of baby alpaca, cut and sewn in Peru, and the alpaca itself comes from Peru, too. For leather – the cattle, the tanneries, the cutting and sewing – are all found in the same country, either Argentina or Italy. The items are not cheap, but given the quality, they’re not expensive, either.
TCM: Do you have a favorite Cuyana piece?
Shilpa: I carry my oversized tote almost every day. Not only does it work with everything, but it also fits just about everything a busy day can bring.
Karla: My oversized alpaca sweater in black is the perfect go-to on chilly San Francisco days. Styling tip: It looks sophisticated with a crisp white shirt underneath.
TCM: Best business advice ever received…
Karla: Never launch anything without testing it first.
TCM: What’s the key to your daily work/life balance:
Shilpa: Always share dinner with the ones you love – whether it’s your friends, your husband or your kids. That time each day is always precious to us.
TCM: What to you do to stay active and healthy?
Karla: I love to go spinning after work – it clears my head and allows me to log back on in the evening with a fresh state of mind.
Shilpa: I try to take advantage of the beautiful outdoors available to us living in the Bay Area: from skiing in Tahoe on the weekends to hikes in Marina and East Bay.
TCM: Tell us about a typical daily lunch:
Shilpa: We love Murraci’s ramen in San Francisco! It’s a great way to warm up during the colder months.
TCM: Your fave healthy pick-me-ups?
Karla: I love vegetable soup from Bio near our office, or I could eat avocado with everything.
Shilpa: Grilled cauliflower is one of my favorite healthy pick-me-ups.
TCM: Is there one workout or studio you love?
Shilpa: Yoga is definitely my go-to.
Karla: I enjoy pilates and I still like to visit SoulCycle occasionally.
TCM: When it comes to businesses lunches, where do you love to lunch?
Karla: Jane Cafe on Fillmore street is a perfect little stop in San Francisco. It has a great neighborhood vibe.
TCM: Do you have a most-loved sustainable material?
Shilpa: Baby alpaca is such a huge part of our brand’s story. It’s sustainable – the alpaca is actually shaven before the sweltering summer heat to prevent them from overheating – and practical, it doesn’t pill, shed or snag, and it is eternally elegant.
TCM: Tell us about another sustainable brand you love and why.
Karla: We love the home brand Snowe in New York. Their collection is so intentional and each piece is lasting and gorgeously made.
TCM: What’s your personal mantra?
Shilpa & Karla: Be humble and respectful, in business and beyond.