Quality over quantity has always been our mantra, and when we discover a fashion brand that pairs quality with simplicity and elegance of fewer and better things, we know we have a winner.
Enter Cuyana, the West Coast-based brand designing essential pieces for the modern woman. Cuyana means “to love” in Quechua — the language of the Inca empire — and this is exactly what you’ll find in each piece designed by co-founders Karla Gallardo and Shilpa Shah. From the finest silk blouses, to the most luxurious cashmere sweaters to the softest of leather goods, each Cuyana piece is made to be loved. We chatted with Karla and Shilpa about the importance of accessible quality womenswear, carefully considered pieces and why fewer is better, after all.
FashionFiles: Tell us about your brand. How did it all begin and what is the inspiration behind it?
Shilpa: Karla and I met when I was applying for business school and Karla was in her second 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 most used 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—officially to the public in June 2013.
At Cuyana, we design for the modern woman, her lifestyle, and the effortless pieces that she will look to everyday. We believe that she can have amazing quality and beautiful design, and it can still be accessible. We have traveled the world to find the best materials and the most passionate craftsmen out there. Each product we create is carefully considered from beginning to end, and this fresh, accessible approach to fashion really resonates with consumers.
FF: In the last couple of seasons, there has been a shift in fashion and the global runways are dictating a “more is more” mentality. Cuyana is all about fewer, better things. Walk us through this concept.
Karla: Trends 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 our woman always feels in style and wearing things that she loves. It’s not about quantity, it’s about quality and curating the perfect foundation wardrobe.
FF: Who is the Cuyana girl and what is her aesthetic?
Shilpa: We design for a modern woman who has set out to accomplish so many things, and wants a beautifully curated wardrobe that will not only keep up with her, but will last a lifetime. Our woman is very intentional about what she invests in. She cares for the pieces in her closet, she is thoughtful about the fabrics and the countries they were crafted in. She also knows how to style them in her own way. Our pieces are timeless, yet every woman takes their own modern approach to wearing them.
FF: Walk us through your design process, from beginning to end. How do you choose your fabrics and where do you get inspiration for your collections? How do you differ from your competitors?
Shilpa: The inspiration for our collections is always changing. We are constantly inspired by everything around us—destinations, people, literature, film, history, art—the stream is endless. We always want to ensure that our designs have a timeless aesthetic, but bring in modern touches that are relevant and feel special.
Something that’s unique about our brand is that each piece we design and create is 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 from baby alpaca, cut and sewn in Peru, and the alpaca itself comes from Peru, too. For leather—the tanneries, the cutting and sewing—all are found in the same country, either Argentina or Italy. We have close relationships with all of our family-run partners. Since we are direct-to-consumer, we are able to deliver a rich narrative around the beautiful quality and intricate craftsmanship that each piece embodies. It allows us to make quality and story accessible in each price.
FF: Are there any other brands you love?
Karla: We love the home brand Snowe in New York. Their collection is so intentional and each piece is gorgeously made and created to last.
FF: Walk us through a typical day in the office for you.
Shilpa: Every day is different and exciting, and definitely jam-packed. Our schedules are usually filled with team meetings, creative sessions, or off-site strategy sessions. We are always traveling for photo shoots, events and other partnerships. We are in an exciting industry that’s always inspiring us to innovate. There’s never a dull moment!
What are some of the Cuyana designs you are most proud of?
Karla: Our Travel Case Set is one of the original essentials in our collection. It takes five hours for one craftsman to execute the detailed, curved silhouette of one travel case. This piece was created four years ago when Shilpa and I traveled to Argentina to source the materials and artisans that define our brand today. It was there we met Ricardo, the owner of a small supplier, recently forced to downsize as the industry shifted to China. Ricardo’s incredible background and experience resonated with us. Throughout the years our business partnership has grown into deep-rooted friendship.
FF: What are Cuyana’s fall must-haves?
Shilpa: Fall is the time to get back into the swing of things, and this season we launched a beautifully functional Italian-made Work Bag that’s crafted from Italian pebbled leather. It is designed thoughtfully to fit a laptop and with pockets for everything so you can take it from day to night without any trouble.
FF: Why should our readers choose to shop Cuyana?
Karla: Cuyana wants to take its customers 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.
Chicago Pop-Up + Giveaway
Don’t you wish you owned a finely crafted Cuyana piece, or three? For those living or visiting Chicago during the upcoming holiday season — you are in luck! The brand is opening a holiday pop-up in Lincoln Park November 8 through December 24.
We have also partnered with Cuyana for a $200 giveaway of a product of your choice, that you can retrieve at the Chicago pop-up location at 840 West Armitage. All you have to do is like and/or share our Facebook post! Easy-peasy! The giveaway will be open to FashionFiles readers through Monday, December 5 at 12:59pm CST. Good luck! This giveaway is now closed and the winner has been selected.