Designer Profile: Cuyana

January 21, 2014


Before the holidays I had the very special opportunity to join a small group of inspiring people (photo editors / bloggers / photographers / journalists) at Beauty & Essex with Cuyana. The brand may sound familiar for some of you – I’ve featured them here and here and recently wore one of their pieces here. I’ve become such a fan and after getting to know more about the story behind the brand (beautiful details such as what Cuyana means), I thought it would be fun to share more with all of you!

What was your inspiration behind starting Cuyana?Cuyana means “to love” in Quechua, and our inspiration behind starting Cuyana was to create pieces that every woman can wear and love forever. In order to do this, we focused on two key things: the actual product, and then brand and story. For the product, we make sure our pieces have the highest quality and ethics: we work with suppliers in each country we visit to source the best materials possible, and we bring these collections direct-to-consumer for previously unattainable low price points. The design of our collections is centered around a classic, simple, yet versatile style: our products transition from day to night and from year to year. They are the “finishing” pieces to a woman’s outfit, no matter their style. Our hope, with Cuyana, is to encourage individuals to shop intentionally, own fewer, better things and consequently lives a fuller, richer life.


You have such a fun story about how you met – can you share with w&w readers?

Karla: We met when I was in business school at Stanford, and Shilpa came as a prospective student to one of my entrepreneurship classes. I had just learned that morning what a UX (User Experience) designer was and needed to find one for a group project I was working on, and Shilpa stood up and introduced herself as a UX designer — so obviously I went and spoke to her after class, and recruited her for my project. She ended up going to business school at Berkeley, but we stayed in touch and became good friends, and when it came time to start Cuyana, I knew she’d be the perfect co-founder.

Do you have a favorite country collection from those you’ve released to date?

Karla: I love all the collections… but the one perhaps closest to my heart, and heritage, is the Ecuador collection of Panama hats.  I was born and raised in Ecuador, and it’s actually the first collection we launched with. Related to above, when I mentioned the importance of story to our brand: I wanted to share the story behind Panama hats. Their origin is actually rooted in Ecuador, but because workers wore them while building the Panama canal, they were misnamed. Furthermore, I saw such a high mark-up between the cost of the hats in Ecuador — beautiful, hand-woven hats made of the highest quality straw — and the cost sold in the U.S. that I saw a unique opportunity.

Shilpa: I love our Peru collection. Baby alpaca was a fairly unknown material in the U.S., but we traveled to Peru specifically for this material, to bring it here. It’s my favorite material – especially in the cool San Francisco climate – warmer than wool and lighter than cashmere. The baby part refers to the fact that it’s shaved from the neck of the alpaca, which is the finest and softest hair — and I love that we work with suppliers who shave the alpaca in the spring so that they don’t suffer from overheating in the summer.


What about a favorite piece from the brand? Something you’re particularly proud of or wear all the time?

Karla: I absolutely love our leather tote. We describe it as perfect because it’s designed with a super classic, timeless style; it’s made from the best Argentine leather we could find; and it’s roomy enough to fit my laptop, everything I need on a daily basis.

Shilpa: I agree — love my tote(s) — I have them in many colors! And monogrammed with my initials. I also love our baby alpaca infinity scarf; it’s super easy to just throw on, I love traveling with it, and it’s timeless design will never go out of style.

What are some words that describe the Cuyana woman?

Simple. Elegant. Shops intentionally. Passionate. Meaningful.

What’s been a challenge for the brand?

Since we’re direct-to-consumer and only sell through our website and one San Francisco showroom, it’s been challenging to get the same scale of distribution that many other brands, by working with wholesale distributors and retailers, have access to. However, we also see it as an opportunity. We’ve been fortunate to form fantastic relationships with bloggers, press, etc to spread our brand messaging; and we’ve found that word-of-mouth from our customers is one of the best, and most effective, ways to scale.

How do you work with your suppliers? What are the benefits?

We have amazing suppliers. Many of them used to produce for the most prestigious luxury brands, but because many luxury brands have in the last decade moved production to China, these suppliers are left with excess capacity and know-how. So we’re able to work with them and leverage their amazing artisan skills and knowledge for our collections. Many of our suppliers are small, family-owned businesses, that have centuries of knowledge on how to hand-craft the finest cashmere sweaters, or develop the best straw hats.


Hope you enjoyed! Next on my personal list? Their perfect tote and the panama hat. I can’t stress enough how beautifully crafted their pieces are and definitely recommend them as investment pieces to add to your lifelong wardrobe.



comments +

  1. Merritt says:

    I’ve been dying for one of their leather totes! Such a great wardrobe basic.

    The Style Scribe

  2. Hamee says:

    I love everything about Cuyana!!! I also wrote a post about the cuyana tote… How did you like the event??

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