Cuyana: Scaling a brand built on ‘fewer, better’

Did you know a Panama Hat is actually made in Ecuador, woven together over hours by female artisans who follow a painstaking process? When Karla Gallardo moved to the United States from her native Ecuador, she observed a different kind of culture around fashion. Not only did her friends seem unaware of where their products came from, but they also seemed increasingly dissatisfied with a culture of disposable fashion. Gallardo took this insight to form the foundation of Cuyana. “If the consumer found out the background of this product and who made it,” Gallardo says, “they would actually love their product and take care of it even more than they did if it was just a physical good.”

On this episode of Retail Gets Real, Cuyana co-founder and CEO Karla Gallardo shares how the brand was founded, what led to its early success and where the business is headed.

Karla Gallardo, CEO of Cuyana
Karla Gallardo

Born from Gallardo’s insight, Cuyana infuses each item it produces with love and culture while creating a bond between the customer and the product. Cuyana uses the philosophy of “fewer, better” things — an approach Gallardo grew up with in Ecuador — to provide luxury leather goods and apparel built to last at more affordable prices. Cuyana means “to love” in the native language of the company’s first craftsman. “We only put products to market that we love, that were made with love,” Gallardo says, “and that consumers should buy because they love them.”

Gallardo came to the U.S. when she was 18 to pursue her college degree. She studied math and worked on Wall Street. But Gallardo wasn’t satisfied with her career path; she craved the opportunity to make an impact on the world. So she went to business school and created her business plan for Cuyana.

Cuyana started online in 2011, focusing on building quality products and “building a brand that’s so strong that the primary source of growth comes from [its] customers and word of mouth.” As the company grew, Gallardo and her co-founder knew they needed to explore other channels. Cuyana opened its first retail store in 2013 and now has five stores located in California and New York. “Even though Cuyana’s business plan was to be a company that sells product primarily through its online channel, we knew that physical retail was a very important part of our growth strategy,” Gallardo says.

Listen to the episode to go behind the scenes of Cuyana’s founding and growth.

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