This entrepreneur challenges us to rethink what’s in our closets. Here’s what she learned along the way.
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When I was little, back-to-school races were a big time in our home. Once a year my parents, younger brother and I would go to a discount children’s clothing store for 30 minutes. There we bought all the clothes we needed for the year – and a special outfit for the first day of school. We were expected to take care of these clothes, and sometimes we also received gifts from friends in our community. We only bought the things we needed.
âGrowing up in Ecuador, my parents taught us to be intentional in everything we bought. We have fixed and repaired items, and we have kept things for years, âshares Karla Gallardo, co-founder and CEO of Cuyana. “In our house, we were raised believing that you don’t just buy things, you invest in things, and the less the better.”
Today, Americans are estimated to buy a garment every five days. For years, the fashion industry thrived on the fast fashion model. We no longer have to wait for trends to take a year to move from the podium to the mainstream; we can access it in a matter of weeks. And because we don’t always pay dearly for them, we treat our clothes as disposable. For every five garments created, three are eliminated, many of these articles pile up in landfills worldwide.
When Gallardo co-founded Cuyana with Shilpa Shah, their common goal was to change that. The foundation of the company is rooted in what was instilled in Gallardo as a child: fewer and better things.
âThe problem with trends is that they disappear very quickly, and we are constantly being offered so many products,â explains Gallardo. âWe end up feeling like we need them or it’s a good deal, so we buy them. And then we pile up all of these things in our closet that don’t mean much to us, and we wonder why we got them in the first place.
Gallardo is determined to change all our mentalities, creating beautiful items suitable for every season and throughout the year, with an emphasis on quality and not quantity. Here are the three lessons Gallardo learned in creating a business that challenges each of us to consider what’s in our closets.
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1. Be generous with comments
âI loved my training at Goldman Sachs,â Gallardo shares. âWe were always solving very difficult problems. It was the ultimate training camp that helped prepare me for life as a founder.
As an 18-year-old immigrant student who left Ecuador for the United States, landing as an analyst at Goldman Sachs was âthe dream job,â says Gallardo. It was incredibly difficult on top of having long, exhausting hours, but the experience reinforced her work ethic and her willingness to always strive for a great job.
âAs an analyst you are not very well recognized. I’ve always wondered, am I doing a good job or not? How can I be better? I hardly had any feedback, âsays Gallardo. As she continues to develop Cuyana, she is now generous with her feedback to get the most out of her team. âI want our teams not to work hard, but smart. “
In addition to balancing the feedback she gives, Gallardo creates a culture at Cuyana where all employees value kindness and innovation.
2. Remember that details matter
âWhen you have a common philosophy less, better, the details of course matter,â says Gallardo. âEach piece is made with love, handcrafted by skilled artisans. We share all the details about our factories, our materials and our commitment to sustainability with our community. ”
Even the details of the company name to represent the vision mattered: Cuyana means ‘to love’ in Quechua, the language of the indigenous peoples of the central Andes. One of Gallardo’s fondest memories growing up were the pair of English moccasins his father owned. He traveled to Europe to work wearing them and had them for 10, 15, 20 years, changing the soles every now and then. “These shoes represent what we build with the name Cuyana – loving and caring for the items we use, and cherishing them.”
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3. Find and present to your client
âFrom the moment I left Ecuador, I have always felt a responsibility to do something great and make a dent in this world,â said Gallardo. âI wanted to create something and start a business. I thought about Cuyana for four years before starting the Founder’s Journey.
Cuyana was primed from the start. Gallardo wanted to create an MVP (a minimum viable product), then test and iterate on the concept. She made sure she had a thorough understanding of Cuyana’s customers, repeat rates, and how the company tested and extended its supply chain before raising funds. She knew the business model would be scrutinized because Cuyana kept inventory and Gallardo had a vision to create a lifestyle brand.
âWhen we were talking to male investors, the comments were often, ‘It sounds like an interesting concept. Let me talk to my wife and ask her how she shops, and I’ll get back to you, âGallardo recalls. She remembers sometimes throwing at men who were on the phone, without paying attention, not understanding the vision of what they were building.
When they started pitching the women, it was clear that the women investors understood Cuyana. âThey dug into the numbers that mattered,â says Gallardo. âAs we pivoted and started reaching out to investors who were our clients, we found more and more allies who believed in our vision. ”
Gallardo is excited to see the landscape change and to see more women-owned businesses supported by more female investors. “I am delighted to see more women betting on each other.”
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