In a bi-weekly series, we're asking female executives, founders, CEOs—basically, boss ladies—about their "power suit" a.k.a. the outfit they wear every day for easy dressing to conquer whatever the job throws at them.
I like to people watch and whenever I took the train into the office—this feels like a lifetime ago—from Brooklyn to Manhattan, my eyes would inevitably scan through what everyone wore. I could easily pick out Cuyana's iconic structured tote on the shoulders of fellow commuters. The supple leather, sleek style, and microsuede interior were dead giveaways. Though Cuyana has become synonymous with its timeless tote, it wasn't actually the first accessory the brand launched with. When I spoke with co-founder and CEO Karla Gallardo, she shared that her label initially launched with panama hats.
"The ultimate vision was to build a core wardrobe of women's essentials, but I launched with six straw hats," she says. "Why? Because I'm from Ecuador and I was doing this alone, so I started where I knew the factories were. The second collection was an Alpaca collection from Peru, neighbor to Ecuador, as I had close friends there with connections to the Alpaca industry. For the third collection, Shilpa [Shah, Cuyana's co-founder] had joined and we networked ourselves through Argentina and that's how our leather goods started."
In those initial days back in 2013, Gallardo recalls traveling to various countries with Shah for one to two weeks to network with factories. "We didn't have any money back then, so we slept on couches and floors, knocked on doors, begged people to work with us. It wasn't easy," she says. Gallardo knew the real opportunity was in leather goods—consumers couldn't find quality leather products at the price point Cuyana was offering (under $200 for most of their leather totes and less than $100 for some smaller leather goods).
Since launching, the label has grown from selling hats and handbags to clothes, like silky crop tees and French terry pants, fulfilling Gallardo's vision of providing women with a seasonless wardrobe of just the essentials.
In fact, the brand's philosophy is fewer, better things. Gallardo says Cuyana pieces are meant to last and reveals that the brand's name itself means "to love," a word from the indigenous Quechua language that is spoken by the artisans who made Cuyana's first products. "Every time we see customers wearing our products, loving what they buy, those are the moments that remind us that we're achieving our mission and really changing how women shop," she says.
Ahead, the busy entrepreneur shares how she gets ready for work and what she wears while working from home during a pandemic. Of course, her multifunctional ensembles involve some beloved Cuyana separates.
Her Morning Routine
"I gave birth to my second son earlier this year, right before shelter in place happened. I mention his birth because, when my first was born, my morning routine was chaotic. With my second one, he slept through the night very early on, so we were able to have a routine. We wake up at 6 or 6:30 and I go straight into feeding my newest. My husband wakes up and gives our first son his snack. We do this because breakfast is an important moment for us, so this keeps him okay until I'm done with the little one. We'll have coffee; take calls in between.
By 8, we're all sitting down to eat breakfast, which is an important ritual in our home. I grew up in an Ecuadorian home where we came back home for dinner and it's an important tradition to enjoy food with the family and share how the day went. For us that's breakfast right now, since dinner is a bit early [for the kids]. With work from home, our [work] day starts earlier, so it begins right after breakfast at 8:30 a.m. I used to work out, but with COVID-19 and two kids, it's harder. My husband will sometimes wake up at 5 a.m. to work out, but I can't do that yet."
Her Getting Dressed Strategy
"With working from home and having kids around, it's hard to not wear a couple of outfits a day. I did before as well, but I would have my work outfit and then I would come home and change into loungewear and be more comfortable to be with them. Getting dressed [now] is tough. It used to be an enjoyable moment for me when I just got dressed for the work day, but now it's that plus taking care of the kids, so it's more so dressing for the short term, depending on what will happen."
Her Work-From-Home Uniform
"I actually wear some of our french terry pima pieces because they're comfortable but still feel like I am dressed up for work. I want to make sure that [whatever I am wearing], I can pump, feed, change, or run around in. I need to do things and I need to do them fast.
We also have the fortune of spending the summer up in wine country and we have a pool. At 7 p.m., we all go outside and jump in as an end to the workday. I am into elaborate bathing suits and sometimes they look like really nice tops, like a one-shoulder or it has a nice design. I would wear that with bottoms to a meeting, and no one would know it's a bathing suit, then once the meetings are over, I take off the bottoms and run out with everyone and jump into the pool. As for jewelry, I've always worn very minimal jewelry. I don’t even have statement earrings for an evening. You won't see a lot of change in jewelry, but more in my tops, in which you see the variety."
The Words That Describe Her Power Outfit
"Tailored, silk blouses, and beautiful dresses."
"Fewer, better things. Truly that's been my personal mantra forever and it's the mantra for the business. It's about less clutter and surrounding myself with pieces, and people, that have meaning. We have a small group of friends that are very important to us and we see often, it’s how I like to allocate my time. My immediate family is also small, so we keep in touch every day and talk. Fewer, better things is a huge part of my life."