Name: Karla Gallardo
Title: Co-Founder, CEO
City: San Francisco, CA
Watching my friend Karla going from dreaming of an idea to turning into a fashion power brand in a couple of years has been beyond impressive. Along with her co-founder, she built Cuyana, an online women's fashion and accessories line that lives by the motto of "fewer, better things." Worn and endorsed by the most influential bloggers out there, Cuyana means “love” in Quechua. Started with a $20,000 loan and handwoven panama hats made by craftsmen in Ecuador, in fact I helped Karla one time sell the hats at a fair which was one of my favorite things to sell, Cuyana now offers upscale fashion essentials including caps, blouses, dresses and leather bags. We caught up with Karla at Cuyana's flagship colorful and gorgeous store in Union Square San Francisco, and spent an hour watching her work with her team, plan the next collection and hearing her story.
Photos by Elle Wildhagen
How and when did you find your passion?
I have always been interested in fashion - growing up in Ecuador, I loved to study fashion design and make my own patterns and clothes in my free time. But it was when I was working in investment banking in NY after college that my passion truly solidified. I realized that I was using all of my free time - which was very limited with typical banking hours! - to either read fashion magazines, study what the designers were doing, or go shopping and touch and feel clothes in person.
Tell us more about the transition from your traditional job to your Passion.
The analytical skills I gained in investment banking gave me a great foundation to pursue starting a fashion brand. Then, going to business school awoke my more creative side and enabled me to fully transition - I actually wrote my business school application on Cuyana!
How do you hone your skills?
For me, honing my skills involved mainly traveling, reading, exploring culture, and absorbing everything around me - but also, going to business school to learn how to start a business. This was key.
What is failure to you, and how do you deal with it?
When I was at college at Brown University, I was right next door to the Rhode Island School of Design. I really wanted to move into fashion and thought the designer route was the only way to go, but I quickly discovered it was too late for me to switch to RISD. This was devastating at first, because I thought it was my only chance; however, I learned later that I could still enter fashion, just through the business side - which was perfect because it was where my skills were.
What is your biggest fear?
My biggest fear, especially in the beginning, was letting go of a high-paying job and the security of an established career. However, the network I’ve built from friends and family, business school, etc and being surrounded by people who believe in me has really helped me overcome this fear.
Was there a time when you were running out of money?
Yes - when I first started Cuyana, I was bootstrapping in the most literal sense of that word: I was working from my living room, I had money only for rent and food, I was starting a fashion brand but I didn’t buy clothes for a year. However, I was still driven - I think being part of a community of entrepreneurs that were doing the same thing truly helped.
What is self-love to you? And how important is it to your journey?
A couple years into starting Cuyana, after working nonstop and pulling countless all-nighters and completely neglecting my personal life, I realized I had to take care of myself. Taking the time to care for myself every once in awhile is important - and I discovered I was able to enjoy and appreciate my work much more. My main outlets are spending time with friends and traveling. Traveling, in particular, allows me to get away from desk and think and be inspired.
Who inspires you and why?
My dad for his tenacity and drive. I am also inspired by all types of creators: from architects to designers to chefs. It doesn’t have to be specific style of art; simply seeing beauty created, and learning from the people who make beautiful things, inspires me.
Are there mentors that support you? Who are they?
I have several mentors from Goldman Sachs, Stanford; I enjoy having different mentors and leveraging their respective expertise for different things - whether it’s honing my leadership skills, fundraising, building culture, etc.
Advice to the Community
Please share a piece of advice with our community of men and women who are looking to leave their traditional jobs and live their passions.
There will be many unknown variables as you embark on the journey of doing what you love, so I would advise to plan the variables you can control - for example: planning out your finances as well as your personal life - because a lot of things around your job can be very volatile.
Share a fashion tip with us
My fashion advice would be to invest in key essentials (for ex: a classic blazer you love, a tailored white shirt, a pair of jeans that fit well) … and, you can never go wrong with neutral colors, especially navy - which I think is slowly replacing black as the go-to neutral!