Jason Del Rey

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Online Fashion Brand Cuyana Raises $1.7 Million to Kill Impulse Buying

Just when you thought it was safe again to read a startup-related article without running into the word “lean,” here’s a new one: The “lean closet.”

Co-founders Shilpa Shah and Karla Gallardo

Co-founders Shilpa Shah and Karla Gallardo

One-year-old online fashion brand Cuyana wants you (mainly ladies, for now) to buy fewer clothes and accessories — opting for better ones that have a story behind them and that last longer.

Yes, they are calling it a “lean closet” approach (commence eye-rolling). And, yes, if you guessed that Cuyana wants the buying you still do to happen on its site, you are correct. The San Francisco-based company is getting $1.7 million from Canaan Partners to help it make it happen.

“There’s a really high level of consumerism in the U.S.,” said co-founder Karla Gallardo. “You’re constantly bombarded by sale offers, and most of us really buy unintentionally, which has created problems like credit card debt and the accumulation of things that don’t have much meaning. With Cuyana, we want to go entirely against that. If we create a brand with beautiful products that are minimalist, high-quality and affordable, we can take customers back to buying intentionally.”

As an incentive to do just that, each Cuyana order comes with a bag and a prepaid shipping label to send your old clothes and accessories back to the company. Cuyana says it will donate the clothes to charity and credit the charitable customer $10 toward a future order. In the future, the plan is to pay for customers to send their old goods directly to a partnering charity.

On one hand, the whole “lean closet” idea sounds like a giant marketing gimmick. But it’s one that you can imagine resonating with a niche group of shoppers. Still, it will likely only help get people in “the door” for Cuyana; customers will only come back if they actually prefer what Cuyana is making and selling.

The company launched a year ago, designing and selling women’ s accessories — think $150 leather tote bags and $65 alpaca scarves — from foreign markets such as India and South America — where Gallardo and her co-founder, Shilpa Shah, each had retail connections through family relationships. Each season, the company focuses on creating a fashion line using materials from just one market, where the product is also produced.

Today, Cuyana will start to offer clothing as well, launching with a line of women’s wear produced in Turkey. Warning: The company’s definition of “affordable” seems to be a loose one — a “swim coverup” runs $170 — but Gallardo said Cuyana’s prices are better than similar products with huge markups sold by high-end traditional brands.


“We are producing the entire product beginning to end in one single country, which is different from regular retail, where they often buy raw materials from another country, transport it to somewhere like China, and it ends up in factories where quality is not the main focus,” Gallardo said. “We are really focusing on the production piece of the retail chain, and the way it was done decades ago.”

Gallardo currently heads up design — she said it has been a passion of hers since childhood — and collaborates with the designers and craftsmen who end up producing the finished product. She said the company will use the new money to hire designers and a marketing team, and to add some of its 10 part-time workers to its full-time staff, which currently numbers five.

In the future, Cuyana is planning to create men’s fashion lines, as well.

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