Cuyana’s Re­tail Con­cept Has Fewer, Bet­ter Items

WWD Digital Daily - - News - BY SHARON EDELSON

You’ve heard of the slow food move­ment, which ad­vo­cates a health­ier al­ter­na­tive to fast food by fo­cus­ing on qual­ity, au­then­tic­ity and sus­tain­abil­ity. Cuyana, an e-com­merce re­tailer, that re­cently opened its first Man­hat­tan store, pro­motes a lean closet pro­gram, which sug­gests con­sumers buy fewer, bet­ter prod­ucts.

Cuyana's 1,800-square-foot store at 29 Prince Street in SoHo, fol­lows its own ad­vice with spare fluid pieces of peach­hued fur­ni­ture such as a curved bench and oval dis­play case, peach walls and racks of clothes on thick hang­ers with lots of de­lib­er­ate empty space be­tween gar­ments. The brand has been preach­ing the wis­dom of less-is-more for years.

In 2013, Cuyana launched the lean closet move­ment when the col­lec­tion was in­tro­duced. The move­ment has a do-good ap­peal. “Our lean closet move­ment chal­lenges us to col­lect fewer, bet­ter things and to do­nate the pieces in our wardrobes that are merely tak­ing up space to those who need them,” ac­cord­ing to the Cuyana web site.

The re­ward for buy­ing fewer items is qual­ity ma­te­ri­als and fine crafts­man­ship, Cuyana said. The brand claims to work with small, family-owned busi­nesses, which are some of the same ar­ti­sans that are used by “some of the world's most re­spected cou­ture ate­liers.”

“We're not one of the brands that's been anti-re­tail,” said Shilpa Shah, who co­founded the com­pany with Karla Gal­lardo. “We wanted to take our time to do it right. We did four years of pop-ups in eight cities. We had a year for doc­u­ment­ing our cus­tomers' jour­neys.”

Shah said Cuyana is thought­ful about in­vest­ment de­ci­sions, test­ing pop-up shops in three dif­fer­ent neigh­bor­hoods of a city and open­ing in the place it knows will be suc­cess­ful. “Our stores are prof­itable in the first two months out­side of the CapX we spend,” she said, of the com­pany which has been ven­ture cap­i­tal-backed since 2012. “We're open­ing more stores and we're on our way to profitabil­ity,” Shah said, adding that new units could bow any­where Cuyana has done pop-ups or tests, in­clud­ing Dal­las; Chicago; Bos­ton; San Fran­cisco; Wash­ing­ton, D.C.; Seat­tle, and Port­land, Ore. An ate­lier in San Fran­cisco func­tions as a show­room, and there's an ex­ist­ing store in Los An­ge­les.

“How can we be a fash­ion e-com­merce brand with this phi­los­o­phy, when fash­ion, by it's na­ture has to have trend rel­e­vancy,” Shah said. “We re­ally be­lieve in fash­ion. Our brand has never been about min­i­mal­ism.

It's about shop­ping with in­ten­tion.”

With so many la­bels avail­able in stores and on­line, con­sumers can get an in­stant high from a pur­chase, Shah said. But that may be fol­lowed by buyer's re­morse when they later learn the prod­uct isn't the qual­ity they were ex­pect­ing, which cur­tails the longevity of the pur­chase, Shah said.

“We, as Americans, are flush with choices, yet very few of those choices ful­fill what's promised,” Shah said. “Ei­ther the items weren't last­ing or they had an unattain­able price. Al­most ev­ery­thing we launch be­comes a best­seller. Our re­peat rates are through the roof.

“Our de­signs are time­less, so they'll last,” Shah said, adding that Cuyana sup­ports ar­ti­sans from around the world and sells poplin dresses from Turkey; rev­ersible knit coats, Scot­land; silk scarves, Italy, and To­quilla straw hats, Ecuador. Cou­ture-qual­ity heavy silk is sourced in New York and peb­bled leather in Los An­ge­les. Hand­bags use leather from Italy and Turkey.

Cuyana's goal is to de­sign the few key sil­hou­ettes that will find their place in a wo­man's wardrobe. “Another brand might say, ‘Let's de­sign 30 shirts,' of which they'll mer­chan­dise 10, and within those 10, they know they'll have only two to three win­ners. They feel the cus­tomer needs so much new­ness. We de­sign 10 shirts and find the two to three win­ners and only launch the two to three we be­lieve in.

“It's very easy to drive rev­enue with new cat­e­gories,” Shah said. “There are so many places we could ex­pand. We've been work­ing our way from the top down in ap­parel. We're launch­ing our first pants in the fall. We'll do bot­toms, shoes and jew­elry.

Cuyana's de­signs don't carry big lo­gos that de­mand to be no­ticed. The com­pany puts its brand­ing on zip­pers. “Our de­sign in­tent is for min­i­mal brand­ing, so a cus­tomer's [per­son­al­ity] can shine through. We like sim­ple sil­hou­ettes, but ev­ery­thing's in the de­tails. A lot of peo­ple add noise. We fo­cus on shape, hard­ware and func­tion­al­ity with thought­ful de­tails.

“With the lean closet pro­gram, we're not try­ing to re­place the role of Good­will and the Sal­va­tion Army,” Shah said, adding that shop­pers may be hes­i­tant to get ride of items “as­so­ci­ated with a lot of guilt that you paid too much money for. You spent time and en­ergy to buy them, but giv­ing them to Good­will isn't suf­fi­cient. You'd more will­ing, know­ing that it's go­ing to find a home with some­one who needs it.”

For ev­ery do­na­tion made, con­sumers re­ceive $10 credit to­ward their next pur­chase. “It's re­ally a to­ken,” Shah said. “The true value is the gift­ing of the prod­uct. We be­lieve fewer, bet­ter things will lead to a fuller, richer life. We want women to fo­cus on buy­ing and own­ing only what they love.”

The re­tailer takes its time whether it’s de­sign­ing a blouse or eval­u­at­ing re­tail sites.

Cuyana’s new SoHo store.

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