Cuyana – highlighting indigenous fashion and giving back

Cuyana

This week I would like to profile a San Francisco based company which shares with me the distinct honor of having a Quechua name.  Cuyana which means “to love” in the traditional Andean language of the Inca people is a socially driven fashion company that designs and manufacturers clothing and accessories inspired by the stories, craftsmen, and finest materials of the world; country by country.  So far it has designed collections from Ecuador, Peru, India, Argentina, Japan and most recently Mexico.   Its products have also been profiled in Elle, Conde Nest Traveler, People Magazine and others. Lets now take a closer look.

WHAT IS THE BUSINESS ABOUT? 

Cuyana is a fashion retail company which combines its founders core passions for high-quality fashion, travel and giving back to bring to the market affordable hand crafted luxury goods from around the globe.  It does this by traveling the world to discover new styles one country at a time.  Once they identify indigenous styles with potential they pick the finest local materials and work with local craftsmen to fuse local inspiration and heritage with clean modern design to transform the textiles and metals into unique clothing and accessories it sells exclusively.   At the same time they give back to the communities they work with by working with local craftsman, buying materials locally and supporting local water projects with its partners NGO.  In doing this they are sharing with the world beautiful and elegant fashion while also respecting local peoples culture and heritage.

HOW DID IT START?  

The idea was born in 2011 by an Ecuadorian native who after working with Apple and Goldman Sachs and doing an MBA at Stanford Graduate Business School wanted to build her own socially responsible business (an ambition I too share).  The idea for Cuyana came out of her passions and life experiences and strong desire not just to make money but to give back to the communities where she grew up.  She wanted to build a business that could share the local treasures from around the world but at the same time help them gain access to markets.  With this idea in mine she enlisted her friend and co-founder and the business started.

WHAT IS THE SOCIAL NEED IT ADDRESSES?

In addition to working with local craftsmen the business gives back by donating a percentage of its profits to the charity: water.  The founders do this because they believe they can make a difference by helping the nearly one billion people who don’t have access to safe drinking water gain access.  Access to clean water could save the millions of lives lost from water-borne diseases, billions of hours spent mainly by women and children searching for clean water, increase school attendance, and dramatically improve local economies. 

WHAT IS THE BUSINESS MODEL?

  • Value Proposition – Cuyana provides to its customers unique high quality clothing and accessories but also buy giving part of its profits to charity the satisfaction that by buying form Cuyana not only are they buying locally but they are giving back.  This is a strong lure for high income buyers and young people.
  • Customers/Channels – It is online retail and its target customers I would say by looking at its products are young well to do women who share common interests with the founders; an appreciation for local culture, a love to travel and a love of high-quality fashion.
  • Revenue Streams – This is a pure retail play, the sale of goods made
  • Cost Structure – In addition to COGS, their is the additional costs of finding local fashions, working with local craftsmen and giving back.
  • Key Partners/Resources/Activities – They rely very much on the craftsmen in the places they find the styles they would like to share as well as the local suppliers of the materials.  As long as volumes are low I guess this isn’t a problem.

WHAT ARE SOME CONCERNS I SEE WITH THE MODEL?

  • Charity as a marketing gimmick? – I am not sure how much Cuyana is really giving back, they do not indicate what percentage goes to charity or indicate how much the local craftsmen they work with benefit.  I am not sure how much the company actually has a social focus rather than just using the water charity as a way to attract attention.  Also the water charity does not seem directly connected to the business activity.  It would perhaps make more sense to donate money to a charity which could improve their value chain (e.g. the craftsmen and workers) more directly.
  • Cost structure – sourcing materials locally and only using highest quality materials can be expensive.  It only works if they stay focused on a niche high-end customer who is willing to pay the premium that the cost structure will require.
  • Country selection – Not really a concern but more of a curiosity, I wonder what criteria does it use to select countries and products in those countries, and if locals would feel  they truly represent local culture and style.
  • Otherwise though I am not a fashion expert, I think it is a neat company and I wish them best of luck!

WHAT DO YOU THINK?

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