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Shilpa Shah of Cuyana Gives Meaning to ‘Seeking Fulfillment Over Balance’ on the Heels of her First New York City Brick and Mortar

5 min read

If you have been living under a rock, or some hipster community where the trend is to shun technology, please stop what you are doing now and follow Cuyana. There are not many brands that I call beautiful, but Cuyana is BEAUTIFUL. I routinely, and unabashedly, drool over their Instagram feed, which is an OCD, minimalist fashionista’s dream (me). Launched in 2011, their philosophy is one that I believe we all need to adopt immediately: fewer, better things.

‘Fewer Better Things’

I was recently given the opportunity to chat with Shilpa Shah, Cuyana’s Co-Founder and Chief Experience Officer, on the eve of the opening of the very first brick and mortar Cuyana store in New York City. She shared her personal journey with Cuyana, as well as quite a few pearls of wisdom, from career to fashion.

Though I had done my research prior to, I was surprised to learn that Shilpa started with Cuyana while she had a three and a half-year-old and a three-month-old. Talk about Wonder Woman. To be a mom to young children, simultaneously building a brand from scratch, requires a woman with a certain level of gumption and drive. And boy, does Shilpa have those things in abundance.

Shilpa attributes her becoming pregnant with her first child as one of the catalysts that set her on the path to Cuyana. At thirty, after learning her husband and her are expecting their first child, and her husband had finished his residency, Shilpa found herself thinking, “what else can I do?” Having worked 10 years as a UX designer, and loving her job, she still had this very strong and compelling feeling within her to test her limit and see what else, career-wise, she could accomplish. It is inspiring that, at a moment where one would think “okay, let me scale back,” she decided to challenge herself.

‘I needed to know what I didn’t know’

Armed with this desire, Shilpa decided to enroll at Stanford Business School because, even though she had a design background, she wanted to fill the gaps in her knowledge, or in her words, “ I needed to know what I didn’t know.” So from the basics of brand-building to practical aspects of a business meeting, she knew she would get the tools to pursue whatever venture she wanted. In fact, she met her co-founder, Karla Gallordo, at business school, who then presented her with this opportunity, and it all clicked.

Since we both hail from South Asian communities, the conversation naturally veered towards how her family handled her decision. Shilpa’s husband wholeheartedly supported and encouraged her to run with Cuyana. She had supported him through his residency, so he embraced having to step up to the plate for her. Her parents and in-laws, naturally, had some reservations. It was well-meaning concern that elders, in their infinite wisdom, had the right to voice. After all, she was a mother of young children and it is not a stage in life where one wants to take on more. Their concern led her to realize that she needed to hone in on her most important priorities: her family and her career.

As she said, “You can only be truly immersed in two things, a third isn’t possible.” So Shilpa got focused on her priorities and took on the challenge head-on. She worked tirelessly on Cuyana, with minimal sleep, alongside with caring for her children. 

“I just had to accept that there are some parts where I will fall short, such as time with friends or personal time. This is what I chose to commit to so I had to see it through.”

I asked her how she managed to balance all of this, though she grimaced at my choice of word. To her, balance meant compromise, which ultimately means you have to give up something. She instead advocated a shift in mindset. She said it’s better “seeking fulfillment over balance,” meaning seek what brings you true joy and happiness.

‘Seeking Fulfillment Over Balance’

That perspective of hers resonants so loudly with the DNA of Cuyana, which led us to discuss their core philosophy of fewer, better things. Shilpa explained it in terms of a lifestyle. It is not so much about the accumulation of the trending item of the month. It is about:

  • Valuing quality over quantity
  • Shopping thoughtfully
  • Attaching a story to your wardrobe
  • Focusing on utility

This philosophy can also be applied to desi clothes, though it may seem counterintuitive since it is usually about over-the-top, excess. Basically, focus on investing in quality pieces that will have utility in your closet, meaning you can mix and match with other items. She asks herself several questions as a barometer prior to purchasing an item. “What can I use this piece with?” “Can I realistically mix and match this?” “Am I trying to a check a box?” and finally, the most important one, “Do I LOVE this piece?”

Building a wardrobe, or even a life, of love requires you to be in love and fulfilled. This is the biggest lesson I walked away from during this conversation with Miss Shilpa. It is clear to me that she is a special being living her purpose. There is nothing that brings me more joy than seeing South Asian women who are mothers, wives, sisters, daughters, carving a path, breaking barriers, and showing our community the beautiful potential of us women. So, here’s to Cuyana and their fearless female founders, especially Shilpa.

Rapidfire with Shilpa Shah:

Summer Living in Cuyana Seersucker Blouse: It can be worn with the sleeves up on the shoulder or around. Perfect for the summer day.

Signature Scent: Raat ki Rani Jasmine: Cuyana made a signature candle from this flower

Must-Have Skincare Product: Baume de Rose by Terry (she admits it is very indulgent, however, believes it worth every penny)

Jeans or Trousers: Khaite Jeans

Everyday Staple: Cuyana Classic Alpaca Cape: perfect staple because it will never pill and for those who are always cold

Favorite Color: Seafoam green or whatever brings her serenity

Flats or Heels: Always flats, specifically tennis shoes

Favorite Designers: Celine, Rachel Comey, and Stella McCartney

Fashion Icon: Amal Clooney and Michelle Obama

Favorite Food: Aloo Paratha (she figured we at BG might know a thing or two about that)

Fashion Faux Pas She was guilty of: Having a lot of mustard and purple outfits in honor of the Lakers. Huge no for the Indian skin tone.

We’re co-hosting a fireside chat with Ladyrinks on Thursday, June 7th in New York City. RSVP a ticket today with discount code ‘BrownGirlMagazine’!!!