In 2014, two college friends, and self-proclaimed social butterflies, Alessandra Perez-Rubio and Louisa Rechter, had a problem. With an increasing number of weddings filling up their social calendars, they found themselves commiserating that it felt impossible to find any elevated yet reasonably priced couture-like dresses in the market. Dress shopping was no longer fun because they couldn’t afford the opulent designer gowns they so desperately craved, and the pieces within their budget didn’t quite measure up. Something needed to be done! The duo decided to launch Mestiza New York, a women’s special occasion brand designed in New York City that offers this stylish opulence without the opulent price tag.
“Mestiza” means a woman of mixed ancestry, as the brand embraces and celebrates the co-founder’s shared Filipino-American heritage. Alessandra and Louisa have created a label that leans into the glitz and glam of vintage wanderlust: late afternoon martinis lounging by the pool in resplendent sheaths, painting a clear picture of a tropical Philippine paradise. Vintage photographs of their mothers and grandmothers in the Philippines in the 1960s have been the recurrent sources of inspiration that fuel every Mestiza collection.
Under Alessandra’s creative direction, the collection offers opulent architectural silhouettes, bejeweled encrusted embellishments, iridescent ivory tassels, ornate laces, and layers of handwoven silk cocoon from the Philippines. Each dress, even months or years after its worn, is meant to evoke a fond memory of the fun evening spent dancing the night away at the party you never wanted to end.
The collection has been spotted on the red carpet on chic fans, including Chrissy Teigen, Heart Evangelista, Ashley Graham, Madelaine Petsch, Maria Menounos, Iskra Lawrence, America Ferrera, Molly Sims, and Kate Walsh as well as influential bloggers and fashionistas around the globe.
Learn more in our interview with Alessandra and Louisa below!
Our Interview with Alessandra Perez-Rubio and Louisa Rechter, Founders of Mestiza
Tell us about your professional journey. What did you go to school for, and what led you to found Mestiza?
When we first launched Mestiza, I had never really worked in fashion and didn’t know the first thing about designing a dress. I majored in Communication Design at Washington University in St. Louis, so a lot of the early days were baptism by fire and figuring stuff out on the go.
My co-founder Louisa and I were friends from Wash U, we rushed the same sorority and shared a closet for four years. We conceived the brand one night over cocktails back in 2014, while commiserating over all the weddings that we had on our summer calendars. Being girls with expensive taste and tight budgets, we complained that there wasn’t much out there that satisfied our craving for elevated dresses with a “high-end” look within our price range. Something needed to be done!
By the 3rd round of drinks we had already come up with the name “Mestiza” and the rest is history.
What should people know about Mestiza?
Mestiza is a brand for women like us, who crave the “couture” aesthetic, but not the $10,000 price tag. Over the past half-decade, Louisa and I have worked hard to create an assortment of competitively priced, beautiful dresses that feel special, feminine, and expensive. I don’t think we would have gotten this far without our shared passion for our brand, our product, and, most importantly, our customers. Seeing their excitement for what we offer and where they are wearing the dresses, makes it all worth it.
Having a business partner isn’t always smooth sailing. What do you believe is the secret to a successful partnership?
While having a business partner isn’t always smooth sailing, I wouldn’t have done it any other way. We knew when we started that we brought very different things to the table, me being the creative and Louisa being the strategy. Of course, over the years, we’ve both had to flex; being a startup requires founders to be nimble at every level. I think ultimately, the secret to our successful partnership is our shared vision. From day one, we knew the exact kind of company we wanted to build, and almost six years in neither of us have ever faltered.
Mestiza means “woman of mixed ancestry” – Can you speak a bit about how that translates into the designs that you ultimately bring to market?
I am considered to be “Mestiza,” being of both Spanish and Filipino descent, so the moniker is very much a part of me, as it is the name of the brand. So much of the Mestiza aesthetic is inspired by our shared heritage in the Philippines: I am from Manila, and Louisa’s mother grew up in Cebu. When concieving the brand all those years ago, we were both very influenced by vintage photographs of our mothers and grandmothers in the Philippines in the 1960’s. With every collection I design, I aim to stay true to this beautiful vision of a tropical Philippine paradise. Because the term Mestiza literally means a blend of two things, I like to take stylistic elements from traditional Filipiniana clothing and modernizing them to fit our contemporary market and customer.
Tell us a little bit about the partnership you have with the Habi Philippine Textile Council and why that was an important partnership for Mestiza?
When we started this company, it was important for us to give back to the country and women that inspire the brand. This is why we partnered with the Habi Philippine Textile Council to support female textile weavers in the Philippines. Along with donating to the council annually, each year, we integrate Habi hand woven fabrics into the collection, selling the pieces exclusively on our website. The women of Habi come from all different regions to weave in their traditional manner. Not only are the fabrications beautiful, each Mestiza x Habi piece helps to sustain the Philippine cotton farming industry, provide a steady paycheck and keep a centuries-old artisanal craft alive for everyone to admire.
Tell us about your product development – from the initial idea and sketches, through fabric sourcing, and production.
When designing a collection, I find it easier to design with fabrics in mind since they inform each collection’s silhouettes and overall feel. For example, for our Fall 2020 collection, I chose the theme “Flamenco,” the Andalusian folkloric dance known for its emotional intensity and drama. With this in mind, I chose bold floral fabrics, incorporated architectural ruffles, and intricate embroideries, all an ode to the parts of Spanish culture I grew up fascinated by. The hope is that each collection strikes an even balance between evergreen styles that we know our customers can’t live without and new and bold silhouettes that we know she will inevitably fall in love with.
How has the COVID-19 climate affected Mestiza? Have you had to pivot or rethink your strategy at all during this time?
I have actually started calling 2020 the big “pivot year” for Mestiza, because as founders, we’ve had to quickly figure out ways to adapt our business in the swiftly changing retail landscape hard hit by COVID-19.
We’ve definitely seen a shift in people’s shopping behavior to favor e-commerce and are lucky enough to have a light-footed team that can move our resources to better serve the needs of this rapidly growing part of our business. We’ve found the most success in our grass-roots efforts to connect with our customers with campaigns that humanize our brand, showing our experiences behind the scenes in the midst of COVID-19, not just as founders but as full-time mothers. Because of all of these efforts, we’ve seen the Mestiza shopper remain loyal, and we’ve been able to reach people who discover us for this very reason.
What does your day-to-day look like – and what you love most about what you do?
Our days look much different than it used to. I remember our very last day in our office back in March, we all honestly thought we would be working from home for a week or so and back in the grind before the month was over. But since then, Lou has temporarily relocated to St. Louis zealously working until the very last moment before her maternity leave. I have now absorbed most of her roles while trying to run the show and balance distance learning with my very rambunctious 5-year old son, Carlos.
What does success mean to you?
I think part of the startup life means having to accept that success is ephemeral. The times where I feel like I’ve achieved some form of it, there always seems to follow some sort of pivotal experience that brings us down to earth. For example, we had the best sales month right before COVID-19 hit. Louisa and I felt like all the pieces had finally fallen into place and had to quickly shift our focus from topline growth to ensuring Mestiza survives the pandemic and comes out stronger than ever.
How do you practice self-care?
In recent months, because of COVID, we’ve all had to search for alternative outlets to practice self-care. I’ve found gratification in making small improvements to my home, learning new recipes, and ensuring exercise is a big part of my daily routine. While before I was less regimented, I found it helpful to have a more disciplined daily schedule. And of course, I can’t fail to mention letting myself indulge in the necessary glass or 3 of wine at the end of the day. I’m sure everyone can agree with me that it helps with the monotony of working from home.
If you could go back and give yourself three pieces of advice when you first started Mestiza– what would you tell yourself?
- Don’t let short term retail success dictate your product line, know who your customer is, and design for her, not them.
- Prioritize e-commerce and put marketing dollars behind it! It pays off tenfold and will give you the foundation to grow the company the way you want to
- When it comes to marketing and knowing your customer, there is no such thing as too much data: it helps inform every decision you make: whether it is in design, website experience, advertising, and overall strategy.
What’s next for you both and for Mestiza?
Right now, we are focused on getting through the next year. There continues to be so much uncertainty in the industry, and we are dedicated to making sure the business continues to perform, finding new and innovative ways to connect with our customers and making sure that we have a strong foundation and platform to really scale the business when the climate normalizes. We have already seen clear indications that people are excited to celebrate all the important life moments when the time comes. Brides will have their big day; parties will inevitably happen, and Mestiza will be there to dress you for all those big life moments!