Meet The Creators Of Mestiza New York: An Interview With Alessandra Perez-Rubio & Louisa Rechter
I had the pleasure of interviewing Alessandra Perez-Rubio and Louisa Rechter, Co-Founders of Mestiza New York, the contemporary eveningwear label inspired by their shared Filipino-American heritage. Under Alessandra’s creative direction, the collection offers opulent and architectural silhouettes for the party you never want to end. Mestiza New York has been spotted on style icons including Chrissy Teigen, Ashley Graham, Iskra Lawrence, Madelaine Petsch, and Kate Walsh.
What is your “backstory”?
ALESSANDRA: It was the summer of 2014 that Louisa and I had both cumulatively counted 16 wedding invitations in a span of three months. One night over cocktails, we commiserated about how we had all of these black tie weddings and nothing halfway decent to wear. We would froth at the mouth admiring these $10,000 Oscar De La Renta ball gowns and then be distraught at our mutual inability to afford them. We would always ask each other, “Why don’t those dresses exist for a fraction of the price? Why can’t couture, or ‘couture tangential’ be affordable to millennials like ourselves?” It was truly every fashion girl’s dilemma and we needed to do something about it!
The idea of Mestiza New York came to life in our heads that very night. In the ensuing months we lead double lives, dreaming up our collection afterhours and on weekends, devising a plan of attack, gathering up enough courage to quit our day jobs, and dive in headfirst.
LOUISA: Like any company in its infancy, we started out small: seven trunk shows for friends and family, a small collection launched on a very crude online store, and a 12-piece capsule presented at (then) indie tradeshow Brand Assembly — all a sequence of tiny steps that led us to landing our dream partnerships with Neiman Marcus on our third season; Moda Operandi, Revolve, and Nordstrom on our fifth season, with the latter two launching in February 2018.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you started your company?
LOUISA: I think this story is equal parts funny and interesting, but mostly frustrating. When we first launched Mestiza, we sold to any and every store that would give us the time of day. We were naïve not to consider the fact that there were retailers out there with smarmy reputations for not paying small vendors. In hindsight, we should have done our due diligence, but sadly we were bright-eyed and optimistic. In our second season, one of our favorite retailers had given us one of the biggest orders we’d seen to date, and we jumped on the chance. We excitedly delivered their order, and were so proud to see our dress front and center on their website. And so we waited. 30 days after delivery there was no payment. Still nothing after 60 days, and that’s when we started to panic. I called and followed up on emails repeatedly. Finally at 67 days past due, I did the unthinkable and showed up at their office in Queens to demand payment. I think they were so frazzled to see a young girl in their lobby, that they cut me a check right on the spot. It was a ballsy move for sure, but sometimes if you want something done, you need to be bold and do it yourself!
What does your company do?
ALESSANDRA: Mestiza New York is a women’s eveningwear label that creates couture-like pieces for the contemporary market. We aim to pursue an uncompromised vision of elevated dresses that are still affordable to girls with an average income. Season after season, it is our mission to produce unique dresses that give women the experience of wearing something special for the party that she doesn’t want to end, and more importantly, to not feel a shred of guilt while she’s dancing the night away. The perennial touchstones behind every collection are vintage photographs of the Philippines from the 1960’s. Mestiza actually means a woman of mixed ancestry, as the brand celebrates our shared Filipino-American heritage, thus giving us an original point of view in fashion.
What makes your company stand out? Can you share a story or an example?
LOUISA: We have built a company that creates beautiful dresses with architectural details, rich fabrications, and bejeweled embellishments…at very unintimidating price points. The amount of effort that goes into each garment is tremendous and when a woman touches and feels the pieces, she is (more often than not) pleasantly surprised at the amazing price. At the end of the day, we all get a little sad when a dress is unaffordable. It takes the fun out of shopping entirely!
ALESSANDRA: From day one, we made a pact to never take fashion too seriously, to imbue a sense of wanderlust and whimsy in all of our clothes. Before Louisa and I co-founded Mestiza New York, I did not even know how to design a dress, let alone create a full collection — and I was the creative director. I think we were both a little self conscious about what we were putting out there, me especially because, what if (god forbid) my designs were heinous monster-like creations? However, we kept hearing from people that they loved our brand — it was vastly different from what they had seen in the market. It dawned on us that perhaps my lack of formal training in fashion became a positive, as it was what ultimately gave the brand a fresh perspective.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are?
ALESSANDRA: Since inception, our proud fathers Carlos Perez-Rubio and Joe Rechter have been the backbone of Mestiza New York. Can you imagine what it must be like when your daughter calls you one day and tells you she want to start a fashion company? Especially in a retail market that is less than stellar? Our fathers put all doubts aside and have been our most avid champions, through our initial launch and all the way through our first fundraise. They made us sit down and think of Mestiza as a viable business, asked us to hone in on the kind of company we wanted to build. They saw the vision of Mestiza New York ten years down the line, when neither of us could even think past two months. It was their fiery push from the very beginning that ultimately gave us the excitement and momentum to get us this far in such a short amount of time.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
LOUISA: In embracing our shared Philippine and American heritage, Alessandra and I found the importance in creating something of substance with socially impactful values, which is precisely why we partnered with the Habi Philippine Textile Council. They are an amazing organization based in Manila and their mission is to sustain the Philippine cotton industry and support female textile weavers. Along annual donations to the council, we integrate their hand woven fabrics into our collection each season, and sell them exclusively on our website. We give them little creative direction and a flexible production schedule, as we want the textiles to reflect the authenticity of their culture. Not only are the fabrications beautiful, but each Mestiza x Habi piece also helps to sustain the Philippine cotton farming industry, provide a steady paycheck for women, and keep a centuries-old artisanal craft alive for us to admire.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I launched my start-up” and why?
ALESSANDRA & LOUISA:
1. Never be afraid to negotiate: Something we always approached with such trepidation was negotiating. As an infant brand, we had no idea that we had the power to determine what we wanted to pay for certain things, and more often than not, people were always willing to meet in the middle. It was the nature of the way things were done. Although it took a while for us to figure it out, but we finally got there.
2. Don’t get too excited about anything: We never knew what an emotional roller coaster starting your own company would be. In the past few years, we have experienced the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. When something good happens, we’ve felt invincible. Conversely, when something bad happens, we felt utterly devastated. The trick is to maintain an even keel when reaching any sort of milestone. This way, it keeps us grounded and always working towards the next big thing.
3. Plan on fundraising: We had lofty goals for our brand from day one and so much of Mestiza’s infancy was self-financed. However, in order to sustain the level of growth we anticipated for the company, our company needed cash. As co-founders who are more creatively focused and had zero experience in raising money, it was a grueling experience meeting potential backers for our very first friends and family round. We practiced and perfected our presentation countless times and ended up pitching over 40 different private investors. One of the most satisfying things we heard throughout this process was when an investor told us that our presentation and deck was up to par, if not better, than a lot of the of the tech pitches he had seen in Silicon Valley. We were completely shocked (but mostly relieved) to not just hit our goal, but also be oversubscribed by the close of that first round.
4. Compartmentalize work and friendship: One of the reasons we’ve maintained a balance in our working relationship is because we recognized in each other a mutual passion, drive and ambition to build something impactful, we have a vision for the brand that has not wavered since day one, and we know that we bring different talent to the table. In the beginning, there was a lot of overlap because we both wanted to touch every single part of the business but quickly realized that it was counterproductive. So we’ve both taken real ownership of our roles, (Alessandra) being the creative lead and (Louisa) being the business strategist.
5. Work/Life balance is a myth: When it comes to starting your own company, let go of the notion of having any type of work-life balance. If you are passionate about creating something of substance, then it will stop feeling like “work” as it will slowly blend into all aspects of your life. We live, eat, and breathe Mestiza from the moment we wake up in the morning to the minute we shut our eyes at night, and we couldn’t feel happier or more satisfied doing so.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why?
ALESSANDRA & LOUISA: Without a doubt, we would love to meet Sara Blakely, founder and CEO of Spanx. We listened to an episode a few months ago on NPR’s How I Built this podcast and really connected with her story. Like Sara, Neiman Marcus gave us our first big break! She is a brilliant female entrepreneur and we would love to pick her brain.