Name: Alessandra Perez-Rubio
City: New York City
Company: Mestiza New York
Role: Co-Founder and Chief Creative Officer
Education: Washington University in St. Louis
College Major: BFA in Communication Design
Name: Louisa Rechter
City: New York, New York
Company: Mestiza New York
Role: Co-founder & Chief Executive Officer
Education: Washington University in St. Louis
College Major: French
Tell us more about your company, Mestiza.
Mestiza is a vintage-inspired ready-to-wear and accessories collection that is thoughtfully & ethically designed to give you a polished, timeless and bold look, no matter the occasion.
We use luxurious materials, small scale manufacturing and are dedicated to
authentic initiatives to support equity and inclusion in our community of women
Why did you start Mestiza?
We met up one night at a wine bar on the Lower East Side in Manhattan, commiserating over all the weddings we had to attend but struggled to find something to wear. It felt nearly impossible to find well-made, beautiful yet affordable dresses in the market. Our mothers and grandmothers left us some of their fabulous dresses from the Philippines in the 1960s. We both remarked that dresses really aren’t made like they used to be.
That all changed in 2015 when we co-founded Mestiza New York to reimagine heritage fashion with today’s modern sensibilities.
Each piece is ethically crafted with little waste and thoughtful design to give you a luxurious finish and timeless style, special enough to be passed onto future generations.
How did you both meet each other?
We met in college, while rushing the same sorority, Pi Beta Phi! Alessandra is from Manila and my mother grew up in Cebu. Growing up in the Midwest, I didn’t know anyone else who lived across the world like my mom did. When Alessandra and I met, we immediately bonded over this shared heritage and even discovered we shared a lot of mutual family friends. I always knew this would be a special bond.
Finding a co-founder can be challenging, how did you both know your co-founder was the right fit? What advice do you have for others searching for a co-founder?
(Alessandra) I didn’t really go out searching for a co-founder, it was always going to be Lou or no one at all. We knew each other well from college and we both recognized in each other this equal desire to work tirelessly towards a shared goal, and this natural dichotomy of strengths brought to the table, which was crucial. She was the business, I was the creative, and the rest was history. My advice when going to business with a co-founder is pretty simple: build a trust that they too are going to work as much as you towards the success of what you are building.
What was your first job after college? Did you always have entrepreneurial goals?
(Alessandra) My career trajectory post-graduation was very fractured. First, I was an assistant account executive at a branding agency, then I was a graphic designer at Conde Nast. At one point I was a sales girl at Bloomingdales. None of the occupations suited me and I definitely felt like something was missing. I had this very strong desire to be in fashion, but it just felt so hard to break in. It wasn’t until Louisa and I started brainstorming Mestiza that I actually gained the confidence to go out and do it. The right co-founder will do that for you!
What’s one thing you wish you knew when you were entering the workforce?
(Alessandra) That there is a big difference between a job and a career. I graduated in 2009 which was the worst year to enter the workforce, I was desperate and willing to take anything. Even if it was in a position that made no sense to my overall career goal. I skirted the fashion industry, but it felt like this unattainable dream that wasn’t meant for someone with my skill set. Looking back, I wish I had pushed a little harder to get in, spent a little more time applying to jobs at companies I really admired. But I just wanted to stay in New York and I needed something to pay my rent so I took whatever job I could get. Because of this I feel the first few years of my career I was a little lost.
What skills are most important to have as a business owner? What do you look for in employees?
(Alessandra) I think a few things are important – for one I think it’s crucial for a business owner to have a thorough understanding about all the parts of the business that make the whole. For example, I am the creative behind Mestiza, but I make it a point to learn about all the levers that are being pulled in marketing, strategy, and sales. It makes me a better designer and creative to know these things. Another important skill is having the flexibility to pivot ideas and tasks when necessary. There is a certain scrappiness that is needed when you run a small company, being able to wear multiple hats is super important early on, and then of course growing the knowledge you gain from being scrappy to delegation when the company eventually grows. We like to find employees that share in this perspective, people that are willing to get their hands dirty and learn about every part of the business even if it doesn’t directly pertain to their role. It makes the overall company stronger when everyone really gets all the cogs that make the machine work.
What do you love most about your job?
(Alessandra) I love that this is a job that I made possible because of something I created myself. Not only is it my job, but I take ownership and pride in every single success and failure of the business. I love that I get to be creative and see my designs come to life. I love getting a front row to watch the business grow, something that is directly proportional to the work that Louisa, myself, and the whole team has put in. I love both the flexibility and demands of having my own business.
What advice do you have for other women who want to start their own business?
- Nothing happens overnight. You need to give yourself the time to iterate whatever product or service you are bringing to life.
- Research and understand your customer, talk to them, learn from them, be obsessed with them. Make sure whatever you are creating serves them.
- Invest in your online brand identity. If you are meant to be discovered online, make sure that online presence showcases your company’s ethos as much as possible.
- Make sure this online experience ultimately the customer you want to capture from the second they enter your site, to checkout.
What was the best piece of career advice you ever received?
(Louisa) Career advice given to me has evolved with age and the different phases I’ve entered. Out of college, I received advice to showcase my resourcefulness and willingness to learn. I think that was crucial in landing a job. When making a career move, someone told me to follow my passion and not get so bogged down by your past experience, reinvention is ok. Now, I’m one of the leaders of a company. I’m still learning what, in hindsight, that piece of advice would be, but for the phase in my life now, The Tory Burch Foundation really has taught me the importance of continuing your education and evolving as a leader.
How many children do you have? Do you have a work/life balance? How do you balance your professional life with being a mom?
(Louisa) I have two adorably rambunctious children, a 4 year old boy named Elliott and a 2 year old girl named Clementine. I have been so accustomed to always working and working hard, that I don’t even think I fully understand what a work/life balance is! I just try to be present and give my full attention to whatever I’m doing, whether it’s being in a design meeting or spending time with my children. Not always easy, but you manage!
What do you wear on a daily basis to the office?
(Louisa) Luckily for me, I have a closet full of Mestiza apparel! I usually wear one of our daytime dresses with flats and some of our statement earrings. I really love when the whole team is wearing something from our collection - I love seeing how they style it and let their personality shine through!
What’s your go-to power outfit? (i.e., what do you wear when you want to feel confident and powerful at work?)
(Louisa) A great pair of heels add the finishing touch to an outfit and make me feel tall, confident, and perhaps give me better posture! That, with a tailored blazer over a dress adds instant polish. I can’t wait to wear my new Suitably blazer over my Mestiza dresses.