Interview: Two Washington University Grads Launch Fashion Brand Mestiza

At its core, Mestiza New York is a clothing brand that thrives off of mixing and matching. Specializing in ornate cocktail dresses that pay homage to the Philippines, the founders of the brand, Alessandra and Louisa, mix their familial connections to the country with their shared affinity for glamour to fill a void in the industry that they have come face to face with as both consumers and as a business.

It all started while they were studying at Washington University in St. Louis. When the duo rushed Pi Phi, they discovered that they not only shared connections to the Philippines, but also a sincere desire to be in the fashion industry. After relocating to New York, they combined their years-long friendship with their work experience and launched Mestiza in NYC. I met with Alessandra and Louisa in their new space in Manhattan to talk about their inspiration behind the brand, love for fashion, and, of course, their favorite things about St. Louis.

Ale and Lou of Mestiza New York. Photo courtesy of the designers.

Ale and Lou of Mestiza New York. Photo by Kate Munsch of St. Frank.

What did you study at Wash U?
Alessandra:
I studied graphic design, but I kind of wish I’d studied fashion. It’s always my one biggest regret.

Louisa: I studied French and everyone thought I was going to be a translator but I just liked the language. I thought maybe it would translate into my fashion career but really it’s just a fun hobby of mine.

French and Graphic Design … How did you both even cross paths?
A: We were in the same sorority actually. We both rushed Pi Phi. We connected because I’m originally from the Philippines and Louisa’s mom grew up there. After talking for a little bit, we realized that her mom and my parents have a lot of friends in common from back home. It’s a really small world.

L: Fast-forward a few years later, those Filipino connections serve as our brand identity. When designing Mestiza, we felt like there was a lack of unique cocktail dresses and gowns in the fashion market. So we kind of use Filipino colonial wear and styles from the past, like Alessandra’s grandmother, to recreate some really unique styles.

A: When I got married a few years ago, Louisa was looking for a gown for my wedding—I had a black-tie wedding. She couldn’t quite find something that was in that sweet spot price range, so it was either really cheesy $200-300 dresses or you got the $3,000 gowns that are beautiful but unattainable. So we kind of wanted to sit right in the middle. There’s a lot of white space there. Some brands are kind of starting to see that and that’s kind of the market we want to capture.

L: Also, we give back to a charity called the Habi Foundation where women come together and congregate under these open-air huts and they weave textiles in a very traditional way. It’s an art that’s dying. So we allocate some of our money from sales to these women to weave for us. And those will be in limited edition styles on our website only.

When did you decide to start Mestiza? Did you all have any experience with fashion design?
A:
I used my experience as a graphic designer. I’ve always been very creative. So I guess I’ve never been truly happy until I started design. I feel like to a certain extent, it was my calling. About two years ago, we were like “let’s do this.” Last January is when we actually quit our jobs. I was 5 months pregnant and everyone thought I was crazy. And what’s funny is the day that I gave birth was the same day that we launched our online store.

L: She’s a momtrepreneur at its core. She defines it. I have no experience as a designer at all, but what I do have is an experience of being a buyer and a merchant. I launched my fashion career at Milly. Even though Milly has been around for about 16 years now, it’s still run as a very small company and I was lucky to get my hands in a lot of areas of the company. I saw how everything was done, from design to production to actually selling the clothes and dealing with the staff at the store or going to the warehouse and having to pack my own orders. It was really a great opportunity for me to see how the business was run. So I handle business and Alessandra handles creative and it’s a really great balance.

In addition to online, you’re also stocked in stores?
L:
Yes. Our biggest account is BHLDN. We’re also in specialty stores in the South and one in Panama, and we’re getting picked up in the Middle East.

A: And the Philippines.

L: We need to get a St. Louis store. There are some shops I have my eye on.

Let’s talk about St. Louis. What did you all love most about it? Alessandra, you came from the Philippines all the way to Wash U.
L:
I’m curious to hear Alessandra’s remarks on St. Louis.

A: It has its charms. It has little pockets of really cool things that I always loved to do. I always loved to go that sandwich spot Winslow’s. There is also this really amazing bar in the Central West End called Brennan’s.

L: For me, I was born and raised in St. Louis. I love St. Louis summers because they’re so relaxed. St. Louis means a lot to me. I’m getting married in October, so the wedding will be there at St. Louis Country Club in Ladue. Alessandra and I are designing everything; she just designed my gown. She’s doing my bridesmaid dresses. And we’re designing my mom’s dress, too.

View the newest pieces from their most recent collection on the web.

Rikki Byrd is a freelance writer and fashion scholar living in Brooklyn by way of St. Louis. Amidst her adventures in New York City, her tiring life as a full-time graduate student and the countless hours she spends fighting with her hair, she teaches at Parsons and writes about fashion, culture and race.

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