Cult Gaia launched nearly a decade ago and has since made headlines and taken over our Instagram feeds with its icon bamboo Ark bag and its prominent following of celebrities. Although Cult Gaia started with a couple of “it” bags, it has transformed into a full lifestyle brand, including ready-to-wear, shoes, accessories, swim, and its most recent launch: sunglasses. Founder and CEO Jasmin Larian Hekmat tells us about her childhood roots in the fashion world, what inspires her creatively, and the challenges she has had to overcome to get Cult Gaia to where it is today.
Have you always been interested in fashion and a career in the fashion industry?
My mom is a sculptor and used to be a fashion designer, so I’ve been surrounded by design and creativity since childhood. As a kid, my mom and I would collect these gorgeous vintage fabrics that someday, I knew I’d use to help create and inspire a line of my own. My dad ran the toy company that started Bratz dolls and I grew up designing miniature collections for each of the dolls, which really set the wheels in motion for me. I studied fashion design at FIT in New York which happened to be right next to the Flower District. In my spare time, I’d make these goddess-inspired flower crowns that my friends and I would wear around town; we had several people quite literally stop and ask us if they could buy them off our heads. A friend urged me to turn my flower crown hobby into a business, and I did; I expanded my offering from flower crowns to turbans, created using vintage fabrics I’d collected over the years. From that humble beginning, the brand evolved into what it is today.
It has been a decade since the launch of Cult Gaia. What were some of the obstacles that have come your way and how have you overcome those challenges?
I always say that to create something special and lasting, lightning needs to strike. It’s a common misconception that Cult Gaia was an overnight success, it actually took well over two years for our first bag, the Ark, to take off, and become the Cult Gaia ‘hero’ piece it is today. Building on the success of one bag, we are still working toward becoming a bonafide lifestyle brand and have since launched shoes, ready-to-wear, swimwear, and, most recently, sunglasses. With each new launch, Cult Gaia continues to diversify and gain traction.
How would you describe your design aesthetic?
Fashion and art are so intricately intertwined, it’s always been important to me that everything we make reads as wearable art and makes people go “wow!” My approach to design is crafting pieces that stoke emotion and really makes you feel something like any great piece of art.
One of our manifestos is “perfection is imperfect, as nature dictates.” If you look at nature, the slight asymmetry, flaws, and nuances are what makes it so special and inimitable.
What is your go-to Cult Gaia outfit?
Right now it’s the Serita dress with the Fifi platforms and Bara bag.
Who, what, or where inspires you creatively?
Being in nature, architecture, art, with friends, and the female form are all really inspiring to me. Recently, I’ve become fascinated with furniture, how each piece fits together so naturally. I liken the joints of furniture to the seams in clothing. I love to play with how each individual piece interacts, twists, and joins together to create styles that truly flatter and honor the female body.
Do you have a favorite piece that you have designed?
That’s like asking me to choose a favorite child. There’s something unique and special about everything we do and make.
Cult Gaia has been seen on many celebrities and A-listers. What has been your pinch-me moment since launching the line?
Of course, it’s always exciting to see celebrities I admire in our pieces, but I get just as much satisfaction out of seeing women on the street, out to lunch, at the beach, and beyond wearing the collection. We pour so much of our heart and soul into each collection, so to hear women tell us that our clothing makes them feel beautiful is always an incredible feeling.
This is your first collection of sunglasses. Tell us a bit about the sunglasses and what the inspiration behind it was.
New projects have always fueled my creativity and the development of sunglasses was the perfect outlet. We always intended to create a fully realized lifestyle brand and sunglasses seemed like a natural next step for us. This collection is classic but also offers our customer that “it” factor that she looks for in our products. I also feel like sunglasses haven’t been disrupted in a classic but artful way- what’s out there to me is either too crazy or too basic in my mind so I was excited to lend our DNA to this new category. Each of the names we chose for the glasses hold special meanings, for instance, Hera is the Greek word for Warrior Queen, Katka is Greek for pure and Meira is Hebrew for light.
How has the past year and the COVID-19 pandemic affected your business?
This past year has really made us double down on the things that helped to make the brand a success in the first place. As a brand, we’ve always had a close, direct relationship with our customers through our own e-commerce, and social media has always been central to our success; we’re able to pivot quickly and design products that directly meet our customers’ demand. While many brands who rely heavily on their wholesale business struggled, our e-commerce business actually went up 120% over the past year. We also have heard from many of our customers that looked to us as a welcome escape from the realities of the outside world. Our messaging has become more human, more creative and the collections we designed during that time reflect that.
What advice would you give to budding entrepreneurs?
I urge all entrepreneurs to embrace the power of adaptability. Be willing to change and evolve when something isn’t working. I’ve been able to grow Cult Gaia by constantly being able to pivot and because of my grit… Laziness will never work.