By Julia Eskins
Photography by Aleyah Solomon
Zooming around Toronto on her motorcycle, Ana Caracaleanu describes herself as “unrecognizable; a black flash.” Catch her at a still moment and it’s clear: Caracaleanu is a dynamo businesswoman on a mission to help the independent fashion scene. If emerging designers were looking for a superhero, it would be Caracaleanu in a structured Laura Galic jacket.
The Toronto-based entrepreneur greets me with a warm, relaxed smile. You would never know she’s working overtime as the CEO of Luevo, a fashion-tech start-up that could become a major game changer.
The concept behind Luevo is brilliant, yet simple: an e-commerce platform that allows independent fashion designers to crowd-fund their collections and get pre-orders before going into production.
“I was doing my MBA at the time that Kickstarter took off. I thought, ‘What a great idea. But what about fashion?’ I was dreaming about getting designers on a campaign,” says Caracaleanu. “The problem is, Kickstarter doesn’t have the e-commerce platform and the consumer can’t shop there. That’s where Luevo was born.”
Caracaleanu and her business partner, Mihnea Stoian, launched Luevo into beta phase only two months ago, but the venture has been a long time coming for Caracaleanu, who debuted as a model at age 15 in Romania.
“When I moved to Toronto, I became a class B or C model because I was already older. But that gave me the opportunity to work with local fashion designers. I would do fashion week, but I would be in the new labels show or work with [Toronto Fashion Incubator],” she says.
After going back to school, she knew she wanted to help independent fashion designers and thought about opening her own boutique. Caracaleanu soon realized she needed to turn to e-commerce to solve the biggest problem facing independent designers: getting the initial funding to produce their lines.
“Right now, we’re getting approached by a lot of designers, so we’re filtering and finding the best ones. We’re interviewing, curating and ordering samples from them. We really go through a process to make sure they are trustworthy as business partners and that they will fulfill the orders they receive,” she says.
Caracaleanu adds that Luevo also promotes a sustainable business model that reduces waste, as designers only produce enough to satisfy the orders that they receive.
With a focus on talents that have fair and ethical business practices, Luevo stands up to its mandate of “helping the small guy grow,” be it in Canada or abroad. So far, it’s the only company of its kind in North America, and it’s attracting attention from the U.S., the U.K. and beyond.
The website will officially go live in August with a group of hand-picked designers, including Dylan Uscher from DylaniumKnits; Lois Laine, an up-and-coming clothing designer from Toronto; Criopia Design, a jewelry designer from Toronto; and Laura Galic, a European designer known for her jacket line.
“They put 150 per cent into their work. Toronto is growing insanely when it comes to independent fashion. That’s why we chose to stay here. It’s a small community, but it’s great. If you’re a likeable person, you’ll get far,” Caracaleanu says.
For her, that means networking at Toronto Fashion Week, |FAT| Arts & Fashion Week and her favourite independent boutiques in Bloor West Village and Queen West.
When asked about her entrepreneurial inspiration, she laughs while reminiscing about her first “on-the-side business” of selling second-hand clothing to her friends in high school to supplement her allowance.
“I think I’ve always taken the plunge. I’ve always thought, ‘What can I do better?’
It’s risky, but it’s very rewarding at the same time. You can work 80-100 hours per week and you don’t feel it,” she says.
“Right now, I am so personal with each and every designer involved. I feel like if I fail, I’ll let everyone down. It becomes a responsibility.”