Luz Zambrano grew up behind the cash register. Helping her father with his printing business sparked an entrepreneurial curiosity that would take her into the warehouses of New Balance and Fila.
Luz moved from her home country of Venezuela to the United States when she was 19 years old to study industrial design. While working on her curriculum, an internship opportunity at New Balance sparked her interest. She applied and was accepted, starting her first experience in the shoe industry that, unknowingly, would be the reason for her future entrepreneurial endeavors. “It was so fun and I really enjoyed it,” Luz remembers her internship experience fondly.
She continued to work for some of the largest shoe companies in the world for the next ten years. Luz loved her role but kept running into an undeniable sustainability problem.
Instead of hoping somebody else would figure out a solution, she stepped up to the plate.
From idea to product
“I worked in the shoe industry for 10 years in fulfillment learning all the technical parts from scratch. I worked with factories in China and Mexico. I learned not only how to make the shoe but plan production.” Part of production involves swatches of leather unusable for shoes that inevitably are thrown away.
Luz’s idea for her leather goods brand Casupo came from another leather accessories business she had previously started. At the time she’d sourced brand new materials, but “after working 6 years in Los Angeles and I realized the factory’s storage spaces had tons of leather that nobody was doing anything with. There’s a 20% waste of leather and whatever is left behind is part of their cost of goods. I decided to switch things and make a brand with a mission in mind and a giveback in mind.”
“I started collecting leather swatches from vendors and making little pouches at home,” Luz recalls about her first few products. But, her experience growing up behind the cash register of her father’s business taught her to think bigger. “I decided I didn’t want to make them myself and that I wanted to hire a specialist. I knew I couldn’t grow if I did it myself.”
Luz’s side hustle was born. She named her business after the mountain range in Valencia, Venezuela where she learned the power of nature and felt the responsibility to do her part to take care of the Earth. She spent 3 hours every night working on Casupo, making leather goods and building out her business with employees and the right factories. “I looked at factories in the US because working with China and Mexico taught me that the volume I had to make overseas would be too high for me. I started working with 3 factories in the US to make samples and chose one.”
Luz made the right decision. “ That was 10 years ago and I still work with that factory now.”
But, the hardest decision was on the horizon. Luz kept working her full-time job while building Casupo for 3 years. It was a mindset shift that told her it was time to go all-in on her business endeavor.
“It came down to the time I was putting into the other job and giving them revenue with my skills. If I’m making money from the 3 hours I’m working on my business after work, what would happen if I dedicated my entire day to the business instead of giving it to someone else?”
Climbing her own Casupo Mountain
With Luz all-in on Casupo, she knew it was time to set her brand’s standards. What would Casupo be known for?
Casupo’s mission became clear. “It had to be about making products to educate people about what’s happening with the leather industry and how vegan leather isn’t the only choice to be eco-friendly. There’s so much leather eventually going to landfills.”
Casupo products come in limited quantities depending on how much leather of a specific color they’re able to source. Their products are limited edition and that can be challenging to convey to online shoppers used to having access to massive quantities of the same product. “I think the hardest part is to explain to people how that color is only available in 10 wallets,” Luz explains, “the message has to be really clear to the customer. In-person, it’s easy to explain but on the website, it’s more difficult.”
Using in-person events to spread brand awareness has been a key, but tricky part of Casupo’s success. Liz finds in-person selling much easier, but creating a repeatable brand experience has proven to be quite the challenge. “Each event is different in the sense of audience and design. Some are inside, others are outside, some have electricity, others don’t. Some involve me flying in with two suitcases or being able to drive and bring more products.
The hardest part is creating a consistent brand experience that makes people familiar with my look regardless of what type of event they’re seeing Casupo.”
Aside from in-person marketing, Casupo also focuses on email and SMS marketing, staying active on YouTube, Instagram, TikTok, YouTube, Pinterest and Etsy, and sponsoring aligned podcasts.
Giving back in the Casupo Mountains
Casupo started with a Shopify website and a Square system, but Luz made the switch over to Shopify’s POS, “I used to use Square and now I use Shopify to have everything linked together. I love the Shopify POS system.” Luz likes having everything in one place, which makes keeping tabs on inventory, revenue, and marketing easy.
This leaves her more time to focus on calling vendors and seeing what new leather pieces are available. “Sometimes they have really cool things that I haven’t seen before. I love the limited edition aspect of it.” It’s also given her time to set up a relationship with a non-profit organization close to Casupo’s heart.
FUNDANICA helps kids with cancer get the treatments they need. The organization is located at the base of the Casupo mountains and Luz sends them a portion of every sale. “FUNDANICA goes to the hospital in a low-income area and provides diagnostic testing and different types of experiences to make children’s lives in hospital better, as well as giving parents access to buy medicine,” she explains.
From working behind the cash register of her father’s business to giving back to the community —Luz is proud of Casupo’s growth. Casupo’s success created opportunities to give back to the mountains that raised her, as well as the people. Luz’s parents moved to America to join her, leaving their print business behind. When times became tough for them in 2020, Casupo gave Luz an opportunity she could have only dreamt of.
In a full-circle moment, Luz warmly explains, “I’m able to have my parents work with me which is fantastic.”