Sister Act

From Latin America to Port Hope and Cobourg… How two sisters created Gallola, a global brand offering loafers with provenance and style.

In the middle of the pandemic, while many of us were trying our hand at softly layered bangs or figuring out how much flour to feed the sourdough starter, sisters Lexie Blahm von Hahn and Katrina von Hahn were planning to launch a global lifestyle brand with meaning.

“We wanted it to be inspired by our Latin American roots,” says Katrina. Those roots run deep: Katrina was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina; Lexie and their father in Santiago, Chile. Their mom is a Port Hope native who met their dad while both were working in Toronto. The pins on the map continued as the newly met couple left Toronto to begin two decades of international travels that took them to Singapore, Argentina and Mexico before they settled down in Cobourg when Katrina was 5 and Lexie 7 (the sisters are now 28 and 30).

“Funnily enough, we had our brand-name strategy session during lockdown in Cobourg,” says Lexie. “Katrina and I came home to quarantine with our family and we soon realized we had a captive audience to bounce names off!”

Shortlist contenders had to reflect the sisters’ bright personalities without being obvious – an eponymous handle was not in the running – and the name had to be fun and spirited.

“It’s been such a surreal experience putting outfits together and then finishing the look with something that we dreamed of and actually created.” KATRINA VON HAHN

Lexie says, “Our surname, von Hahn, actually means ‘of the rooster’ in German, and in Spanish the word for rooster is ‘gallo.’ We added ‘la’ to the end of ‘gallo’ for a bit of Spanish flair that rolls off the tongue and came up with Gallola.” Pronounced, guy-oh-lah, the lively name would make its debut in May 2023 when the brand launched with its inaugural offering: women’s loafers.

The timeless allure of shoes (the sisters recall dressing up in their mom’s heels when they were little girls) and the classic silhouette of loafers spoke to them. “By starting with one item, we knew we could build and grow the business at a pace that feels organic to us,” Katrina says. “Given this, we were extremely intentional about launching with shoes, and loafers in particular felt like a product that would appeal to women across different generations.”

Their mom, grandmother and aunts are testament to this, and when the sisters see them rocking their Gallolas, whether for dinner at Trattoria Gusto in Port Hope or strolling the Cobourg boardwalk, they say it’s a proud “pinch-me moment.”

There is nuance in Gallola. It is inspired by the sisters’ specific Latin American roots – not all of Latin America – and that direct connection clearly informed both the materials and manufacturing of the loafers. One of the footwear’s most stand-out aesthetics is its nubby-textured finish. “It’s inspired by Carpincho leather, a hide that was traditionally worn by Argentine gauchos and later became popularized by stylish Argentines who would use it for belts, jackets, wallets and boots,” says Katrina. “Carpincho has a characteristically speckled texture and is characteristic of Argentine style. With this as our inspiration, we’ve created the look and feel of Carpincho using the most durable, genuine Mexican leather.”

For production, the design duo knew that a manufacturer located in Latin America was a must. Lexie says, “Most people assume that Spain or Italy are the shoe-manufacturing capitals of the world, but it’s actually León, Guanajuato in Mexico that has more tanneries and manufacturers devoted to the shoe industry than any other city in the world, so it felt like the perfect place for us.”

They sourced a local manufacturer who is the third generation in his family to work in the footwear industry. “All of the materials, including the leather, are local, and a handmade process ensures product longevity and top-notch quality,” says Katrina. “Absolutely every step of our shoe-making process is done in the workshop; nothing is outsourced.”

It’s a serious business – the sisters are often onsite in León reviewing leather samples and options, overseeing how the lasts (the wooden moulds that shape the shoes) are refined, how patterns are cut and materials assembled. “The days are long and it’s a lot of work,” Lexie says, “but we always make time for long lunches with our manufacturing partner so we can catch up on family life, the shoe industry and anything and everything in between.”

It is refreshing that Gallola is the complete opposite of fast fashion and heartening that the thoughtful provenance of its footwear is in step with the communities where the sisters grew up. “We love the warmth and generosity of Port Hope and Cobourg,” says Katrina. “We’ve always been struck by how inclusive and friendly people are here; they are enthusiastic to connect with you and learn about you. These are qualities that we not only admire, but also hope to emulate in our own lives.”

While the sisters agree on the big things, they happily deviate when it comes to choosing between the brand’s two styles of loafers. Lexie loves Sassa’s deep-green colouring, while Katrina gravitates to the warmth of Maxima’s brown hue.

“It’s been such a surreal experience putting outfits together and then finishing the look with something that we dreamed of and actually created,” says Katrina. “I tend to lean more casual and wear Maxima with jeans and an oversized button-down. Lexie’s style is more colourful and feminine, so she typically pairs Sassa with a midi dress and cute cardigan.” And smart detail: the shipping box is made from recycled materials and designed as a shoe box to avoid excess packaging.

It’s been a year since Gallola launched and the sisters are busy planning more lifestyle content for their blog, Con Amor, while developing new products to launch later this year. Until then, the next time you see a stylish woman picking out table linens at Penney and Company in Port Hope or spy a cool girl sipping sangria at George & Orange in Cobourg, look down: she’s most likely wearing Gallola loafers and giving Lexie and Katrina even more of those pinch-me moments.

Story by:
Christy Wright

Photography by:
Kathryn Yang

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