Interview with Jennet Chow: A Look into Entrepreneurship as a First-Generation Asian American Businesswoman
I recently had the pleasure to speak with Ms. Jennet Chow, the founder, co-CEO, and head of design at Evolution Design Lab. Jennet is a first-generation Asian American business owner, and she has successfully launched multiple private labels, as well as her own brand, Jellypop Shoes, which specializes in designing and creating women and girls’ shoes for customers in the United States and Canada.
Aside from her successful business ventures, Jennet is also an active member of the community, lending her support to local food banks, small business owners, and homeless shelters. With the help of her team, Evolution Design Lab has been able to make a significant difference during this global pandemic by donating sneakers, essential items, and masks to those in need.
As a first-generation Asian American with a background in business, fashion, and the creative industry, Jennet’s accomplishments are truly inspirational, and I was able to speak to her about the various experiences that have shaped her as a businesswoman and philanthropist.
(Elizabeth will be shortened to “E”, and Jennet will be shortened to “J” from this point forward.)
E: How did you start your business?
J: I started my business while transitioning from working at my parents’ company, Prima Royale Enterprises. I worked at their shoe company Prima Royale Enterprises for about 10 years, building up their team in the Design Department and working in many roles: in Production, Design, and Marketing. My parents established their company when I was around 5 years old, so I grew up in their world of footwear. Throughout their career, my parents had a lot of rough days. However, it wasn’t until their partner passed away due to cancer that they seriously thought about retiring due to their own health. It was a difficult time for all of us. However, there were many employees and people involved and it would have been too devastating to close the company completely.
I wanted to help continue the business with my husband, who also had experience helping with my parents’ operations. Therefore, I named the company Evolution Design Lab (EDL), to place emphasis on how a company can evolve to adapt to the times. Our time working at Prima Royale helped us maintain a lot of the same customers and buyers in the U.S., and we continued the relationships with manufacturers in China. I couldn’t have started without my family’s support, experience working, and the relationships developed at Prima Royale Enterprises. Today we are just what the name of our company states. Within the 11 years at EDL, we have evolved so much as a company, and we have adapted faster than any other footwear company in technology, operations, and 3D design.
E: What does a typical day look like for you?
J: I start off checking emails and messages in the early morning before the kids wake up. Then, I spend time with our dog and feed him. I have 3 kids, so I make sure they have food ready to eat between their breaks for online school in the morning. Once that’s done, I read what’s happening on the news, check out social media – Instagram / Facebook – for what the trends are in everything, not just clothes, but also what people are thinking, what foods people are loving, what’s bothering people, what’s exciting others, what’s making people tick, etc. I am always curious what people are thinking. Then I continue checking emails / projects that have to be done in design. I go on Discord, WeChat, and Stylemanager, which is a system Mike, my husband, built for the company. I communicate with China, throughout the US, and work with the designers on an hourly basis. If I don’t check communication regularly, I can fall far behind, so I am always reading updates.
On a usual workday, I do have meetings on Zoom, Discord, or over the phone. I have 2-6 meetings throughout the day about various topics – website development, new programs, prototype corrections, ecommerce status, selling, trend boards, etc. This job is perfect for those who love multiple projects all at once. I would be very bored doing the same thing every day! When I’m done with all my work I go back to “mommy mode.” I cook a lot. After dinner I either help my youngest do his homework or I’m cleaning. We don’t have any help now due to COVID-19 precautions, and I like to be clean, so I am constantly cleaning or doing the laundry in my free time. An exciting day for me these days is going to the grocery store!
During the summer I took some executive online classes at Yale’s School of Management, so my evenings consisted of reading case studies and learning about business and leadership. I love to constantly learn about what I find useful, so I’m always learning and reading. I just received my certificate for the Yale program on Women Leadership and plan on continuing my education in the future. You can never be too old. I also love listening to podcasts in between, in particular “How I Built This” by Guy Raz. I can relate to a lot of the founders and business owners – it’s very therapeutic, enlightening, and encouraging to listen to.
E: What is the most challenging and most rewarding thing about having your own business?
J: One of the most challenging things about having my own business is the fact that not everyone understands what I am going through, nor do I expect them to. People think it is very glamorous to own a business, but it is very stressful, and there are a lot of things employees do not see, a lot of hardships. While at a workplace people have co-workers to talk to, but being a leader can sometimes be quite lonely. There are also rarely any breaks, and the business is always on my husband’s and my mind. I have learned to stay calm about most situations and maintain optimism. I have also improved a lot with my delegation and hiring the right people. That has really helped me with my work-life balance, which had been a struggle the last 10 years. I used to miss some of my kids’ birthdays and important events, and I also didn’t sleep enough at one point due to traveling too much.
Today, I feel like working from home has helped me maintain a work-life balance more than ever before. When I had to travel all the time, it was definitely so terribly difficult. In contrast, I am now able to spend more time with my kids, feed them, have meals with them – this has been a dream come true. I am not wasting my time driving and flying from place to place. I am present.
My kids are quite independent, so it helps that when I’m working, they are working too. When they need me, everything else can wait. I do put family first, especially in the evenings. This is the rewarding part. Being able to go through my struggles and learning to adapt to them and make it work positively.
I am also most proud of the fact that I was able to start Evolution Design Lab (EDL) when I was 29 years old. This is the 11th year running. I am also proud that we have become more of a tech company and have pivoted quickly because we have Stylemanager and Segovia, a customized online supply-chain platform no one was really open-minded to 15 years ago. I am also proud that we were able to prove our success to people who were skeptics. When we first started, we had a lot of naysayers in my parents’ generation. They said that we would probably fail and discouraged us. But I realized that today, they accomplished nothing by saying those hurtful words while we kept working hard. Today, I thank them because they became a chip on my shoulder and motivated me to prove them wrong.
E: To conclude the interview, do you have any advice for students who are hoping to start their own creative ventures / businesses in the future?
J: Yes, my advice is to always be prepared and be kind, but tough when needed. It is always important to know what is happening in the world. It is also important to be ready to work extremely hard for a long period of time. It is like running a marathon, and you need a lot of endurance and support to run your own company. I would also say it is so important to evolve and stay calm every step of the way.
We have a WYDcommunity, where we give advice to Gen Z. Here is my advice from one of my posts there:
My advice to Gen Z females is to work hard, be ambitious, and you must have a positive attitude. Also, it’s so important to work extremely hard, especially in the beginning. Nothing comes easily, so don’t expect anything to be easy! Grow a tough skin and keep a positive mindset. Don’t compare yourself or your timeline with others, especially on social media. That is all a facade! If you are not working hard and are unreliable, people will notice right away. Be mindful of your reputation as you grow your career.
Interview conducted through email with Jennet Chow
Images courtesy of Jennet Chow and Evolution Design Lab
Additional information for the introduction from http://voyagela.com/interview/meet-jennet-chow-evolution-design-lab-pasadena/