CAREER: Networking @… Asian Women Entrepreneurs in Fashion Retail

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I’m a couple months behind but it’s better late than never, right? On March 10th, the Boston Asian Entrepreneurship Foundation presented a panel on Asian Women Entrepreneurship in Fashion Retail.

Around that time, I hit a crossroads in which I accepted a job offer that paid substantially well but wouldn’t have allowed me to go where I wanted to go with my professional goals (if you’d like to read a full account of it, please click here). I was in a dilemma so I thought I could take advantage of the time I had left during the semester to network with professionals in the fashion industry.

As I was scrolling down on Eventbrite, the Asian Women Entrepreneurship in Fashion Retail panel event happened to be taking place the next day. The description of the agenda was everything I hoped to experience in person. So, I decided to carpe diem and make a last minute trip to Boston on my own. Yes, I spent $60 on a round-trip ticket just for this event. I also was very lucky enough to have a kind friend let me stay at her college dorm for the night because the event happened too late for me to go back to campus that same night. So, when I say everything was planned last minute, it really was. I even skipped class and a volunteering commitment for it. That was how much I wanted to go.

It was raining heavily that evening and I was already to praying to Buddha that I would be able to find the event’s location in one piece.

The panel and discussion took place at 9tailors, a custom clothing company that offers custom-tailored suits, tuxedos, and dress shirts for men and women.

When I got there, the first pep talk I gave myself before going in was to be myself, even though I know that there will be people who won’t be open to speaking to me because they may not perceive me as extroverted or outgoing or however they see me falling short of at first. Once again, I have to remind you that networking is supposed to be professional and that you shouldn’t take anything personally. 

So, during the first half hour of the event, I began to mingle. I met Anna Tsui, Founder of High Performance of Life Coaching, and we hit it off talking about the professional struggles of being an Asian American woman. Hearing her story was truly inspiring and got me pumped up to hear more from other Asian American individuals who stopped by for the panel.

What I love about networking is that it isn’t supposed to be a cut-and-dried, short Q&A session between two people. You can’t just ask, “So, what do you do?,” get an answer, and then move on to the next person. (I mean, you can but where are the fun and genuineness in that?) To me, networking is about really getting to know people and having fun with it. Conversations don’t have revolve around work all the time. In fact, I was more ready to be inspired from the conversations I had than anything!

It is true that while I was mingling, I was introducing myself as a freelance content creator in hopes that I could meet and offer my services for somebody who was in fashion or in a field that I’d at least be interested in learning more about. However, at the same time, I would’ve been completely content with who I was getting to know just by being there.

I tend to not have many concrete expectations in mind whenever I go out to social events, especially when I don’t know many people there. It’s more interesting that way, I think!

Then, came the panel discussion!

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From left to right: Vienne Cheung, Samantha Shih, and Anna Tsui

Here’s the Facebook event description of the speakers’ biographies:

About The Panelists:

High Performance Life Coaching founder Anna Tsui holistically heals and transforms the mental, emotional, and physical lives of her clients regularly from her Back Bay practice. Her immersion in American and East Asian markets has gifted her with a multicultural sensitivity that will prove invaluable as we explore the challenges facing Asian women entrepreneurs. (www.annatsui.com)

Samantha Shih owns 9tailors, creating premium handcrafted garments that combine old-world sensibilities with modern elegance. Her experiences having clothes tailored in the USA revealed a gap in the market for affordable custom clothing – one that she is successfully filling from her Chinatown location. (www.9tailors.com)

Vienne Cheung’s love of unique international fashion accessories, and her experience in product development and marketing, culminated in the founding of VienneMilano, online purveyor of luxurious Italian hosiery developed exclusively for the brand or unavailable elsewhere in the USA. (viennemilano.com)

The panel discussion and Q&A was much more detailed and informative than I expected! I really got a good insight of the entrepreneurship world after listening to how Samantha and Vienne started up their companies. The Q&A session allowed me to ask what I really wanted to ask. There weren’t many hands at first, but I mustered up the guts and held mine up, because I wasn’t going to just spend $60 to come down to Boston and stare at the speakers.

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Overall, I loved it. The trip was so worth it that the event couldn’t have been made more for me than it already was, really. Can I just say how comforting it was to see Asian women succeeding in the American work life? Do you know how many psychological and social barriers Asian/Asian American women must overcome in order to feel like they’re finally being treated with equality and respect in their professional environment? More events like this should be held, I say!

Afterwards, more mingling happened and that was when I got to meet my good friend, Hannah, who’s a jewelry designer. One of the best parts about networking is when you meet somebody who you feel like you can get along with outside formal networking events – in my case, it was Hannah. None of my friends back on campus were ever really interested in working in fashion so going to events like this one allows me to branch out and make friends with those who have similar occupational goals to mine. To this day, Hannah and I are still in touch!

Let’s flash forward to now, shall we?

I would like to end this story of mine with an ironic twist that I feel must be shared to everyone. If you’ve ever read The Alchemist by Paulo Coehlo, you may remember this quote: “And, when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.”

It took me now to finally believe in those words. While working on several projects with Anna (whom I’ve forever grateful to and someone who I really admire as a mentor) I met at the event, I shared with her my struggle about the job application process and with perfect timing, she shared me news about a company that was hiring for full-time entry-level positions. She quickly connected me to the CEO and I had the interview a week after I submitted my resume and cover letter. Of course, getting the right job isn’t about knowing the right people – it’s about proving that you’re the right fit as well by doing the research and being persistent with what you want! A few days before graduation, I received news about a job offer there and I could not be happier. I swear, life can be so funny sometimes.

So, my point is that it’s true: the universe DOES conspire in helping you achieve if after trying and failing for the nth time, you still don’t lose focus and continue to REALLY, REALLY work hard toward your goals.

I wish you all the best.

Love,

Jess.

(Thank you Anna for the photos – photography by Duy Le!)

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