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Interview with Vivian Chan and Jenn Qiao, Co-Founders of East Meets Dress

  1. What do you consider to be your biggest accomplishment? 

Jenn: We’ve gotten the opportunity to help hundreds of women, from brides to high school students, celebrate their Chinese heritage on their wedding, prom or special day. We were able to bring their dream cheongsam to life and allow them to show off their individuality, so that definitely tops my list of favorite accomplishments. 

Vivian: I would consider helping one of our LGBTQ brides custom make a 2-piece cheongsam pantsuit as one of my biggest accomplishments. Growing up, I thought that my culture would always clash with my LGBTQ identity so knowing that I’m building a company that lets me and others celebrate both identities is such a wonderful feeling.

 

  1. What inspired you to start this company?

Jenn: While planning my wedding, I struggled to find a cheongsam and tea ceremony supplies that aligned with my modern aesthetics and style. My options at the time were also limited to sketchy websites or impatient vendors in Chinatown. That’s what inspired Vivian, my best friend and Maid of Honor, and I to start East Meets Dress. We wanted to combine modern designs with quality craftsmanship and a dedicated customer experience to work toward our larger goal of elevating Asian-American culture and appreciation.

  1. Why did you choose this name?

East Meets Dress is a play on “East meets West.” As Asian-Americans, we’re often a mix of two different cultural backgrounds and have to navigate between both worlds. So we wanted to represent the beautiful combination of both cultures and incorporate elements of each within our brand. 

  1. What does a normal workday look like for you? 

Jenn: It’s different depending on the week! Some days, when we’re launching a new collection, we’re out scouting locations for photo shoots and, other days, we’re on our laptops, responding to customers’ inquiries, discussing our dress orders with our suppliers, and pinning our favorite cheongsam dresses on Pinterest. While planning my wedding, I felt like there were very limited resources out there on how to host a tea ceremony or ideas on how to incorporate Asian elements into my wedding, so we also spend time writing articles and creating resources for future Asian-American brides.  

Vivian: We’re both good generalists, so we do a bit of everything, but we try to be more thoughtful about spending most of our day focusing on the rocks (big projects/tasks). This can mean we’re spending the first half of the day building out email campaigns and optimizing our website SEO before we do anything else. There’s also all of the “unsexy” responsibilities that come with being a small startup/business, such as dealing with taxes, finances, USPS, etc., so some days are spent dealing with administrative tasks that aren’t as fun, but are necessary to run a business.

  1. What did you wish you knew before you started a business? 

Jenn: No matter how successful a business is, there are going to be ups and downs with any business you start. The key is to focus on what you’re building and how you’re helping others, and the rest will follow in due time. So surround yourself with a good cofounder, a supportive partner and friends, and motivational videos for the downs in business (and life!). 

Vivian: It’s both a marathon and a sprint. However, most days may feel like you’re sprinting a marathon. Make sure you’re disciplined enough to focus on the long-term goals and deliberately set aside time to take a step back to see the bigger picture and find ways to reinvigorate yourself (for me, it’s on the basketball court).

  1. Did you always want to be entrepreneurs? 

Jenn: I don’t think I even knew what that word meant growing up! Doctor, lawyer, or engineer—those were the three options that my parents discussed as career paths. But I knew I wanted to make an impact in my work and I felt strongly about the lack of Asian-American representation, so when I saw this problem out there for Asian-Americans, I immediately wanted to be part of the solution. 

Vivian: Definitely not — depending on how far back you go in my life, I would have placed my bets on me becoming a WNBA player, professional ice cream taster, or a doctor before ever considering the possibility of me becoming an entrepreneur. After graduating college and working at several nonprofits and an early-stage startup, I found it most rewarding to do high-impact work and to have autonomy. Thus, I realized that becoming an entrepreneur and creating and managing a business tied to my cultural identity was the best way to achieve both.

  1. What are some of your goals? 

Jenn: At East Meets Dress, I want to continue helping Asian-Americans with their wedding needs and beyond. Personally, I want to be able to do a yoga handstand 🙂 

Vivian: I want to make EMD the best place for any Asian-American to get a cheongsam. Beyond that, I’m interested in seeing what other areas there are for us to bring more visibility and pride to Asian-American culture. Hopefully, along this crazy journey, I’ll get to inspire other Asian-Americans out there to become entrepreneurs and start their own companies as well.

  1. What is the worst advice you’ve ever been given? 

Jenn: The worst advice I’ve given when I was young was, ”sleep when you’re dead.” Don’t do that! Pulling all nighters might give you bragging rights to show that you can do it all, but I’ve since realized that sleep is super important for your health, mental toughness, and for generally being a pleasant person to be around. 

Vivian: I was once told by my best friend to sleep when I’m dead. Luckily, I didn’t follow her advice.

  1. What is your go-to coffee order? 

Jenn: I drank way too much coffee in college, so now I like jumping into a cold shower for a quick wake-me-up. 

Vivian: I love my Nespresso machine at home so I typically start off my morning with a homemade almond milk latte. 

  1. What, in your opinion, is the biggest problem facing Asian women today?

We think it’s a really exciting time for Asian-American women today! We’re starting to have more visibility of Asian-Americans in the media and in non-traditional career paths and that’s definitely helped break many stereotypes out there. That said, we still need to do more to encourage Asian-Americans to not be afraid to take risks and go beyond the limited definition of success that we grew up with, whether it’s creating your own career path, starting a business, etc. When Vivian worked at Girls Who Code, the founder, Reshma Saujani, would always say “We need to teach girls to be brave, not perfect.” That message stuck with her and that is something that many Asian women, including ourselves, have a hard time overcoming.

 

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