Startup Wonder: Startup Wonder is interviewing Jessica Lu today, and I am going to let Jessica talk about her background and afterward, I will ask some questions about what she does.
Jessica: I have been in the footwear design industry for nineteen years. I started in a very unconventional way and didn’t think I was going to be a footwear designer because it was such a small niche. I left home when I was seventeen years old, and moved to LA without telling my parents. I simply took my bags with less than a thousand dollars in my bank account. I’m not sure if I actually passed the GED because my cheque bounced before I got the results, so technically I am a high school dropout. I moved to L.A at seventeen and tried to figure out who I was, and what I wanted to do. In order to bring food on the table, I worked as a waitress, in a retail store, as a makeup artist at Macy’s and at a law firm, but nothing stuck with me. When I turned twenty years old, I moved to Taiwan and modeled for a year in order to save for a car, and to take myself back to school and be able to work for a job. In the end, that didn’t work out since the money that I made that year was spent in just investing in my modeling career. I remember I told my best friend that I didn’t want to be a model and that it wasn’t my calling. I wanted to go back home to L.A. at that time, and my best friend told me that just because things didn’t work out, I couldn’t just pick up my bags and leave. I really wanted to go back home and be where all my friends were. So, I came home and this is where my shoe career started. My best friend found a shoe manufacturing company advertising that they were looking for an assistant. She told me to apply for this position, and even though I didn’t have any background in the shoe business, I just went for the interview because I knew how to speak Chinese. At the interview, the manager asked me if I knew how to draw, and I told her that I can draw a little bit. She asked me to draw a picture of an apple, so, I simply drew an apple and got the job for 1800 dollars a month as an assistant. My simple drawing of an apple got me into a business, even when my background of modeling, being a makeup artist, and retail had nothing to do with it. So I worked as a purchasing assistant for about three months when my manager said that I have the talent to work towards something bigger. She said that I was able to draw and that I had a little bit of fashion sense so I started helping the company to start a junior footwear brand called Volatile at that time. I worked and helped them launch the brand and I did line sheets and drew sketches for the line. I worked at the company called G.O. Max and ended up working there for about a year. At that time I realized that working at this company was a huge accomplishment and that I could add this to my resume.
Startup Wonder: After you design the shoe does a company put their brand name on it?
Jessica: Yes, a private label. For example, Target has their private label and Nordstrom Racks does too. So, we design for those companies and we put their own labels on to the shoes. Our job is not just to design, but to also help them price the shoes and to place the shoes into manufacturer factories. Right now, I would say 90% of the footwear in the world is still made in China. So, we work with a lot of Chinese factories.
Startup Wonder: What does the footwear industry look at when hiring designers?
Jessica: They look at your experience, your achievements, the company you work for, and how much money you help the company to make.
Startup Wonder: If some young adults are interested in fashion and shoes, should they get into any specific schools to get a good start?
Jessica: For me, it was all about luck and timing and most importantly talent. I think going to a fashion school helps because you learn good tips. Even for those that didn’t go to a fashion school they can work harder and can easily make up for what they might not have learned.
Startup Wonder: What’s the best way to jump into working for companies?
Jessica: I would look at the directories for shoe stores. In Las Vegas, there is a big footwear trade show that happens twice a year called WSA, and they have the whole list of trading companies that they called exhibitors. Once you find the company you like, try to get in with an internship, and after that, you will get in easily.
Startup Wonder: What does a day of work look like for you?
Jessica: I have been working in the same company for the last ten years. Before this, when I lived in China, I would work six to seven days trying to complete sets of collections and working to make sure the sample collections are ready before the shoe show time. It was really hectic for me doing this in China. For the first nine years, I worked in an office every day from 9 – 5 and worked with 50-100 people. In the last ten years I was contracted, so I was able to work remotely and I got to travel a lot. That was my life you know, I’d be traveling almost every two weeks. So, you have to be very flexible being in this industry.
Startup Wonder: What is your thought on entrepreneurship in the footwear industry?
Jessica: In the shoe industry, people are able to start their own companies as they do have the skill sets to do that and become an entrepreneur. There is so much room for creativity in our industry to expand and we do need fresh young people to bring innovative ideas, just to overall update the old way of making shoes. We need a way to make shoes a lot more environmentally friendly and I believe that young people can do that brilliantly.
Faizah Asif is a junior at Lynbrook High School. She enjoys reading and making art in her free time. She hopes to pursue business in the future.