BIO: Six years ago, Jane Lu launched online fast fashion womenswear store Showpo with no previous experience in fashion or retail. Prior to her current role, she worked in accounting at KPMG and Ernst and Young. Showpo is now making $30 million in revenue, while focusing on international expansion. The business has grown to a team of 40 with more than two million followers on Facebook and Instagram. Last year, Lu was also on Forbes magazine’s annual ‘30 under 30’ list. IRW: How has Showpo
po been going lately? JL: Business has been going well, we’re doing $30 million in revenue and growing. As a small start-up with no investment, you don’t expect triple digit growth after the first few years. We reached a point where I thought we may slow down or plateau, but we’ve more than doubled since last year. Our team has grown to 40 and everything is bigger and more exciting. IRW: What plans do you have for 2017? JL: To focus on expansion in our product and in international markets. Because we’re still a small fish in the big global fashion retail pond, there are a lot of growth opportunities. For us, it’s to pursue those that are the lowest hanging fruit and are in line with our vision. We’ve been wanting to grow our international sales for a while now, but the growth has been quite passive, and mainly stemming from social media. We’re now actively pursuing an international growth strategy through all facets of the business – product, marketing, UX and logistics. IRW: One of the things that has always impressed me about Showpo is the tightknit community. How have you fostered that over the years? JL: Our amazing community is what helped Showpo bootstrap its way from my parents garage to what it is today. I started Showpo back at a time when traditional marketing was predominant and the big companies treated social media like a fad. But social media is what I knew (as a consumer and Facebook addict myself) and there was no way I could afford traditional marketing methods at the time. So I put a strong emphasis on building our online community via social media when I started. Also, because I don’t have a fashion background, it’s never really been just about fashion for me – it’s been about lifestyle and what the customers want. I didn’t go to fashion school so I didn’t come into it with preconceptions of what should happen, so I just focused on giving customers and our online community more of what they want. Social media is great because you get instant feedback on what your community wants through the level of engagement it receives. As a company that does not have investment, I would say we are generally quite risk-averse, as we need to protect what we’ve built. However, with social media, we’re always trying new things. When we hear of a new trend or platform, we’ll give it ago. We do it with an MVP style. For example, when we first saw the growth in videos, we started making our own videos, I filmed girls in my team and edited them myself. We don’t wait until things are perfect before we launch them. We were kind of ahead of the game by giving consumers want they want in terms of creative content, and establishing ourselves as a source of content and I think that’s helped build the community. I started my own vlog recently, too. IRW: Your face is a big part of the brand now, isn’t it? JL: It wasn’t intentional, but just like with everything else, we saw a great response when I shared my story online, so I started to put myself out there more. Having a face to the brand really helps build trust, which is especially important for an online company. My approach has always been to be authentic and candid. We get a great response for all of our behind-the-scenes videos and the Insta stories that we do. I think people really like how relatable we are. For example, last year we created a recruitment video talking about our vision, our story so far, and what kind of people we’re looking for. We shot and edited this ourselves and got everyone in the team involved. We had such a great response – not only has this led to our HR inbox flooded with applications whenever we post a new role, but our customers have said that they love getting a glimpse of the whole team and hearing the startup story. We’ve had over 600,000 views already on this video! When Facebook changed their algorithm a few years ago, we learnt not to put all our eggs in the one marketing channel. So we wanted to diversify to YouTube, which is why I’ve also created my own vlog channel called ‘thelazyceo’, as well as grown our existing Showpo channel. We wanted to carve out the silly behind-the-scenes shenanigans from our more fashion and tutorial based channel. IRW: I saw the Ivy Park parody! JL: One of the girls at work came up with the idea as a joke. And somewhere amidst all the laughter, we thought “Why not actually do it?” The video starred our marketing manager Kelly – she has an amazing sense of humour, which you can see from all the blogs she writes from us. It was all filmed by Elsa, our videographer, who is very talented. I tagged along for fun and to assist. We shot in in Kel’s apartment block, until security kicked us out. So we went to my parents’ complex because they had a community pool, and next thing we knew it, my mum was part of the set. We came up with quite a few of the ideas off-the-cuff on the day. It was definitely one of the funniest days I’ve had at work. Oh, and then we shot the group scene with the team on our rooftop and our pregnant Creative Director drenched us all with a hose – it was a pretty ridiculous scene! IRW: What do you think are some of the mistakes retailers make when it comes to talking to millennials? JL: Hmm…I’m not really sure. I would imagine one of the biggest mistakes when trying to talk to a different generation is to apply the thinking that they had when they were that age. But a 20-year-old today is so different to one that grew up in the 80s, for example. We’re quite lucky because most of our team are millenials. So when in doubt, we just throw it to the team. IRW: Tell me about your social media strategy and how it works to communicate with your customers. JL: The key is to have content that is suited to each platform and that’s a big effort. The format of different platforms is different, for example. Instagram is square, Youtube is landscape, Pinterest is portrait. Also, different platforms cater to a different demographic. For example we’ve found our audience is younger on some platforms than others, and some platforms have a more global audience. And of course, the actual message you’re putting out there needs to be different. For example, on certain platforms we’re very product-focused, and on others, it’s more about building our brand and creating a stronger relationship with our community. But ultimately, the underlying principle is we’ll look at what’s working and we’ll just do more of it. You’ll find, through reading your engagement, what your customers want, and what demographic to cater for and what format and message to use. Of course, we’ll still have a focus on innovation, and keep trying new things and to keep our pages looking fresh. IRW: Fast fashion has been mainstream for some years now and there are a lot of competitors in the market. Where do you think Showpo sits in the landscape and what makes it different to other brands? JL: Fast fashion, in particular in the online space, is definitely very competitive because it has really low barriers to entry. But I think the challenge for these businesses, businesses like us, is achievable sustainable growth amidst all the competition. For Showpo, I think we have a great brand that people can trust because we’ve been around for a long time and because we have great customer service. Our strong social media following is definitely another competitive advantage for us. But of course, regardless of the marketing and the brand, we would be nothing without great products – we have a very wide range, with over 100 new arrivals a week, and a lot of our unique designs. Then there’s the je ne sais quois that keeps customers coming back, which I think is our brand’s personality. IRW: What trends do you have on your radar right now? JL: This season we’re seeing a lot of wine, rust grey and beige, as a carryforward from previous winter. But this year mustard has made quite a comeback! Long coats and cardigans are another winter fave. Low deep V necklines and straight necklines are quite contrasting, but both very popular with our customers. And we’re seeing a lot of shoulder cutouts in our dresses and playsuits. I’m currently obsessed with our graphics tees! IRW: Your Showbro April Fool’s prank had a lot of people fooled! How did you come up with the idea? JL: People have always asked me why I don’t sell men’s clothes and I’ve always said that I’d rather sell a salt and pepper shakers to a woman than sell clothes to men. I definitely toyed with the idea in my mind in the early days, but I realised that what we’re good at is marketing to women, rather than producing clothes. So we’re much better off expanding our product offerings to women than to expand our marketing reach to men. Then one of the guys at Freelancer said to me as a joke, “If you’re not going to do it, I’ll do it.” Overnight, he made a copy of our website, put in photos of his colleagues and called it Showbro as a joke. It was hilarious! And then I thought, “This would make an awesome April Fools prank!” Because we had a limited amount of time to get the message out, we needed to maximise exposure. So we used male Instagram influencers to model for us and to build up hype. They were in on it, of course! We had amazing reach on this prank and even some of the closest people to us (personally and in business) were fooled! We never expected the prank to have the reach that it did. It was just to have a little bit of fun with our community. IRW: I know you guys had physical stores back in the day – do you think you’d make a return to bricks-and-mortar in the future? JL: Not really. We’re always going to go for lowest hanging fruit and for us, it’s just not bricks-and-mortar, not yet anyway. There are just so many other channels for us to explore before putting resources into bricks-and-mortar and we definitely want to refrain from taking out any long-term leases. We’ve moved pretty much every year we’ve been in business because we’ve outgrown them or we’ve changed our business model.