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Meet Jennet Chow of Evolution Design Lab in Pasadena

Today we’d like to introduce you to Jennet Chow.

Jennet, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
I will start with my parents because they have both had an immense influence on what we’ve built, and on the way that I run my business today. My father, Harry Chow was a Chinese immigrant who came to the states to study engineering after serving in the army in Taiwan. When he arrived, he had just $300 in his pocket, and began working as a busboy and waiter while going to school. When he had me, he started working a second job to make ends meet. He worked full time as an engineer at Edison while busing tables on the side. My mom, Judy Chow, had a business degree, but was forced to work as a waitress because she couldn’t speak English.

To cover their expenses, my parents started working with an uncle in Taiwan to import shoes, which they sold at the swap meets in Los Angeles on the weekends. That’s where I came in. As far back as I could remember, starting from when I was just four years old, I would join them every weekend at 5:00 a.m. to drive to the swap meets and help them set up shop. That’s where I learned about hustle, work ethic, and drive. I helped them display and sell, and I truly loved every minute of it.

As sales went up, my parents soon decided to give up their day jobs and instead focus on importing, designing, and manufacturing shoes for larger retailers. They brought on a third partner, Bobby Levy–which is a lengthy, but fascinating story in and of itself.

As an only child, I was with them every step of the way. Throughout summers, after school, and during dinner, my parents’ conversations would be all about work, so I was always very tuned in and learned about all their challenges, as well as their triumphs. At eighteen years old, I decided to go to fashion school at FIDM to learn about manufacturing management while helping my parents part-time. My father had just retired due to health issues, so I really had to step up and help my mother. I came in to help create and lead the design team, and fill in the gaps of whatever was missing. I took on a number of administrative and management responsibilities at my parent’s company, but what I really loved was being creative and forward-thinking, as well as the work that went into developing a team.

Around the time that both Bobby and my father passed away, my mother could no longer work due to her own health issues. As a result, we had to shut down the company. It was an extremely difficult decision, but it was necessary at the time. Instead of just giving up and completely abandoning what my parents had built, I decided to take what I had learned and start my own company called Evolution Design Lab. I believed we could rise from the bottom, and become stronger and more nimble as a company. While studying Psychology at UCLA, I remember being fascinated by Darwinism, and the concept of “survival of the fittest” really stuck with me. I also loved the concept of evolution, how one must evolve and adapt to survive in this ever-changing world. I decided that this constant evolution was what our company would be committed to, and that is how I came up with Evolution Design Lab as the company name, centered around our core mission and value. We have implemented new systems and technology, and learned from all the mistakes and hardships of the past. We focus on data analytics, customer needs, quality, price, and customer service.

We also continue to create an in-house supply chain software platform that is the secret sauce of our company – no one else in our industry has it, and that allows us, a family-owned business, to compete with the biggest companies in the industry. This has been my key investment, and it is our biggest asset – our software. We have, in fact, evolved immensely. We are now a technology company that uses footwear as a guinea pig.

Despite having evolved to become so much more, we are also still one of the strongest shoe companies in the industry. Similarly to my parents, I also love that I can get my three kids involved in the business. They travel with us to China in the summers, and they work on conducting research with us when possible. We have a mighty team that loves to work collaboratively. Everyone is nimble, highly flexible and has a great capacity to adapt to unexpected situations and fill in different roles.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
It was definitely not a smooth road for us. A few of our employees and I did have a stellar reputation from working for my parent’s company, which did help us get started. In the beginning I had to do most of the pitching with our sales team, which could be an exhausting process. Traveling throughout the U.S. and China, I would pitch not only to buyers, but also to our sample room factories. Another challenge was hiring the right people. A strong team is crucial to the business. Additionally, we had to find a new office space that was less expensive to manage the costs of our fledgling company. At the same time, there was also the matter of caring for my mother who was experiencing health issues at the time, as well as raising my three young children. It was a crazy time!

We started in 2009, which was a tough year. It was soon after the tragic events of 9/11, and it was also during a time when people still believed in big brands and celebrities. We had nothing in this regard, and hardly any budget to advertise. Therefore, we had to be very creative with branding. We grew on Facebook to 49,000 followers within the first few months because we were one of the first to create content with influencers and have contests online. We also did a lot of deskside meetings with editors to get free marketing in magazines, which proved to be extremely helpful. Thankfully, word got around with how we were doing and the people who initially weren’t sure about our brand came back to us and even dropped their celebrity brands. I think what truly made the difference was that celebrity brands did NOT focus on product, and consumers are smarter than buying into pure hype. Realizing this, we began to focus more on product and less on marketing. That’s when we became extremely successful.

So, as you know, we’re impressed with Evolution Design Lab – tell our readers more, for example what you’re most proud of and what sets you apart from others.
One of our main differentiating factors is that we are a team of very down to earth and ethical people, while also being a very young and tech savvy company. We promote a company culture that is strong and resilient to change, supporting each other through weekly forum calls and discussions.

Evolution Design Lab creates women and girls/kids shoes for people through the US and Canada. We have multiple private labels, as well as our own brand, Jellypop, which women of all ages love for it’s comfort, quality and price. I was the founder of the company and am also the creative director. I travel to Europe, Asia, and within the U.S. for inspiration and development. It is important to me to be very involved in the hiring process, and have taken on the responsibility of creating the team. I have personally hired the ten people who all work at the Pasadena office. My role is that of the visionary, and I am grateful to have a lot of talented people around me who hustle and get things done. We make an excellent team that supports each other in both our professional and personal lives. What I am most proud of is having created my own kind of utopia at work. I love the people I work with everyday, and I appreciate their kind souls.

I am also proud of the fact that with only 25 people in the U.S., we have risen to a revenue of over $70 million within our first 8 years of operations. In the beginning, some competitors made fun of us for starting a company and doubted our potential, so it feels good to have proved them wrong. Our philanthropic work is also very important to me. We make a consistent effort to make a positive impact by donating thousands of shoes worldwide to those in need. I grew up in a very poor household, so I want to help those girls who were just like me.

In terms of technology, our web-based screenshare utility truly sets us apart. The system gives an unlimited number of users from different parts of the world the ability to securely share, merchandise, design, and collaborate in real time as if they were sitting right next to each other, all without installing a single piece of software. A web address with a username and login gives users access to a virtual world of product while maintaining the enterprise permissions necessary to conduct secure business with our retailers, trading companies, and factories. It also allows the retailer to 3d render with different colors and materials, while viewing items in 360. The system provides a working area for visual communication with “pin items,” such as ideas and pictures available to the customer. This enables the sharing of trends and ideas between vendor and customer. As part of the working process, the system makes it efficient to update and share CADs and 3D items immediately for customer review. Besides making the process more time-efficient, it has also saved so much in material and product development, reducing our physical sampling needs by 90 percent, which is more environmentally friendly, as well as cost-effective.

So, what’s next? Any big plans?
We are always developing new ideas, and are always thinking ahead. As a result, working remotely during COVID-19 has been an easy transition for us since we have developed software that enables us to seamlessly communicate design and processes. We also do 3D design, detailing, and printing, which helps us communicate with buyers who are working from home as well.

During this global pandemic, our team members are doing amazing things in our various communities. We have made and donated free sneakers and masks to nurses and others in need. Some of our employees are buying and delivering groceries to the elderly people in their neighborhoods. We are supporting local food banks and small business owners. And on the whole, we have donated thousands of masks and essential items to homeless shelters such as Union Rescue Mission and Hope Gardens. We are doing what we can to make a difference during these hard times.


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Image Credit:

May Iosotaluno, Karla Ticas

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