Career Inspiration: How Three Teens Launched a Successful E-Commerce
In anticipation of our Dreamer issue, which launches later this month, we're celebrating those in the Asian American community whose stories of success have stood apart from the rest to form new paths for their generation. Among those group of outliers are Jenny Bui, 17, Elaine Truong, 20, and Michelle Le, 20, of Antoinette's Boutique, an e-commerce site that carries handmade, vintage-inspired jewelry, pretty hair bows, and whimsical stationery. Since Antoinette's Boutique launched in August 2011, it has been featured in Seventeen, Teen Vogue, Audrey, Carbon, Pasadena Star News, and Urban Explorer Blog, among others. What makes Antoinette's Boutique different from other jewelry e-commerce is that everything is recycled jewelry, including the stationery. "Elaine and I met at a journalism class in high school. I was really interested in fashion and was a cartoonist for my school newspaper, but it wasn't until after she graduated that we got together and created Antoinette's Boutique," Bui says.
Bui and Truong met Le about a year ago and decided to bring her on board for her business and finance expertise. So how does a trio of high school teenagers launch a successful e-commerce? Bui, Truong, and Le are precocious for their age, juggling school work with growing a business. Bui, who is currently a senior in high school, keeps herself busy with college applications and SATs prep classes. On the other hand, Truong and Le are juniors in college; Truong studies materials engineering at UCLA, while Fong studies business administration at UC Irvine. Still, the three business partners find time for each other and for their business.
"I don't really have a social life," Bui confesses. "I find myself crouching at my desk, working on college applications. I love working. I have so much fun doing it that it doesn't feel like work."
Truong manages the web site, social media initiatives, and customer service, as well as leads nonprofit partnerships and key collaborations with bloggers and YouTubers. Bui is primarily responsible for publicity and is also the creator of the jewelry, hair bows, stationery, and greeting cards sold on the site.
"Our biggest challenge isn't about making time for business, though. It's the distance between the three of us. Elaine is based in northern LA; I live in east LA and Michelle is in Irvine. We communicate constantly through email every day, but we try to meet in person at least once a month to regroup," Bui says. "We design path that we can do on our own time. We have chat meetings."
When they are together, the trio brainstorms and plans their next collection, as well as work on collaborations and partnerships with other bloggers and nonprofit organizations. Antoinette's Boutique recently partnered with charities like Beads Amigas and Promote Africa to create a jewelry collection and donate 100% of the proceeds. Despite their individual tastes--Elaine is preppy, Michelle is a tomboy, and Jenny is edgy--the girls are able to work together to create a cohesive collection.
And while Bui, Truong, and Le have found success early in their careers; they don't claim to know all the answers. "We are still learning how to build web sites and learn the skills we need to make things happen," Bui enthuses.
But first and foremost, Bui says the girls are friends before business partners. When they have meetings, something goes off like a switch and they understand where they are coming from. Bui says they have never had a conflict.
So what's next for the girls of Antoinette's Boutique? They hope to launch a mentoring program for young entrepreneurs abroad. And, they would like to collaborate with local designers and nonprofits. Your can follow Antoinette's Boutique on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and YouTube.