Emily and Jessica Leung have heard of twin telepathy, but in their 32 years they have rarely had their own ESP moments. One time, however, they simultaneously came up with the idea to start a moderately priced, comfort bridal footwear label — and they have been on a new career path ever since.
“We never think the same thing at the same time, so we took it as a sign,” Emily said of Hey Lady, the line the twins launched in 2009 after wearing too many painful party shoes.
They soon quit their day jobs (Emily left a public relations position, while Jessica exited fashion marketing). And despite an unexpected health crisis, the sisters have concentrated on building the brand.
That endeavor has been more about hard work and word-of-mouth marketing than mind-meld. And the Leungs are starting to see their efforts pay off. Hey Lady, priced at $168 to $368, is carried by about 20 boutiques in the U.S., Canada and Ireland.
“Hey Lady was one of our very first vendors, and its [At Tiffany’s pumps] are one of our longest-running styles,” said Claire Elliott, associate buyer for apparel and shoes at BHLDN. “Their designs capture that feminine, vintage-inspired feel that our customer loves. Once we saw that shoe, we knew it was going to be a best-seller.”
Added Stacy Fork, owner of The Gown Shop in Ann Arbor, Mich., “The collection is stylish and offers something different with the adornments and fun colors. They are impeccably made, and the comfort [aspect] is the top [selling point] for our brides.”
While the majority of Hey Lady’s sales come from its e-commerce site, which draws customers from more than 27 countries, the twins are focused on boosting their wholesale reach and increasing brand recognition. One benefit: The label opened its own showroom in 2012. “Our No. 1 goal is to streamline our internal infrastructure to support a broader audience so we can really grow,” said Jessica, who heads up creative while her sister leads the business side.
On the horizon for next year is a larger product mix, including red-carpet looks, neutral-toned daytime shoes, an accessory collection and collaborations with a major men’s footwear label and a wedding gown designer (Hey Lady declined to share specifics). “We’re thinking about so much more than shoes,” Emily said. “It’s time.”
Hey Lady also will serve as the 2014 national shoe sponsor for the Wish Upon a Wedding nonprofit, which helps realize wedding dreams for couples in need or facing a terminal illness.
That mission has hit home for the designers, as Jessica was diagnosed with nasopharynx cancer last year. “The sponsorship has been in the works since before Jessica’s diagnosis, but now, of course, it’s even more meaningful,” her sister said.
In addition to personal trials, Jessica said that dealing with the illness posed a formidable challenge when it came to growing Hey Lady. “I dropped everything [to undergo chemotherapy],” the designer said. “I felt terrible for Emily, who was here [running the business on her own], but I’m alive and Emily survived.”
While she still has more treatment ahead, Jessica is on the upswing and back at work.
“We like to call ourselves rebels with a cause,” she said. “That’s how we look at everything. We started with nothing. You can have zero experience, zero connections and [fund a new venture] with personal savings, and you can do it. We want to write a book called ‘How to Start a Business, Beat Stage Four Cancer and Date Like a Man.’”
Emily & Jessica Leung
Hometown: Los Altos, Calif.
Creative strategy: “We design based on what we call sparkling personalities,” Jessica said. “We write down a few words like ‘whimsical’ and ‘flirty’ [to describe a potential style], then it has to pass a test. We think of a past style icon, a modern-day style ingénue and then one of our friends [who embodies those descriptors], and the shoe has to suit each of those people. [It has to be stylish for] back then and right now.”
Style icons: “Coco Chanel, because she had a way of making simple things classic, and Rachel Bilson because she’s effortlessly cool,” said Emily. Added her sister, “The three Kates: Kate Moss, Kate Bosworth and Kate Hudson.”
Favorite wedding gown designer: “We love Fancy,” Emily said. “It has a retro vibe, but it is timeless.”
Wedding-wear faux pas: “I saw camo tuxedos once,” Jessica said. “It’s much more common than you realize.” Added Emily, “I hate straight-from-Disney princess looks.