How I Did It: A Corporate Dropout Who Turned Debt Into a $60 Million Fashion Empire

(In a new series, “How I Did It,” FN profiles successful footwear and fashion players — from entrepreneurs to designers to top executives at major brands — and reveals how they carved their path into the industry.)

Jane Lu isn’t your average CEO.

And despite what her Instagram handle, the Lazy CEO, suggests — she’s hardly a rest-on-her-laurels one either.

The 32-year-old — who was born in Beijing and immigrated to Syndey — has managed to grow an online fashion site she started in her parents’ garage into a $60-million-and-counting online empire. (The business is clocking year-over-year growth of 100 percent.)

In just eight years, Aussie-born Showpo has expanded from an e-commerce site selling trendy apparel to a mega e-tailer of footwear, workwear, activewear, beauty and other accessories. And although it’s catered to U.S. consumers from the start — it has a distribution center in Carson, Calif. — the site now counts Americans as 30 percent of its shopper base.

But the rise hasn’t been without challenges.

Lu initially threw her self into debt when she ditched the security of a cushy accounting job at EY to launch a fashion pop-up business with a friend that bailed on her in a matter of weeks.

Showpo, it turns out, was birthed out of necessity.

Here’s how Lu did it.

What was your dream job growing up?

“To write for ‘Saturday Night Live’ or the equivalent of [‘The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon’] or ‘Jimmy Kimmel Live’. I love content, and I love to do things that make people laugh.”

What made you change your mind?

“I’ve always loved clothes, but [a career in fashion] seemed unattainable. Everyone wants a career in fashion, and it’s like, ‘How do you even get one?’ For me, it happened by default. I had a job in finance and accounting because my parents and I emigrated from China, and all they wanted was job security for me — and there’s nothing seemingly more secure than a job in accounting. There’s also nothing more boring than a job in accounting. So when a friend of mine came to me and said she wanted to start a business, I said yes. Whatever it is, I want to do it.’”

What was your first fashion venture?

“My friend wanted to start [fashion] pop-up stores. So I had quit my job to get [onboard]. But what I didn’t know was, she was secretly looking for another job in the middle of us launching the business — so it failed, and she ditched me. And this was in the middle of the global financial crisis, so I couldn’t find another job. By default, the only thing I had [recent] experience in was fashion retail. So I started an online fashion store, Showpo.”

jane lu showpo ceo
Showpo founder and CEO Jane Lu.
CREDIT: Courtesy of brand

What was the craziest thing you did to get your business going?

“I was an only child, and my parents had put all their eggs in the Jane basket, so when I quit my job, I didn’t have the heart to tell them. So [while I was trying to get Showpo off the ground] I got up and got dressed every day for six months — pretending to go to my corporate job. I literally would get up early in the morning and have breakfast with parents and take the bus into the city with my mom — who also worked in the city — and I would carry around an empty laptop case.”

What was your first big break?

“I was watching ‘America’s Next Model’ at home on the couch while doing work, and I thought: ‘Right now, Showpo needs followers and models — and we could totally do this [using] Facebook.’ So we ran a modeling contest on Facebook. These girls who were our demographic started entering the competition. Then they’d invite their friends to vote for them — who were also our demographic. And some of those friends ended up entering the competition themselves. For $0, we went from 3,000 followers to 20,000 followers in one month — which in Australia in 2011 was a big deal.”

When did you know you made it?

“Two moments stand out. I had a fear of failure because my first business [venture] failed. So it wasn’t until one day when I looked out into our warehouse and saw that we had half a million dollars of stock and realized that if everything failed, I could fire-sell all that inventory and have enough money to sustain myself and start a new business — that’s when I knew I was OK. About a year after that, I hired my first adult with a family to support. It meant something to me to know that they actually believe in the business, they think it’s a great environment and it’s their career. It’s someone who is not [working] at my company for fun — but [the company I started] is actually sustaining them.”

jane lu showpo
Jane Lu celebrates Showpo’s eight-year anniversary.
CREDIT: Courtesy of brand

What was your biggest disappointment?

“When my business partner convinced me to quit my job and a month later said she didn’t want to do the business anymore. I felt blindsided.”

How did you recover?

“By starting Showpo. There’s a lot of things that motivate a person — spite is definitely one of them for me.”

What’s something you do every day to be successful?

“Always talking to people about my problems and having a great team to talk through things with. A lot of times, when I’m talking out loud, I go, ‘OK, I just solved that problem.’”

What’s your best advice for someone who wants to break into fashion or start a business?

“Don’t wait to get started, because you learn so much on the job. If you don’t have an idea, go work for a startup. That’s the best way to learn and save money for capital and then do it. Collaborate, network and surround yourself with the right people.”

The next big thing in fashion is …


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