Nicole Fu hadn’t graduated from Concordia University but she was already creating Jolietta, the Montreal-based fashion retailer and ecommerce platform.
With the likes of Frank & Oak, IndoChino and even Seat 14a, the “fashion meets technology” space has grown significantly, particularly in Montréal and Toronto. There always seems to be room for another creative niche and investors have shown that they’re willing to assist.
“Ecommerce is booming and when I go shopping in Canada there are little stylish yet affordable things out there for women,” Fu told Techvibes. “So I saw an opportunity.”
Founded in November of last year and armed with about $7,000 to start her business, Fu handpicked all her designs with the goal of offering affordable and stylish women’s apparel for an average of $20. Her motivation comes from wanting women to look and feel beautiful, as “jolie” is the French word for pretty.
Behind a clean and effective web platform comes a good deal of groundwork, including trips to Thailand to find the next best-selling dresses. The site’s models were originally Fu’s friends, followed by friends of friends, “and then I ran out of pretty friends so I posted ads and so many people wanted to model”.
Fu has twice travelled to Thailand to buy from fashion designers that she calls both underrated and underrepresented. “To stand out from other clothing boutiques I wanted to get my stuff from Thailand and not China,” said the 23-year-old. “Everyday I went to meet with 50 suppliers and looked through thousands of clothes items. I was going blind from seeing so many clothes.”
Today most of the product on the site comes from those trips, but various pain points may be pushing Fu towards Los Angeles as her next designers. Sizing has been a problem, as Thai clothes aren’t designed with North Americans in mind. Thais are “very small, even for Asians,” said Fu. As well, much of the clothing wasn’t coming with the tags that Canadian textile law requires, explaining what materials the garment is made of.
As a dual Canadian and Singaporean citizen, Fu has split her life between the two countries. Born in British Columbia, she spent ages 5-18 in Singapore, benefitting from a rigid education system: “schools use the Asian grading system: an A minus is an F”. She moved back to Canada to take on a mathematics degree at Concordia. While in Montreal Fu ended up working as a fashion writer for Women’s Weekly and later as a freelance stylist for Her World Magazine.
In the next few months she’s surging ahead with “Jolietta 2.0”. She’s partnered up with two well-known Montreal entrepreneurs in Heri Rakotomalala (who never seems to have enough projects on the go) and Dr. Pablo Duboue. The trio is actively working on a new platform and business plan with a new launch coming soon. They’re thinking big too: Fu estimates that they’ll be seeking funding as high as $1 million once proof of concept has been established.
But what motivates the young fashion entrepreneur? It’s a desire to “just do it”. Too often she saw friends and family come up with great business ideas only to have life get in the way. With Jolietta 2.0 on the horizon, Fu has certainly surpassed the “just do it” phase.