Vivian Chan is one of the co-founders of East Meets Dress (EMD) – a company that produced the first modern wedding and fashion brand for Asian American brides. Vivian and her partner Jenn wanted to build a beauty and fashion brand that helped brides celebrate their culture but without compromising their style or modern aesthetics. They have been entirely bootstrapped from Day 1 and have grown their company to a 6-figure annual recurring revenue in less than 2 years while helping thousands of brides around the world.
StarCentral Magazine recently caught up with Vivian to discuss her journey to entrepreneurship and here’s what went down:
Could you please tell our readers a brief background about yourself and how you started your business?
My name is Vivian and I’m one of the co-founders of East Meets Dress. We’re the first modern fashion company to bring more Asian-American representation and inclusion to the traditional wedding industry by combining contemporary cultural designs, quality craftsmanship, and dedicated customer experience.
The idea for East Meets Dress (EMD) originated from my co-founder, Jenn’s, personal struggles when she was looking for a modern version of the cheongsam (qipao), a traditional Chinese wedding dress. She wanted to wear a cheongsam for her wedding tea ceremony to honor her parents and heritage but finding a modern design that fit her aesthetics turned out to be near impossible.
At the time, her options were limited to suspicious online websites or stores in Chinatown with poor service and a narrow selection. Ultimately, Jenn resorted to custom making her cheongsam at a local tailor. I was her Maid of Honor and we both felt that Asian-American brides shouldn’t have to be confined to low-quality options or scouring Yelp to find the one tailor who could make a quality cheongsam from scratch. So we set out to create a modern brand and reinvent the cheongsam shopping experience for Asian-Americans.
What are you currently doing to maintain/grow your business?
Currently, given the circumstances happening around the world, which has greatly impacted the wedding industry, we’re prioritizing the things that are within our control and taking advantage of this downtime to build a long-term foundation that will help grow our business. This includes:
● Focusing a lot on SEO–we’ve tripled the number of blog posts we’re writing and publishing every week on topics that we know our brides are searching for. We’re focusing on becoming the go-to resource for anyone planning a Chinese-American wedding. Along with blogs, we’re also doubling down on creating more helpful landing pages, reviews on our site, etc which are all things that improve our SEO.
● Expanding our collection (new dresses, men’s, pets)–even though many weddings are being postponed or canceled during this time, we know that brides will still one day get married and therefore, while the demand side has slowed down a bit, we’re focusing on designing new dresses and launching new collections (more accessories and outfits for the groom, and even a pets collection!) so when brides are back to shopping for their wedding dress, they’ll have an even larger collection of designs and products to fall in love with.
● Offering virtual and in-home experiences–from 1-on-1 virtual bridal appointments where we showcase our dresses to interested brides and answer any questions they have to offer sample dress kits to try on at home, we’ve had a lot of success recently with these offerings.
What social media platforms do you usually use to increase your brand’s awareness?
Since we’re in the wedding industry, beautiful photos and visuals of our dresses are super important. This means that Instagram and Pinterest are our two most used social media platforms and the ones that we help drive the most brand awareness and traffic to our site.
What is your experience with paid advertising, like PPC or sponsored content campaigns? Does it work?
Paid advertising definitely works in the beginning when no one has heard about you and you simply need to get the word out. We actually launched East Meets Dress over a weekend with less than $100 by running a simple FB ad to gather email addresses from interested leads.
We then leveraged FB retargeting ads (which has the best-paid ROI for us), Google search and shopping ads, as well as Etsy ads. We also tested Pinterest ads but found that it wasn’t very effective and our free unpromoted pins on Pinterest performed just as well.
So I would say that paid advertising definitely gives you faster results than SEO or organic traffic in the beginning though the latter is much more sustainable and is free!
We’ve also started partnering with paid influencers to sponsor Instagram posts and podcast episodes. For this to work, you have to really do your research on which influencers have your target audience. It can be a waste of money if you choose an influencer who has a lot of followers but whose audience doesn’t find value from your product. Don’t be afraid to ask them for more specifics regarding their follower demographics when you’re deciding.
What is your main tactic when it comes to making more people aware of your brand and engaging your customers? How did your business stand out?
We’ve always stood out from the beginning with these three values: modern designs, quality craftsmanship, and customer experience you deserve.
From the start, we made sure our homepage and website really spoke to Asian-American brides since we were familiar with what type of pain points they were experiencing when it came to finding a modern cultural wedding dress or hosting a wedding tea ceremony. It was telling our story and our mission in an authentic way that made us stand out.
We also made sure that our UI and aesthetics were super modern and appealed to our target demographic–that’s one of the easiest ways to stand out in a more traditional industry since legacy brands tend to look more outdated.
Once we started to grow, word of mouth and positive reviews (i.e. social proof) from our customers became a big driver of growth for us.
What form of marketing has worked well for your business throughout the years?
SEO and content marketing is now one of our biggest traffic drivers and is essentially free marketing for us. Within our niche, we consistently rank on the first pages of Google for our specific product as well as a lot of related topics related to Chinese weddings, tea ceremonies, etc.
SEO takes a lot of time (months) to really see your efforts come to fruition but I would argue that it’s one of the best marketing strategies and worth prioritizing especially if you’re in a niche market.
What is the toughest decision you had to make in the last few months?
Right before COVID hit, we had our very first pop-up shop that was successful and we received a ton of positive feedback from our brides who attended. We wanted to continue hosting pop-up shops in physical retail stores or spaces permanently across the country, but unsurprisingly, we had to cancel these plans.
What money mistakes have you made along the way that others can learn from (or something you’d do differently)?
Not being willing to spend money, in the beginning, was one of the biggest mistakes. Growing up in immigrant families, we were always taught to save more than we spend so at the beginning (and because we’re entirely bootstrapped), we were a bit more reserved when it came to spending on ads, paying for subscriptions, etc.
But we realized that you have to spend money in order to earn money. Time is also money and as a founder, it’s important to prioritize your time to be able to learn quickly from experiments and that often requires spending money to test out a new idea/initiative.
What new business would you love to start?
We started in the wedding industry but now that many of our brides are married, they’re planning the next phase of their life, which is having kids! We’d love to start a business that combines Asian-American culture and children.
If you could go back in a time machine to the time when you were just getting started, what would you do differently?
When we first started, we were super scrappy and resourceful. We launched with just one dress design on our site and took photos of it at a local park with an iPhone X.
Our philosophy has always been to start small but start immediately, so while I wouldn’t change anything about the speed in which we executed our idea, I do think having at least 3 designs on our site at first would’ve been better than just launching with one. This probably would’ve allowed us to get our first sale much quicker than we did.
What is the best advice you have ever been given?
One of my favorite books is Atomic Habits by James Clear. I love this book because it teaches you that success is the sum of small efforts, repeated.
Building a company requires a lot of discipline and the ability to consistently make incremental improvements (getting 1% better every day) even if you don’t see any immediate, visible results.
Over time, it all adds up and you’ll reach a tipping point that was only possible as a result of all of your past efforts.
Every time I feel like giving up or that nothing that I do is moving the needle, I remind myself of this graph from the book:
What advice would you give to a newbie Entrepreneur setting up their first business?
Start small but start immediately and you’ll figure out the rest as you go. Don’t try to solve for a problem (i.e. how to automate your operations) when you haven’t even gotten your first customer yet.
A lot of first-time entrepreneurs fall into the trap of wanting to have everything figured out before you start and easily get discouraged before they ever launch their business. If you told us we had to have 50 designs and a beautiful photoshoot ready before we launched, we would’ve given up before we even started.
About East Meets Dress
East Meets Dress is the first modern fashion company to bring more Asian-American representation and inclusion to the traditional wedding industry by combining contemporary cultural designs, quality craftsmanship, and dedicated customer experience.
You can find them at: