Fashion masks launched days after lockdown

I’m wondering if people who are listen to this interview will be thinking, “Enough with COVID-based interviews.” But the truth is 2020 really was a challenging year. There are some entrepreneurs who jumped and found solutions and found ways to grow despite the chaos in the world.

I want to highlight them and I’m especially interested in today’s guest because her previous business suffered dramatically.

Carol Chen is the founder of Maskela, which provides reusable face masks that are fashionable and functional.

We’ll find out how she launched it in the first days of lockdown.

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Carol Chen

Carol Chen

Maskela

Carol Chen is the founder of Maskela, which provides reusable face masks that are fashionable and functional.

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Full Interview Transcript

Andrew: Hey there, freedom fighters. My name is Andrew Warner and the founder of Mixergy, where I interview entrepreneurs about how they built their businesses. Joining me is someone who, um, was quicker than most of us. She realized that the world was going to go to masks. And you know what? I’ve got to tell you, Carol, I’m wondering if people who are listening to this are thinking enough with how enough with COVID based interviews, but I’ve got to tell you. I think that 2020 really was a challenging year. And there are some entrepreneurs who jumped and jumped in and found solutions, found ways to grow despite the chaos in the world. And I want to highlight them, I want to understand what you did to grow. And you, frankly, Carol, you were in a situation where your previous business suffered dramatically.

You were in the, uh, in the dress rental business with a company called covet tele. It was large. It was four for in-person events, not largely. That’s why people rent, dresses, right?

Carol: Exactly.

Andrew: thing dried up. And then the world went to masks. You are quick to realize that the world was going to turn to masks.

You created a company to help them get fashionable masks. I should introduce you as Carol Chen, the creator, the founder of mass gala. Am I pronouncing right?

Carol: Yes.

Andrew: All right. You make and sell masks. I, uh, invited Carol here to talk about how she did it and talk about some of the difficulties in creating masks that are fashionable and we can do it.

Thanks to two phenomenal sponsors. The first, if you need a website hosted, if you want to get started in business, if you want to build something new, go to hostgator.com/mixergy. And the second unbalanced paid me. To basically give you a guide that I use, uh, or a guide based that I wrote based on my conversation, uh, tactics, if you want to read that, see the techniques that you’ll probably start to identify in this interview.

Um, if you want to see how they work, go to unbounced.com/mixergy. It’s a landing page creator, and, uh, they’re not even collecting email addresses. They just want to show you how their landing page works and encouraged me to write. So thank you on bounce. Good to have you here.

Carol: Thanks for having me, Andrew.

Andrew: Give me a sense of where the revenues are right now for the business go right into it. Right.

Carol: so funny because that’s like the one question I told them that I wasn’t going to answer.

Andrew: Can you give me a ballpark of where you are?

Carol: I mean, you know, and up and down, we are basically in Asia right now. We just launched in the us this month. So we haven’t really fully reached our potential, but in Singapore, which is just a city of 5 million, you know, by our second month, we were already hitting 40 K. Uh, around the region and then quickly we’re doing, uh, we had a 10 K day, you know, and that’s just one city.

So, um, we are shipping to over 20 countries now. And, uh, with my focus being on the U S moving forward, although I do feel like I’m a little bit late to the game I launched, uh, early April in Asia before anyone thought mass were a thing. And I feel like it had, I done that in a bigger market. Like the U S we would have been much further along, but here we are.

Andrew: I would’ve thought that it wouldn’t matter where you were, that you could just put your site online and sell all over the world. But as you told our producer, it’s difficult to operate from Singapore. Everything had to be imported in for you to be able to use it. Then it has to be, uh, export it out. Um, but let me go back to that to the early days of COVID, when this issue was starting to come up, you went to a member’s club.

What’s members club.

Carol: It’s like a private members club where you pay a membership, um, kind of like a civil house, but. It wasn’t that one?

Andrew: Not like an old man membership club. We’re talking about a place to go and party. Right.

Carol: Yeah. It’s like a social club.

Andrew: Okay. And so you go in there wearing a mask and they say, what.

Carol: Uh, they actually asked me to take it off. It was, uh, well, right. You know, early, you know, in the, in March it was optional to wear masks. And so a lot of people chose not to, but of course, if I was going into a crowded area, I felt it was the right thing to do. So I was wearing a surgical mask around, but even my own friends would make fun of me at the grocery store saying, why are you wearing a mask?

I would say, well, we are in a pandemic. So when I went to this club, um, you know, I actually got asked to take it off because I look scary and he said, you know, if you’re sick, stay home. If you’re scared, stay home. But, uh, I don’t want masks, uh, in the club because. They look scary. So that’s when I decided to go back to my showroom full of evening gowns and make a mask out of my dresses that didn’t make me look scary.

And I literally cut up like a red sequin dress and I made a mask out of it on the spot to see how it look and posted it on social media and told everybody I was going to go for this. And a lot of people thought it was hilarious, like a joke, um,

Andrew: that I’m going to go for this meaning I’m going to start selling this online. I think I got something here.

Carol: Yeah, absolutely. You know, I’d basically said, you know, a big picture of me wearing a red sequin mask and said coming soon, and you know, everybody loved the idea, even though masks weren’t mandatory then, uh, I don’t think anyone realized how big a part of our lives that they would become back in, back in early April.

So.

Andrew: You know what, when I was in Asia, people wore masks. Even if I would fly through say Taiwan, I would see people at the airport wearing mask years ago. I thought this was a common thing.

Carol: Um, it depends where in Asia, I think Singapore is definitely the most Western country in Asia. So a lot of people have more Western cultures and habits there. So you rarely see masks, but of course it’s very compliant. So once. The government said to wear a mask and everybody had to wear a mask.

Andrew: A friend there, um, who immediately, when the pandemic hit, he said, you know what? Singapore is going to do. Great. I’m going to move to Singapore and he’s there. And he says, everyone is required to wear masks. There are people who will find you if you don’t wear them. But other than the masks, there’s just life back.

The way it was

Carol: Absolutely there, although there is a cap on the number of people you can hang out with. It just increased from five to eight people. So you have to stay in little pods.

Andrew: This is your, your first post with your mask

Carol: Yes. That’s it.

Andrew: It looks great. Did you do this? Tell me about the previous company. Um, because I’m sensing, that’s where you started to get a sense that something was up right.

Carol: Yeah, well, I’ve been in fashion my whole life. And so, you know, kind of my life’s mission is to help women look and feel beautiful. So I’ve been a designer ever since I could basically walk, making dresses out of blankets and newspapers as a little girl. Uh, so I actually, you know, started my career as a fashion designer.

I went to fit him. I got my fashion design degree. And I’ve, you know, started five companies since all in fashion manufacturing, uh, different brands, uh, around the world. And covet. Tele was kind of an answer. When I moved to Singapore six years ago, there was no dress rental company at the time. Um, of course the U S had rent the runway, but it hadn’t become a trend out in Asia yet.

So we were the first to kind of bring this concept to Singapore and, you know, I love dressing up, but of course not who wants to spend thousands of dollars each time for a dress. So I started a, of tele, it was mainly focused on formal event. Uh, so of course once, um, the pandemic hit, all events got canceled and literally my revenues went to like zero, not even zero negative because all of the money I made in January and February, I basically had to return in March and it kind of crushed us.

So it was pretty devastating at the time.

Andrew: Literally crushed you. The company’s out of business now.

Carol: I did close it because the government, I mean, events still aren’t allowed. And I, and I had a very big showroom, 3000 square feet. I had staff, um, I mean, pretty big overhead. And with, you know, the government. Mandating a lockdown for two months and then not having events for the next year or two. I just knew that, you know, there was no point in keeping it open.

So we are on a hiatus now.

Andrew: how’d you get customers for the rental company.

Carol: Oh, well, that was painful because, you know, again, rental, wasn’t a big thing in Asia. They thought rented secondhand clothes were dirty. So in the beginning it was really difficult to kind of scale up. I had to educate the market, why it was a more sustainable option, how it could be glamorous, you know, why it’s a better choice, not just to save money, but just to save the earth.

Um, so it just, I mean, a lot of hustle, a lot of grit.

Andrew: Be more specific. What did you do to get, to get women to come in and to rent from you?

Carol: Yeah, well, I would literally get myself into every black tie event in Singapore possible, whether it’s through connections or just paying a lot of money and just like mingling with these people who are going to these events that need addresses. And actually I would start off by asking them if they had dresses in their closets that they needed to monetize because I didn’t have enough money to just.

Buy a bunch of inventory. So it started off as like an Airbnb of dresses where I would actually take these, you know, I don’t know if you seem crazy rich Asians, you know, a lot of Singapore and women have tons of money and tons of dresses. That’s just sitting in their closet. So I would go up to these socialites and ask if I could rent out their tresses for them.

And for them, they didn’t need the money. They just wanted the extra closet space. So I would take on their dresses and then. Really just keep posting myself at these events and in beautiful dresses every week, you know, my, my whole Instagram just became like me and fancy red carpet dresses, which is, which is a lot of fun.

And, you know, it kind of caught on and I was literally out partying three, four nights a week, just networking and, and trying to be where everyone was at.

Andrew: One-on-one talking it up to one woman at a time.

Carol: Yeah.

Andrew: What about media? You’re really good at getting press. Did that help at all at the time? Um,

Carol: Oh, yeah, absolutely. So I, I feel very blessed to be able to connect with the people that I did in Singapore. The good thing about as you know, a smaller country is that you’re only two degrees away from everybody you need to know versus three or four or five. So, um, I was able to, you know, Get to know a lot of the top editors and if all these magazines and newspapers and a lot of them became my friends.

So it was, it was easier to get press, um,

Andrew: How would you befriend them? What was, what was your thing? Inviting them out to dinners to parties.

Carol: Uh, I had like a strategy. I mean, I love making friends I’ve lived in, you know, like seven, eight countries now. So I’ve always had this necessity to be able to make friends really easily because otherwise I’d be really lonely. I’m quite an extrovert. I love to party and I love to socialize. So, um, just being myself and, you know, I would not necessarily be friend them knowing that they’re a part of the press, but then, you know, later on find out, Oh, like they work for this.

And, and I always try to be helpful as well. You know, like, um, a lot of my growth came through partnerships. So I always try to create win-win solutions between me and whoever I’m working with. So one of the biggest activations I did when we first launched COVID tele that year F1, uh, the formula one races is the biggest event in Singapore every year and all the racers, uh, stay at the Ritz-Carlton and that’s where the paddock is.

And everyone goes through the Ritz Carlton. So, uh, I negotiated a fashion show there, and not only that, uh, I. I asked the Ritz Carlton and if I could do a pop-up store in their lobby, and then they actually helped me advertise, you know, throughout all the rooms on the, on this major weekend. And I did it all for like less than a thousand dollars for a, like a three-day pop-up.

And I just got all these volunteers, I got different brands to come in, like Manolo Blahnik, and like, you know, I just beefed up the, my very brand new brand by association with bigger brands.

Andrew: Wait, how did you get the Ritz Carlton to let you do that for a thousand dollars or less?

Carol: Oh, no, I didn’t have to pay them at all. Actually,

Andrew: How, how did you get to do that?

Carol: uh, I talked to the general manager. I was like, Hey, like if you let me do this, I will guarantee like thousands of people like. Through your doors and create buzz and make your lobby beautiful and get these sponsors. So basically what I did to drive traffic to the pop-up was I offered, um, free makeovers, free hairstyling, free shoeshine, free massages, free, uh, glamorous shots.

So literally women could come and try on these ball gowns, get their hair and makeup done. Take photos while their husbands got their shoe shine and massage. And it was like a whole like, Pampering glamour day. The ultimate Cinderella experience was what I called it, and it was a hit, we actually won first place at the Asian marketing awards, like of all of Southeast Asia, like beating out companies like under Armour.

It’s crazy.

Andrew: That’s so freaking clever. And so, and then what about the dresses you were able to get for the photos? Because you had them in your inventory already and you only needed to pay when you rented them out. Right. And then the makeup artists, how much did didn’t that cost money? How did you

Carol: No, everything was good. It was sponsored a thousand dollars is basically the moving fee and like for props and stuff like that.

Andrew: the company that did the makeup, they did the makeup in exchange for being associated with your pop-up store.

Carol: Yeah. It was actually benefit. So I got like huge brands to, to co-sponsor this event with me.

Andrew: Wow. Where’d you get this, this talent, this skill for PR.

Carol: I think it’s just having balls, you know, like, um, you know, a lot of people are always, they laugh when they look at me now, like, you know, one of the first designers I worked in, she, she laughed because she was like one of the top designers in Singapore. And I had just moved there. I don’t know, like nobody knows who I am and I just waltzed into a showroom.

I said, Hi, I’m Carol. Like, can I rent out your dresses? And she literally just was like, so shocked that someone like had the courage to do that to her, that she was like, Oh, okay, well, why not? And you know, just not being afraid to like go door to door and just talk to, of course I got rejected a ton and tons of times.

Right. Um, but I would just keep asking until I got a yes.

Andrew: How much of this came from your parents influence their Taiwanese, right? You grew up in the U S where

Carol: in Texas

Andrew: and you saw them in business. What was their business?

Carol: So lots of different companies over the years, but their main one was in tech, uh, it service and they are like a hundred percent of my inspiration. Why I’m entrepreneur? I mean, they, my dad was a, you know, student on a scholarship had like a thousand dollars in his pocket when he came to the U S you know, married my mom, like they had to basically like young couple in their twenties, honestly.

Student salary trying to raise like me, um, off nothing. And, you know, I’ve kind of watched them just hustle through the ups and downs to now becoming, you know, my dad just got like citizen of the year award here in Richardson and president Bush was there and they sit on like a lot of. Boards and give to a lot of charities and they’ve provided so many jobs for people made such an impact.

Like you don’t to go from like nothing to, like, what they’ve built is so inspiring for me. Um, partially because of the impact and partially because of the flexibility. I love that, you know, no matter how busy my parents were, they would always make time for me. I would call my dad would pick up my calls in the middle of a meeting whenever we wanted to take a family trip, we could because they work for themselves.

So they’re a big reason why I’m I can’t work for anybody else.

Andrew: what did you see? What did growing up? What did you, what did you pick up on? What did you absorb? What are some of the things that you might even tell your great, great grandkids at some point, I want to know those key moments for you that you picked up on.

Carol: I think it was them not giving up.

Andrew: So you would see them actually come close to the end and not give up.

Carol: Yeah. I mean, my dad went bankrupt at 40 and he had to start all over again. He put our whole house on credit cards, um, with, you know, he had three kids at the time and he had to start from scratch all over again.

Andrew: what was the business that went bankrupt?

Carol: Uh, it was a computer company, uh, or at the time I was the magazine magazine computer company. And, um, yeah, it’s, I think it was a lot of different projects that didn’t pan out. And then beyond that, then he, um, started over and now this business has grown a lot. Um,

Andrew: What do you remember from the early hustle days when he was in his forties, starting out with a new business?

Carol: Working a lot.

Andrew: You just see him working a lot.

Carol: my parents are, uh, my, you know, my parents worked together and so growing up in high school, I was very active in high school. I was like, Every extracurricular you could imagine. Um, but they would never have time to like come to my band concerts or my color guard performances and write dance performances.

I mean, I had so many things and like, you know, sometimes they would just have to drop me off and then pick me back up. So, um, but now I understand why, because you just have to, to put in the work.

Andrew: You know what? I think a lot of times in American society, if your parents don’t show up for even one thing, it’s like shame on them and you’re supposed to be embarrassed. I I’ve always said that I was happy when my parents didn’t show up. I was embarrassed when they did show up, like what, what happened to your work? get it. I don’t know that people should be my way, but I definitely feel like we’re being a little too aggressive by saying that parents should come to every freaking thing that their kids do. And God knows now schools do all kinds of events just to have people be included, which I get, but people have to work.

It’s interesting to see you had the opposite experience. So your, your parents started an it business doing what, what would your dad do? Helping businesses? I imagine what their computers.

Carol: So they, I mean, they basically have clients like Texas instruments or, uh, different hospitals and they provide the it service for these bigger companies.

Andrew: Yeah. Got it. All right. And so then you started, as you mentioned earlier, a few fashion brands, I looked at your LinkedIn profile. It’s like two years here, two years there, two years, the next place. Why, why so many different brands?

Carol: It was actually a function of, um, circumstance kind of like COVID. So, um, you know, my first brand was out of LA and then the housing, this is what happened. Uh, it was kind of a perfect storm at the time. We, you know, Half of our boutiques. We had 300 boutiques selling our, my brand. And then half of them went out of business.

We were servicing a bunch of department stores. We had this huge cancellation on like 10,000 pieces and we just got stuck with inventory. We couldn’t pay our factories and we filed chapter 11. So it was, it was kind of a, you know, Not surprising given the times, but that’s kind of what happened was there.

Um, the next company was in, um, opportunity with a friend, um, in Dallas, we built together, um, uh, cheerleading uniform company, but I had to live in don’t go on China, which is like a third tier factory town for like, Two and a half years building this company, which is super exciting, cause it’s very successful now.

But I think, you know, uh, I’ve met a guy at the time in Hong Kong and he was, you know, after dating for awhile, he was like, are you going to live in a factory for the rest of your life? Or do you want to move to Singapore with me? And you know, I always say it’s easier to make money than to fall in love.

So I exited that company, um, and you know, sold my shares in it. And I followed him and, you know, he had this MMA brand and, and so I kind of helped take that over and ran with that. But then we broke up and I, although I still go to tryna run the company, even though we were not together, it was too hard.

So then. That I moved on from that. Uh, and then that’s what brought me to COVID tele that, you know, I was in Singapore. Uh, I was on my way there, but because we had broken up, we hadn’t fully established ourselves, but I had fallen in love with the city. I said, you know what? Uh, I’m going to make it work here.

And that was actually the first time in my life. I was like, okay, I need to get a normal job because I’ve basically been an entrepreneur my whole life. I’m tired. You know, there’s a lot of ups and downs. I just want a stable paycheck, low stress, like not like nine to five switch off. Um, so I started applying to a bunch of companies, you know, all the standard.

Google Uber, Facebook, whatever there was. And nobody would hire me. Nobody hired me. So I couldn’t get a visa to stay in Singapore. Um, And then I finally figured out, uh, I did some consulting gigs, um, for an e-commerce company. And then I decided, you know, if I’m, if I want to stay, I have to hire myself. So that’s when I started covering Pella, I came home to Texas.

My mom gave me the idea actually, cause I was home for Christmas. She’s like, what are you going to do with all these. Dresses sitting in your closet because I, I was a beauty queen for a couple of years, and of course I’m from Texas, all the problems and homecoming. So I had hundreds of gowns in my closet sitting there and she’s like, what are you going to do with them?

And I said, I’m going to take them back to Singapore and rent them out because nobody’s doing that. So that, that was, uh, 2015.

Andrew: All about going back in to entrepreneurship. Did you feel at all like, Oh boy, this didn’t work out before. Maybe I’m kidding myself and making it, you know, Am I about to go for another tragedy. I feel that sometimes frankly, I’ve taken so many shots. They say, you just need a couple to succeed and true that, that that’s what’s happened with me, but there’s so many ideas that don’t work out so many times I put myself out there and said, this is going to be the thing.

And then I was wrong. And eventually there is a little, the voice in my head that says, maybe this next one is actually like these other ones. Not like the, like these other ones that failed instead of like the few that didn’t. Did you have any of that?

Carol: Not really. I think I, I was just so used to it and because I had ones that succeeded, um, that I just. I was more addicted to the freedom of entrepreneurship than anything. I’m, I’m such a free spirit because I’ve never really worked for anybody. I’m, I’m the oldest child and, you know, and I, you know, alpha female.

So it’s hard for me to kind of like to listen to anybody else or like, you know, have like set vacation days where like, Oh, you can’t do this if you can’t do that. So I always knew that. I would have to work for myself. And it was just a matter of time of figuring out the right idea.

Andrew: All right. I want to talk about my sponsor. It’s HostGator. Listen, if you’re out there and you’re entrepreneurial you’re you want to wait, it just keep launching different websites, different ideas. See what happens. See which ones take and which ones don’t. That’s why I recommend HostGator. Carol. I got to tell you, one of the beauties about HostGator is unlike, unlike their competition.

And I know I keep looking for it. You can host as many sites as you want and not have to pay any extra. They’re just letting you go and be creative. Knowing that if one takes off, you’re going to want more services. You’re going to want more this and more of that. And they will be there to grow with you.

That’s the beauty of HostGator. So for anyone out there, who’s listening to me. If you want to launch a site, Go to hostgator.com/mixergy. They will give you an even lower price in their already low prices. They will make it one click easy for you to install the WordPress, which is the most popular CMS out there.

The most popular platform for creating websites and you could just launch and experiment and ditch the ones that don’t work. My favorite ideas lately, Carol, this is, are you someone who just thinks about ideas all the time? I, I tend not to, but lately, yeah, I’ve just been amazed by how many entrepreneurs I’ve interviewed, who owned marketplaces, you know, just online marketplaces to sell this or that.

I just talked to someone who has an online marketplace for selling, um, video assets, you know, like, um, uh, Aerial views of a city that some videographer shot on their drone, and then they list on his platform. And then when, when another video, when another video editor needs that shot, they could take it from his platform.

And then the person who shot it gets paid. Anyway, it’s simple marketplace just scaled. Phenomenally told me he sold the business for $65 million fascinated by it. So. It’s the beauty of having a HostGator package. Once you have these ideas, you have a place to go and experiment and run wild and see what works.

And like I said, nothing, nothing to lose if you want to just shut it down. Um, and then try another one again, the URL host gator.com/mixergy.

Carol: Horrible.

Andrew: All right. So cup Italian, you’ve poured so much of your time and energy into it. Then COVID comes. Do you curse the world? You go, what happened here? This thing is now you get angry at the government.

Carol: Yeah, I got angry at the world. Like everybody I’m sure. Yeah. Well, especially cause like my fiance proposed in February and then I went back to Singapore in March and then they shut the borders. So I basically had to be apart from my new fiance the entire year.

Andrew: wait. He’s where and you’re you’re in the U S and he’s in Singapore because they shut, they shut the border down in like March, right?

Carol: Yeah. So he was in Chicago back in Singapore and he was supposed to come out to visit, uh, or come out later because I had to go back to manage my businesses. We had spent the holidays together and that’s when he proposed. Um, and then it just happened really quickly. You know, there was only a few weeks notice where Singapore is like, we’re not letting anybody into the country anymore.

And, um,

Andrew: Wow.

Carol: yeah, but you know, it, it actually, like in hindsight it was, it wasn’t as bad because it gave us both times to focus. Both of us were kind of, um, you know, my company was, was. Crashing. And he was also his, his company was like also kind of, you know, like everybody’s and, um, it kinda gave us a chance to like refocus and because I had actually come up with the idea a week before Singapore went into lockdown, I basically had to build the entire company out of my bedroom, not being able to leave.

And. That was probably the most challenging aspect of building this business because I had never built a company stuck in a single room without any outside help and without being able to get any resources. So it was pretty insane.

Andrew: And you absolutely need them, right? We’re not talking about a digital product that you’re selling. It’s a physical product. And so you had to get the fabric. How’d you get the fabric.

Carol: So the government announced on Thursday that we were going to lock down on Monday. So I just basically spent the next three days while everybody else was out partying with their friends, seeing them for the last time I spent the whole weekend. Like getting all of the supplies that I could running into, like all the fabric markets, just hoarding fabrics and, and trims and packaging, and like whatever I would need to like build this business from scratch.

And, you know, you have to remember that. Unlike a lot of other fashion companies that added masks as a category into their already existing brand, like I didn’t have. Anything, you know, I didn’t have, uh, a brand that already had labels. I didn’t have packaging that already had our name. Like I didn’t have factories or, or seamstresses that could make our product yet.

So I was literally sourcing everything as I went along and, you know, while other people that had fashion brands were quick to create masks because they already have all the resources. I was literally running around trying to find people who could make these masks for me. And. That was also really hard because I had very high standards for the kind of mass that I wanted to make that seven different factories rejected me after making one order.

Andrew: You would place an order with each one, if it’s seven orders, seven different factories, they would not like your feedback and they rejected you.

Carol: Yeah,

Andrew: Okay. Why, what was some of, uh, what were some of the things that you told them?

Carol: it was always, I was too picky, you know, it was always, I was too picky that my standards.

Andrew: what’s, what’s the thing that you saw

Carol: About the quality, you know, I like our masks one, I want to like a really good fitting mass. So the first tailor I worked with, I think I went through like 30 different patterns. Like he was about to murder me because I kept changing, changing the fit.

I had to have the best fitting mask because I wanted it to be flattering because most masks make you look stupid. And so I wanted it like a really well-fitted mass also, because that’s what keeps you safe. And I kept changing, changing, changing. Um, I also changed our lightning five times. I changed our nose, why or six times I changed our ear loops five times.

Like I changed from single pocket to double pocket to single pocket. Again, like it was, it was insane. How many times? I ch so like the first few tailors that worked with me all wanted to kill me. And then once I started getting bigger orders and I was going through the factories. You know, I think they’re used to making just like very standard, low end masks, like what you see mostly on, you know, I don’t want to say

Andrew: Amazon. I’m going to

Carol: most brands are making, you know, your average $10, $15 masks, where are mass average, like 40, $50.

And I knew I wanted to create like a premium. Mask that was going to be, um, qual high quality and great design. So I would use fabrics that were kind of difficult to work with. I’d be very,

Andrew: How are you sourcing all this just before lockdown and then afterwards during lockdown.

Carol: I th I started sourcing a lot online, so the internet was my best friend. Um, I wasted a lot of money buying fabrics that I didn’t use

Andrew: long did it take you to get all the fabric into work with the tailor or do it all remotely, and then finally nailed the design that you liked.

Carol: Um, well, I launched a week after locked out because I knew I had to be fast and I launched with like, I think 12 styles, like

Andrew: Talking about within 10 days you were able to go through all of this and make it happen. Yeah,

Carol: Yeah. Create a whole website myself from scratch and like take all the photos on, in my bedroom. Like, yeah. I launched the whole company in basically 10 days from scratch because I wanted to be the first to market.

Andrew: And how’d you get, and you did this on Shopify. I can tell because you still have like the bot powered by Shopify in the lower right corner. I think that those are little changes that you’ll make later. how did you get anyone to come to your site?

Carol: Um, well, it started with friends and family. Of course, I, I promoted on my own Instagram. I blasted it out to our covet tele database, uh, and our COVID teller Instagram. So luckily like, you know, I do have, uh, you know, like a significant following on both my personal and COVID tele. So that, that kind of started the engine.

Andrew: Yeah, I saw your, um, uh, you got the blue check Mark on Instagram, right?

Carol: I think that I got that after I, uh, vote covered me for being like designer of the year in Singapore.

Andrew: How do you get press for, for this mass company now? What was the process that you took? I know you hired somebody to help you out, right?

Carol: Uh, for the U S but this is the first time I actually have never worked with a PR company ever

Andrew: so it’s just you going back to your old friends saying, Hey, I’ve got this new thing you should write about me and it’s not. Are you doing any, you’re not doing any search engine optimization, right? No. I saw your eyes, even as I said, that what you are doing though, is you’re using. All the tools that are, that are available for, uh, for Shopify, right?

You’ve got that element of proof that tells me that somebody just now purchased from Singapore, the mat Champaign mask. Uh, there is something on the bottom, right? That shows me a review from Michael John N who just signed up and then loves it. Like this is, is this you, by the way, setting up all these plugins.

Carol: Yeah, a hundred percent.

Andrew: Okay.

Carol: That’s what happens when you have to bootstrap something? Uh, I literally. The whole year I had three interns. Um, they were working remote and then once, uh, the lockdown lifted, they were working out of my living room and you know, these girls were so great. I mean, one was handling operations and logistics.

So I was handling marketing. One was helping me with production. And they’re like, you know, a 20 year old girls in school that have never run businesses. And they’re, I like literally gave them entire divisions to run by themselves. And it said they would say like, it changed their lives, you know? Um, because I had.

Andrew: find them and then what did you get them to do? Give me an example.

Carol: Um, I found them schools, so internships there’s schools, um, and one of them who helped me manage production, like she had never even had a job in her life, you know, but then we would have all these corporate clients, like we’ve done mass for Bulgari skin, Inc. Um, Fraser’s, which is a public company. So we’re getting pretty big corporate orders and I would let her manage.

Project manage like that whole end-to-end process by herself. So she would, you know, like work with the, the company on what design and then get the sample from the factory and then like issue the invoice and then like, you know, like make sure all the shipments or, um, Don and the money was in. So, and like, you know, she, I think in the beginning she was so scared because she had never even done had any kind of responsibility like that.

But, um, I knew that she was very sharp, so I kind of gave her a lot to do. Um, and then, um, you know, another one, she was never worked with Shopify fulfilling orders and she fulfilled all of our orders out of our. Our living room. And then after she started school, she still wanted to work with us. So she actually brought all of our inventory back to her parents’ house and was like fulfilling orders out of her parents’ house in her bedroom every night after school.

Just because she like loved working with us so much. And now of course, like we have, um, a third party logistics warehouse, um, that helps us do all of that. But prior to that, it was very like, yeah. I mean, it was, it was crazy. It was just the four of us doing whatever we could working, like 12 hour days or more around the clock.

Andrew: And you’re selling to where just Singapore or do you start going beyond there?

Carol: Um, yeah, actually, I mean, that’s the great thing about having online business, right? Is that even though we didn’t do any kind of advertising outside of Singapore, somehow, maybe through Instagram or word of mouth we’ve we were able to ship to 15 countries within a few months and in really obscure places too.

Right. I mean, the common ones would be like Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong. Um, but then we would get like, Me and Mar are like, you know, I, and then we got a retailer in Switzerland, um, ordering for like, you know, 301 order for a few stores. And that was all like within the first few months. So it was pretty exciting.

Andrew: How are you doing now with the U S I know that’s the next big market for you?

Carol: It is. And I got to tell you it’s I, I think I kind of underestimated it, you know, I felt like it was such a big market. Like people are like so fashionable in the U S that they’re going to love my product, because like, I’ve done a lot of research and not to be biased, but there’s nobody doing masks like ours.

Um, of the same quality of the same design, I think because, you know, I, I spent so much time on making the perfect mask to make sure that structured. So it doesn’t collapse on your mouth when you breathe, that it’s comfortable, that it’s safe as a filter pocket, it’s three layers. It has adjustable your loops.

And we source like all of these, you know, very unique fabrics that are one of a kind, um, that I just thought, like it would kind of take off, but it’s, you know, it’s. I think it’s hard because we haven’t kind of really exercised any digital marketing. We’re not running ads here. So that’s a big, uh, thing that I need to do ASAP.

We are actually in the midst of interviewing different digital marketing agencies. The one in Singapore, I let them have a shot at it.

Andrew: we gave you. We, we mailed Mike’s to guess in the latest mic that we sent is, is really susceptible to touching the desk around it. So just be aware of that.

Carol: Okay, sorry. Um, so in Singapore there, our digital marketing agency was commission-based. So they’re doing really well, um, because they would only make money when we make money and they had really good match, like, you know, metrics, but, and so I let them try the U S market for a couple months and. It was not getting the same numbers.

So we’re kind of starting from zero right now.

Andrew: So you said that, uh, lucky you, you said my, our masks are better than the other masks that are out there. And so I started doing, I started Googling to see what comes up. If I do a search for fashionable masks for Vogue masks, I’m looking at a vocalist of masks. These things are like, Amazon ugly. This one that goes for $145.

I’m from what does it? Marise seri moon, face, moon print, face mask, Fairfax. This thing looks just weird and terrible. And then they’ve got their big freaking logo right on my face. Woo woo. Do that.

Carol: Yeah, they’re it’s, they’re pretty bad ones out there.

Andrew: These are, these are absolutely terrible. Some of them, I look, if I had the founder on, I would talk to her about the company or him about the company, but, um, and I’d be impressed that they’re selling it for that much, but these are, most of them are pretty fricking terrible. Um, but you didn’t even come up at all.

You didn’t come up on these lists. You didn’t come up when I did a Google search. Yeah, I see. I see the big challenge.

Carol: Yeah, we were definitely a little behind the curve right now in the U S market, but I have faith, you know, we, we, um, just finished some talks last week with a very big retailer. One of the, actually the number one retailer I wanted to get into in the U S uh, loves our masks and they’re very excited about them.

So you’ll be seeing our stuff in, um,

Andrew: ugly piece of garbage on Bo. Come on, look at this. Let’s be open here. This is terrible. This is terrible. It’s got these random, you know what? It looks like. It looks like my mom’s apron from 50 billion years ago. These are, these are awful. And you’ve got to wear it on your face. But meanwhile though.

Okay. How about this? This one is from Bernadette. They got the big Bernadette logo, right? Who wants the big Bernadette logo on there? Your face? Is that, is that like a fashion brand that you’re supposed to be impressed by?

Carol: I’ve never heard of that.

Andrew: that. No, right.

Carol: And that’s the other thing, you know, I think because we are like a premium branded mass company, you know, my mom’s been pushing me to put our logo on the outside of the mask, but like, you know, who wants that? I just don’t think.

Andrew: Don’t copy Bernadette, look here. This is the apron. Look at that. Doesn’t that look like my mom’s April and you don’t even know my mom, but that looks like what you would wear, right? Um, but all right, let’s say you get all this right though. What’s the future of, of fashionable masks? Are you imagining that after COVID, after herd immunity and vaccines and everything else three years from now that people will still be wearing masks and that’s, that’s going to be your, your business.

Carol: You know, well, I mean, we’ve lot watching hand sanitizer. Soon. We already launched mask sanitizers. We planned to launch travel kits. I think people will be more mindful while they travel, especially, um, to other countries even, uh, like in Asia, you know, when you’re sick, you wear a mask to work because that’s just courteous, right.

Even if you have a cold or flu. You know, you can still give that to people and anyone who has kids knows it’s miserable when your, your kids are sick and when they’re going to school and they’re getting other kids sick, it’s just, it’s just not a good scenario. Even if it’s not life-threatening it still sucks to be sick.

Like I just came back from New York yesterday and then God, I didn’t get COVID, but I did catch a cold because it was 30 degrees and we had to eat outside and, you know, I, I was wearing a mask around the house and around my fiance, because I didn’t want to get him, give him a cold. Right. And so I do think that mass will be around for awhile.

Um, hopefully we won’t have to wear them mandatory like this, like forever.

Andrew: Well, that’s a thing. No, first of all, I agree with you. I wish that we could, I wish it was socially acceptable to wear masks in the U S in an office, because if I’m sick, I don’t mind going into the office, even if I’m like, as sick as I could be. It’s fine. I could still work right through it. Um, but I don’t want to get other people sick.

And so what I do is to keep it from being uncomfortable for them. I just kind of hide in my office and I’ll, I pretend I’m not sick. But that’s terrible for other people. I’d rather just wear a mask and then have people keep their distance and know that they’re not going to, we’re not going to shake hands.

We’re going to keep some distance from each other, but we can still talk. Um, I just don’t see that happening in the U S and even if it does, isn’t the market going to shrink down and then you’ve got fewer customers with a lot of competitors in the space. And I wonder, I wonder if that is going to be a long-term problem.

Carol: Um, you know, if it is, it’s not a longterm problem for me because you know, I’m

Andrew: move to something else.

Carol: Yeah, I’ll just do something else. Then I can open up my dress rental business again when events are back. So it’s kind of a, win-win either way. Cause if you know events come back, we don’t have to wear a mask. Then people are dressing up or wearing dresses again.

Uh, last year I just launched my own brand, Carol Chen and um,

Andrew: I was just going to suggest that, then I feel like what you need is your own brand. You’re the reason I wanted to have you on is those fricking photos that you took. They just look so. They, they look like, uh, like the covers of Vogue. I’m not used to interviewing people whose photos look like they’re on the cover of Vogue.

Um, I’m used to be like these pixelated shots where some entrepreneur was forced to take a photo by someone else, the company. So you got really good style. You’ve got incredible personal brand. I think the Carol Chen brand is, is the one to bank on.

Carol: Yeah, definitely longterm. I mean, it, it helped when I won the S you know, Singapore fashion award last year, the prize is actually a sponsored show at Paris fashion a week later this year. So that’s when I will be really launching my ready to wear brands

Andrew: this is just you saying I’m going to start small with the mask, not a full line of dresses, figure out the current situation and start to sell online and all. And then whatever I learned from here, it’s going to get put into the Carol Chan brand, which is going to happen next.

Carol: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I love building companies and I don’t like to sell, you know, things that people don’t need. You know, I really like to figure out what’s the demand. What, what do people need? And then try to. You know, I, I, I hate kind of like copying what everybody else is doing, because then it becomes very saturated.

If I see people are doing something, a good CA uh, category very well, then why, why do I need to go bother doing that? Um, mass, it’s interesting. You’re talking about marketplaces. I, mass gala actually started off as a marketplace. That was my original vision because. I knew that masks were going to be a thing and I would want to wear fashionable masks.

So, you know, at is not very curated. So I w I was going to curate this, you know, mask marketplace of great masks. But unfortunately when I launched it was a bit early and there wasn’t enough people doing fashion masks at the time. So I basically had to create my own and. And that’s kind of what happened.

So, um, yeah, I’m not, I’m not too worried about the future. I’m, I’m usually just take it day by day. And I had never thought that Moskelo would grow so fast, especially around the world. And if it doesn’t take off in the U S there’s, you know, lots of other places in the world that need masks.

Andrew: You were saying all these different Asian countries that I would travel through and see, or yeah. Or see people at the airport who came from there where they did have masks. You’re saying, look, they’re eventually going to the U S fights masks. Other countries will still have it. And now they’ve been sensitized to what a good mask looks like.

I’ve seen people in Japan wear masks for years. But they were those disposable paper masks. Right. And you’re saying, well, great. If America doesn’t jump in on it, I’m an international brand. Then let’s go to Japan and show them that they could have something that’s better than those disposable masks that they have.

Carol: Exactly.

Andrew: All right, Carol. So the website for everyone who wants to go check out it’s mascara, it’s just the word mask with ela@theendofit.com. And I want to thank the two sponsors who made this interview happen. The first, if you’re hosting a website, do what I do go to HostGator. Mixergy has been hosted on HostGator for a long time.

Now. And when we made the switch, Carol and nobody even noticed, I noticed because my price went down and the site still stayed up as fast as ever. I earned it. Anyone out there who’s listening to go to hostgator.com/mixergy to get your website hosted. And if you’re curious about some of the conversational techniques that I use in this interview and in personal life, the people over unbalanced basically paid me to write it out.

And they said, here’s a landing page that we created for you to give it out to your audience. And I’ll give it to you guys right now. Unbounced.com/mixergy. They’re quick at creating landing pages. That’s what their software is about. And I appreciate that. They created one for me. All right.

unbounced.com/mixergy. Thank you, Carol.

Carol: Thank you, Andrew.

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