No matter how hard someone works at planning their future, they can never foresee the experiences that life has waiting for them.
In 2008, I was reading an Egyptian love story, and I ran across an ancient flower. Attracted to its simplistic beauty, I decided to look up its meaning. Born in darkness, the Lotus is planted in the mud, and must grow through the murkiness of the water. It then breaks through the surface, reaching out into the sunlight, as if to reborn time and time again. This flower is the story of my life. And it's significance in my life would grow even more soon.
I was raised in the tougher neighborhoods of San Francisco. My parents were young and worked hard to keep a roof over me and my brother’s heads, at times barely making ends meet. Their struggle was love in action, and it grounded me. I was surrounded by many people in my childhood who were living hard knock lives, where the elements of the world seem to be against them all the time. Some tried their very best to get out, but others seem to be just as hopeless as the neighborhood around them. Their struggles became brutal life lessons for me.
I experienced the kind of life that was rough beyond my years, and along the way I lost my innocence. As a child with her heart tainted, I went from a little girl with hopes and dreams, to a rebellious teenager who would destroy anything that felt remotely like love. Years later in my anger, dreams of becoming successful became a fantasy of revenge, and I worked even harder to make as much money as I could to fill that emptiness. I learned how to cope with my pain by keeping that little girl hidden and far from my surface. I thought that if I dismissed my past, I could build a better future. But an experience with my Grandmother in the Philippines taught me that love and compassion for people, especially the poor, the broken-hearted, and the sick, can heal even in the most tortured souls. She showed me that by helping others, you heal yourself. Had I not experience my childhood in its entirety, I don’t think I’d be where I am today, a woman who's finally breaking through the surface, reaching sunlight...
Throughout my twenties, I had mastered the art of building customer relationships, leading a team of driven sales people and discovered my own talent for merchandising in the retail fashion world. Starting from the bottom and climbing to the top, I found out that in retail, the true benefits for me was engaging with the customer, building that relationship, and earning their trust and friendship along the way. Years flew by and my retail career came to a halt when I had my third baby. I told myself it was time to slow down and try to be a stay at home mom, which now I know is the hardest job in the world! Mothers who stay at home and sacrifice their lives should be paid $1 million per hour.
During this time, my sister in-law, Sarah, was working on her start-up ideas. I remember she approached me one day and asked what my thoughts were about creating a denim line for petite women. I smiled and told her, "DO IT!" I knew from experience with my own clients that it was a true need. They would usually ask me for a discount because of the hassles with paying and waiting for alterations and hemming. Sarah started to do her research and studied different denim companies. She was like this little mouse running around quietly putting things together. Once in a while she'd give me an update. I stopped dead in my tracks when she told me the name of the denim line was Lotus Premium Denim. I immediately told her I have to be a part of Lotus, when it was up and running. About a year and a half later during spring of 2011, my beautiful overworked sister in-law came to see me again. I asked her about the business and she looked at me with sad eyes, and said she couldn't do it. It was too hard and there was not enough funding, people, or time. But I couldn't let her give up on it. It started to become my dream too! I approached my mother for her advice. My mother is the original fashion retail work addict; she knows the business like no other. When we told her about Sarah's denim line specializing in a perfect fit, especially for petites, she told her exactly the same thing, "DO IT!" The idea was then pitched to our Stepfather. We were fortunate in that he’s been an entrepreneur his whole life, so getting him to back our endeavor was what catapulted the initial formation of Team Lotus. My heart told me that this was going to be the beginning of an awesome journey. Despite the challenges, I knew we had to get our jeans out to market. I could not let it sit on the shelf.
Lotus is more than just a brand. I've been in retail for over 20 years. I know that there is an under-served market for petites, especially in jeans. My clients always complain about hemming, alterations and fit. Women are confusing petite with size instead of length, and giving the word "Petite" a negative connotation. The hardships in shopping as a petite makes women feel like they are the minority instead of the majority. But that wasn't the only problem Sarah was solving. Lotus wasn't just for petite women, Lotus is for all women. Lotus is the story of every woman who has struggled and overcome that struggle. It's for every woman who, because of her past, has made her an even more beautiful woman. It reminds us to never give up on our dreams, and that anything is possible in this world, if you believe in yourself. It starts with loving yourself first and having faith that none of us are alone in our journey.
Days later we were on a plane to Los Angeles where I met the very intelligent, soft spoken Lenn Chao, the women who would take care of the most important part of our business - our spending. Meeting Lenn was like being introduced to my long lost sister. Just like a pair of LPDs, we were made to fit. We can stay up all night talking about food and fashion, then go straight into business matters like sales quotas and inventory haul. Lenn, Sarah, and I were very busy that spring of 2011. We talked about launching our first collection by the end of that year, but still felt unprepared. We had not yet identified a logo, nor did we have someone to help with our marketing efforts. Sarah approached Elaine and Ria, her partners from their previous start-ups, hoping this idea resonated strongly with their own denim fit issues. I have met very intelligent people in my lifetime. But nothing could have prepared me to meet the genius of Ria, the creative mind behind Lotus' glowing symbol. The logo was effortless, graceful, confident, elegant, and beautiful. Powerfully, but without needing words, Ria speaks through the logo that she's created for Lotus Premium Denim. Through her creative vision, she brought Lotus to Life.
Tune into Part 4 next week, and read how Ria became a Lotus Woman.