Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hi there! My name is Jina Chang and I am the Founder, Creative Director, and CEO of Girls Crew.
Specializing in fun and trend-setting demi-fine pieces, we at Girls Crew design jewelry that makes the daintiest things your big statement. We are a small team of 13 made up of friends and family members- all with the goal of delivering one-of-a-kind pieces to our customers.
My flagship designs would definitely come from our Fruit Collection. All items from this collection are made up of dainty and colorful pieces that resemble a variety of different fruits. I would say that our most popular item out of that collection is the Fruit Basket Stud Set. It is a set of four fruit earrings--apple, grape, cherry, and strawberry-- and each one is only a couple millimeters long. Despite being small in size, this set is one of our best sellers and has set the “fruit jewelry” trend that we have been seeing this past year!
Since our launch in 2017, we have garnered a large and growing social media following and have been fortunate enough to become a multi-million dollar company.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
Growing up, I’ve always had a bit of an eye for jewelry. When I was younger, I loved to take apart the chains and designs from my mother’s old handbags--with her permission, of course. With those pieces, I would reassemble them into unique, “Jina-exclusive” accessories that could not be found anywhere else.
Showcasing at flea markets really allowed me to not only build a strong customer base and gain brand recognition but to also learn what it’s like to run a business.
The idea that a few small pieces could not only elevate an outfit but also be the source of confidence for many is something that really attracted me to this sector of the fashion industry. I always loved how my homemade jewelry from my youth made me feel, so throughout high school and college, I constantly sought that same feeling through each new jewelry piece I purchased. However, I was unable to find jewelry that was not unique but also had the qualities to bring out and showcase my personality.
So Girls Crew was born.
I began selling products under Girls Crew during college and officially launched my company in September 2017--just 4 months after graduating from Cal Poly Pomona.
Four months to conceptualize and launch a company is certainly no easy feat, but I am one to “figure it out as I go.” Even after officially launching, I still had much to learn, edit, and work out. Despite all of this, I saw it as a good opportunity and challenge for myself rather than a hurdle. I knew that I’d have to figure out everything eventually, so why not now?
Looking back, I owe a lot of my success to my friends and family. Even now, my small team of 13 is made up of those same friends and family members that supported me from the jump. Although I didn’t have any prior experience running a business, I believed in myself and was confident in my abilities and vision for Girls Crew. My friends and family recognized this and really helped me get the company underway.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
In the early days, I designed and prototyped everything myself for the first year or so. I would handmake different pieces from sterling silver and gold-filled material as the base of my products.
Once Girls Crew started to “take off” and received wholesale orders from some pretty big companies, I “upgraded” and began to incorporate plated jewelry into the collection. I also recruited my husband, mother, father, and best friend to help me manufacture the hundreds of orders we had. Everything, even our packaging, was handmade and done at home.
I remember my father using thick, watercolor paper to act as the packaging for our earrings. He would meticulously cut every piece at the same width, punch tiny holes for the earrings to sit in, then stamp on the Girls Crew logo, and would set each one out overnight so that the stamp ink would dry and be ready to have the product placed in them. I remember all of us staying up until about 3 in the morning to finish these orders. It was definitely difficult at the moment, but when I look back to “the old days” and where we originally came from, it is very humbling and rewarding to see our growth.
It’s been three and a half years since we launched and I’ve been fortunate enough to give Girls Crew a bit of a “facelift.” We now have manufacturers that exclusively produce our products and packaging as well as in-house designers that help bring my concepts and ideas to life. Additionally, we now have an office that my team and I work out of! (No more working from home).
Regardless of these changes, the heart of our company remains the same. At its core, Girls Crew is still a small business that puts so much effort into developing and releasing products we are proud of. And it seems to be working out as we have thousands of returning customers!
Describe the process of launching the business.
I initially launched Girls Crew while I was still an undergraduate college student. During this time, I sold both jewelry and clothing at a variety of flea markets around Los Angeles and even the Bay Area, multiple times each month. Showcasing at these flea markets really allowed me to not only build a strong customer base and gain brand recognition but to also learn what it’s like to run a business.
I wouldn’t be anywhere without my team. I would say that hiring the right people is one of the key factors to determine your success. As much as I hate to admit it, I don’t know everything--I certainly wish I did.
Through this experience, I saw how much my customers were responding more to my jewelry over the clothing I was also selling. Recognizing this, I knew that I had to pivot from the concept that I had created with my first launch of Girls Crew. Since the demand was with the jewelry I was selling and not the clothes, I decided to re-launch Girls Crew in September 2017 as the jewelry brand it is today!
I didn’t experience the amount of success I expected immediately after re-launching Girls Crew. There wasn’t very much traffic on the site, and the brand as a whole didn’t have a whole lot of recognition. It was a very slow start, to say the least. It’s easy to view this as being discouraging, but it only pushed me more to try harder. I so badly believed in my brand and wanted to give it the success it deserved, so I did whatever I could to do just that! It wasn’t easy and took a lot of time and effort, but soon enough, Girls Crew began to make a name for itself!
We got the attention of Urban Outfitters and Nordstrom, who were interested in purchasing our products wholesale. This was definitely a moment where I felt like I “made” it. Companies that I personally shop at were noticing me. Now our jewelry is available and being actively sold through Urban Outfitters and Nordstrom’s websites!
The biggest lesson I learned from this is patience and the value of believing in yourself and your brand. I strongly believe that putting myself out there is what helped our brand get a little more traction than the first year.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
Since our launch 4 years ago in September 2017, we have experienced a steady amount of growth in our sales. When the pandemic first hit, my team and I--like many small businesses--were worried about what the future of our company would look like. Fortunately, in March 2020, we had a spike in not just our sales, but social media following. I attribute this growth to the release of our Fruit Collection.
The Fruit Collection outperformed any of our past releases. It not only did great in sales, but it also was the trendsetter for what was to come in the jewelry industry. I began to notice other brands and companies pull inspiration from Girls Crew in the development of their products. It was extremely rewarding and exciting to see - I just hope everyone remembers we did it first.
Since then, we’ve been able to continue releasing products that are absolutely unique to Girls Crew. I am so confident in the work that my team and I produce. I believe that this confidence, coupled with the style and quality of our products is what makes our company so successful.
I also have to attribute much of our success and ability to attract and retain customers to my fabulous team. As a team that is primarily composed of millennials, it’s been super interesting to see how much social media has changed the marketing space! Social media is definitely something that I am happy my generation of young entrepreneurs have at our disposal to utilize as we’ve been able to experience a lot of growth from it.
Here is a breakdown of our impressions made through our Instagram posts. Our social media following grows every day--which is why we can observe a steady increase in overall engagement.
Above are some screenshots of some of our top-performing marketing efforts. Everything is done in-house at our LA office--from taking the photos, the graphic design, to distribution. We utilize ads like these in our email marketing/newsletters as well as social media ads.
We have noticed that we have been able to see an increase in website traffic thanks to these efforts.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
In 2020, Girls Crew was able to increase its sales by 1,720% since the initial launch. By the end of 2021, we are projected to double our sales!
In terms of some specifics regarding the metrics of our business:
- Our email database is over 275K customers
- Our social media following is 526K on Instagram and 104K on TikTok and growing
- Our average monthly website traffic is over 310K visitors
- Our business is currently 85% eCommerce and 15% wholesale
- We currently have distribution in Nordstrom, Urban Outfitters, and Local Eclectic
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
Know your WHY
I think that it’s very easy to lose sight of why you’ve started, especially as you begin to experience companywide growth. Though this is my full-time job, I need to sometimes remind myself that it’s more than that. I started Girls Crew to bring my passion for designing jewelry to life. Similar to how I was able to find a lot of my own confidence and showcase my personality through jewelry, I wanted to create something that allowed others to feel the same way.
Give back to your community
As a Cal Poly Pomona alumna, I often think back to my college days and how much that time influenced the trajectory of my life. I was constantly pushed and challenged through the course material, and I met some of my closest friends and future team members--it’s where I started Girls Crew. I am thankful for the experience from my collegiate days, which is why I feel so pushed to give back.
I know that finding opportunities in college can be difficult at times, for that reason, I make an effort to create some. I have recently started an internship program to help college students gain hands-on experience and to help build their resumé. I strongly believe that providing these opportunities is an excellent way to not only continue building a strong team but to also give back to a community that has given me so much.
Write it down!
Have a notebook that you take EVERYWHERE with you.
This tip may be a bit obvious, but I think that it is so important to write everything down. Being a business owner and running my team, I feel like I get a million messages, reminders, and tasks every single day. Without taking the time to immediately write this information down, I would very easily forget my responsibilities.
Create a strong team
I wouldn’t be anywhere without my team. I would say that hiring the right people is one of the key factors to determine your success. As much as I hate to admit it, I don’t know everything--I certainly wish I did. I rely on members of my team a lot for their input and feedback on a variety of aspects of our business--from product development, content creation, to marketing. A lot of my team has the experience and knowledge that I may not. It was important to me that I pick the right people to trust in and represent my brand since they would be key players in its growth.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
My favorite tools have to revolve around organizational communication. Platforms like Microsoft Teams have been extremely helpful to me in running my business. It mainly helps my team and me to stay organized--keeping everything we may need in one place. We only began to utilize Teams recently, but it has been excellent internal communication through its ability to share documents, host online meetings, chat, etc.
My next favorite tool would be Dropbox. This platform has been a staple for our marketing initiatives. With our Marketing team working so closely and actively with a variety of different influencers, we are always receiving photo samples, media kits, and other documents that require being downloaded. Because all of this information can easily get lost within a thread of emails, Dropbox has been a great tool to allow us to keep all of these documents in one place.
Lastly, Shopify has been a godsend to my business! Some of the specific apps that have helped us manage our business include Klaviyo, Shoppable, and Launchpad.
- Klaviyo is a favorite amongst our marketing team. It is an excellent tool for email marketing. It provides great, in-depth reporting regarding each email campaign we send out. We want our brand to stay in the minds of our consumers, so having the ability to create consistent email flows to reach our followers (thanks to Klaviyo) is amazing.
- Shoppable is an extremely user-friendly app that allows our customers to scope out all of the products that are featured in specific Instagram posts. Instagram only allows up to 5 product tags per post, so this is another great way for customers to easily access our products.
- Launchpad is a tool that allows us to make theme changes for certain promotions and sales. It can even temporarily reduce prices! Thanks to Launchpad, I don’t have to stay by the computer until midnight to change the theme of our website when a new promotion is released--it automatically does it for me!
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
Two words - Shark. Tank. Not only is it super entertaining, but it has taught me so much about pitching and business in general. It showed me the importance of knowing your business inside and out--you never know who might be asking those questions! It’s also been quite inspiring to hear the stories of entrepreneurs who, like me, are also so confident in their brand and are just looking for someone to take a chance on them.
The podcast How I Built This is another great tool! Similar to Shark Tank, I found this podcast to be extremely insightful and inspiring. I love learning and hearing the stories about how fellow entrepreneurs built their businesses!
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting?
My top advice for entrepreneurs who are wanting to start their own business is to just go for it! When I first thought of Girls Crew, I didn’t give myself a chance to second guess myself--I began the process of launching the initial version of Girls Crew the next day.
I know it’s easier said than done and can seem really intimidating, but I really believe that starting is the biggest hurdle.
Talking yourself out of an idea because of self-doubt or intimidation is one of the main reasons why I see so many great business ideas never come to fruition. I am a big believer in figuring things out as you go. You may not have all of the answers now, but you will eventually! Push yourself and see where this journey takes you.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
We currently have 13 members on our team and are looking to hire additional team members by year-end.
Keep an eye out on our Linkedin for positions that will be opening up soon!
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
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