Profiles in Art: Jessie Zeng, co-founder of Choosy

Editors’ note: This interview was originally conducted in Summer 2017 using information from Zeng’s previous brand The Creative. It has been updated in May 2018 to reflect her new brand, Choosy. 

Jessie Zeng is the founder of The Creative, her new fashion line which features sustainable trend-based collections. Based out of the Upper West Side of Manhattan, Jessie has formerly worked as a Wall Street trader and a fashion photographer before making the foray into the fashion industry. You can find more of her work by checking out her Instagram and website.

Interview Conducted by: Tiffany Chan

Interview Edited by: Tiffany Chan

All images used provided by Jessie Zeng

Q: What is your story? How did you fall in love with fashion?
I have always loved fashion when I was growing up, and was inspired by the different trends from the many cities I lived in. I spent my childhood in China and Argentina before attending high school in a diplomat-filled neighborhood of Washington D.C. I really really loved shopping, and would religiously watch every single video of every single Fashion Week show. My father used to frequently threaten to cut off my credit cards because I bought too many shoes! Actually, the shoes were what led me to start my fashion blog while I was still working as a trader. I loved to snap pictures of outfits with different shoes, and now I get over 150,000 monthly visitors across platforms.
Q: What was your professional path like? How did you get to this job?
My pivot into fashion definitely started with my blog. Within months of launch, I was receiving collaboration requests from many well known luxury fashion and hospitality brands. I would shoot content and share the experience with my followers while discussing what was going on with my personal career switch. In essence, I was marketing a lifestyle while being sponsored by brands that were a good fit to my audience. Eventually, I quit my day job (as a trader) to blog and work as a fashion photographer full-time.


Q: What was the process like of starting your own business? What were some unexpected challenges/lessons?
My business was born out of my social media following, as many of my followers started to ask me to post more affordable alternatives to the clothes I was wearing. My family has a background in manufacturing, and I had some experience in supply chain management from past projects, so The Creative was born. I wanted to make contemporary pieces for the urban millennial woman, much like myself, who loves NY street fashion and the latest runway trends, but doesn’t necessarily want to spend $1000 on a jacket. The Creative is definitely a digitally-native fast fashion brand, as we launch new styles all the time, but I am a perfectionist and obsess over quality. I think it definitely helps to have such a strong relationship with our manufacturers. We have been profitable from day one, when it was just a small project born out of my small NYC living room.

The biggest challenge right now is inventory, we keep running out of stock in the most popular styles! And I never expected so much demand by the plus size fashionistas, so I definitely under-stocked our larger sizes. It’s hard because up until now, the project is entirely self funded, so it’s really difficult to meet the minimum order sizes when I want to do restocks, and I hate letting my customers down!

Additionally, I’m just personally challenged by time management. It’s so hard because I sometimes get distracted in creating new styles or content and it’s a challenge to balance that with meeting deadlines and growth targets. Something I have found to be really helpful is having a rigid schedule and not taking meetings in the middle of the day.


Q: What’s a typical day like for you? What is your team/work-flow like?
I’m usually up by 6AM because I have this crazy husky, and we go running in Central Park for an hour or two. I like to post a new picture on Instagram at this time, before everyone wakes up, and respond to comments from the previous day (sometimes my intern will do this, when I’m super busy). I call up my warehouses (in China & the U.S.) to make sure all my inventory is in order and shipments are being made. Then, I will basically stalk the internet and/or the streets of downtown Manhattan to find inspiration for my next pieces and communicate with the tailoring team to make the samples happen. I do a lot of testing, I’m fortunate to be super close to my customers. So I will usually test the waters by posting pictures of the samples and getting feedback before releasing them to production. Sunset time (6PM) is shooting time for me, and I will shoot new content with my photographer or shoot models for the website/blog. I have really learned to not schedule any meetings until later in the day because it disrupts my workflow, so most days I have a dinner or drinks meeting. Hopefully I only had two drinks or less, and then I come home to answer e-mails and take my dog to see his friends (there is a late night Central Park dog group).
Q: What is your creative process like?
I do a lot of mood boards, and if you ever look at the photos on my phone I think I take or screenshot hundreds of pictures a day. I organize them into little folders to keep as inspiration for designs. For me, Instagram is HUGE! I love the street style blogs and follow them religiously to see what everyone will be wanting to wear next.
Q: How would you describe your aesthetic? How do you see your designs either adding on or expanding on what is currently on the market? In what ways do you think that it is achieving something different than what is currently available?
I feel like a lot of internet brands these days love to showcase the sun-kissed and wealthy 20-something Californian girl. While I love that aesthetic, most urban millennials I know just don’t want to shop for lace dresses when our winters last 5 months and we have business meetings to go to. I wanted The Creative to be the first internet brand that supports women who are pursuing their dreams, and listening to what our customers want to wear instead of trying to sell them an alternate reality.


Q: What are the greatest rewards of your job?
When I get fan mail! Or when I run into people on the street and they tell me they follow my work! It makes everything worthwhile.
Q: What are the biggest challenges you faced at your job?
I have to be happy and “on” all the time, even on days when I’m seriously struggling. I don’t really get anxiety, but I get super sleepy when I’m stressed out, so then it becomes hard to be that person who cheers on the team and my followers.
Q: Has there ever been instances in your journey where you doubted your path? How did those moments resolve?
All the time. But then I think of how many interesting places this path has taken me to, and all of the experiences I otherwise never would have had!


Q: What advice would you give to your younger self/someone just starting in the field? Alternatively, what advice would you give your younger self?
It’s never to early to start! I feel like the digital age has really broken down the barriers to entry, so you can really pursue your goals even on the side before it turns into a full time commitment. Test the waters, most ideas fail, that’s why you have to keep testing and repeating.

Just for fun…

Q: Can you recommend a wine and cheese (any drunk food+drink combo) to us?
Everyone who knows me well knows that I am obsessed with spicy carbs after a night of drinking. When my sister is here, she always orders me Halal Guys (I know, she’s the best!). These days, I usually drink whiskey soda.
Q: What do you do for self-care?
I love long baths and watching Netflix.

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