First Day: The 29-year-old Chinese migrant who started a multimillion dollar fashion company

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She spent six months lying to her parents about having a job after she gave up a finance career to start a business that collapsed. But Jane Lu used her free time to start building an online fashion store and today it's worth $10 million.

When Jane Lu's parents told her they would be moving to Australia from China when she was seven years old, she wasn't happy.

"I used to be obsessed with Chinese television and I was just really upset that I was leaving TV," she says.

The enormity of moving from Beijing, where the Lus lived in an apartment complex full of other single-child families, was too much for her to absorb.

"I don't think I understood that I was leaving everything and not coming back," she says. "I don’t think I understood what was happening."

But when the family landed in Sydney, the difference struck her immediately. "I had never seen sky that blue, or just blue sky in general," she says. "I was shocked."

Today, the 29-year-old is the owner of popular online store Showpo, which specialises in offering low-cost clothing for women. She has 10 staff members and has moved offices a number of times to fit her growing team. Last year, the business turned over $10 million.

But it almost didn't happen.

Ms Lu began her career in finance but quit her well-paid job to open her first fashion business with some friends. When the business collapsed one month later, Ms Lu didn't have the heart to tell her parents, who she lived with, that she had left her job, and spent the next six months pretending to go to work. It was the middle of the Global Financial Crisis and she was tens of thousands of dollars in debt.

'I quit'

When Jane Lu got started working at a major accounting firm out of university, she was excited to get into the corporate world.

"I just thought it was such a great achievement," she says of the role.

But life in an office wasn’t what she had hoped and she soon got bored. "I am not good at accounting," she says. "I don't enjoy it."

She started a business on the side - a pop-up fashion store – and eventually her business partners asked her to commit to the project full time.

"I really didn't like my job so I thought, 'You know what, screw it I'm just going to quit,'" she says. "So I quit."

But after a month, the business fell apart. Ms Lu told her parents but couldn't bring herself to tell them she had left the accounting firm.

"Unfortunately I was living at home at the time," she says. "I would put on my suit and pretend to go to work for six months.

"Let me tell you there is nothing worse than being unemployed and having to get up early. But I would get up early and have breakfast with them and sometimes I'd get the bus into the city with mum, because she works in the city.

"I'd carry around an empty laptop bag and wander the streets. Sometimes I'd go to the state library, I got a part-time receptionist job and I just filled my time."

Showpo

Ms Lu is a self-confessed internet addict and says she spent many hours browsing sites when she was working in finance.

"When I wasn’t on Facebook, I was window shopping online," she says.

There were fewer online shops back then and she noticed the ones that did exist were often expensive or slow to deliver. “I really felt that there was a market gap there,” she says.

She began using her time researching the market from the state library after she would leave the house to go to "work". It was from there that she created her online boutique, Showpo, in 2010.

It was no easy feat – Ms Lu was lacking in experience and had raked up a huge amount of debt.

"I put everything on my credit card and I literally just started with no money at all," she says.

"I bought the stock on consignment, which meant I didn't have to pay for the stock until after it was sold."

She built the website herself after doing a crash course on Google – "it didn't look great but it was alright at the time" – and used her knowledge of social media to build up interest and reach a younger market.

With her parents still out of the loop, Ms Lu says her boyfriend’s apartment became Showpo HQ. “He used to come home and complain that there was no floor space to walk around,” she says.

She got her first office in 2012 and after only a year she had to upgrade to a bigger space.

China

When the business was in full swing, she finally told her parents about her deception.

"They were just shocked," she says. "They couldn't believe that I had the guts to go through with it and that I was such a risk-taker."

"I told them, 'Look at you, you left everything you knew to take the biggest risk of your life. To move to Australia. You didn't know anyone except two relatives.'"

"I think it's so much harder to take risks when you have a child and you're much older so there's that risk-taker side in them too."

Ms Lu says she still identifies as Chinese and has close ties with the country.

She is aware of the conditions in some of the country's factories and is determined to make an impact in that space.

"One of our long-term goals is to own our own factories and have great working conditions in that factory," she says.

And she has a message for other young entrepreneurs considering taking a leap.

"I went to a selective school, which was really competitive, and it instilled in me a fear of failure," she says. "So I would actually not even try just, so I wouldn't risk failing. It wasn't until I failed and I failed spectacularly that I realised it wasn't even that bad.

"So I think just go and do it because there's nothing worse than waking up and being in your 40s and realising you didn't try."

This story was produced as part of the SBS series, First Day, airing on SBS World News throughout January.

Source SBS News

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