Hi! I’m Erin. I'm 25, and I live in Los Angeles. I started Shop Jeen, an online retailer, in my dorm room when I was 20. We bootstrapped the company to do millions in sales, and boast over 500k followers across social channels.
I learned a ton from my experience, but just like you (and everyone else), I’m still trying to figure life out. But even though I don’t know everything (no one does!), I have lots of experiences to share and resources to provide—all things that I didn't have when I started out, and all things I’m hoping will inspire you.
Feel free to tweet me questions @ERINJEEN and maybe we’ll choose your question for NYLON!
Question: Have you always known this is what you would be doing? If not, what drove you into this lane?
Answer: I started Shop Jeen impulsively, with no formal plans of being a massive clothing retailer. But I’d been working since I was 10; my first entrepreneurial venture was actually selling autographs on eBay. I then worked at a pizzeria, a doctor’s office, and a lawyer’s office. I sold merchandise I’d bought at sample sales on eBay. I interned at Vogue, Marie Claire, Bottega Veneta, Alexander Wang, and Phillip Lim.
After being accepted to George Washington University in Washington, D.C., I arrived at school kicking and screaming because I wanted to continue interning for fashion houses. So I took on three minimum wage retail jobs in my freshman year, and my GPA took a major hit because I put all my energy into my jobs. My parents weren’t happy about this, but I was thriving outside of the classroom (as I pretty much always have) and felt totally stifled in the classroom. I prioritized my work because I was amassing a tremendous amount of experience, which eventually pushed me to start Shop Jeen.
When I had my first $2,000 saved from the retail jobs, I bought a Celine Luggage Tote that I’d spent six months on a waitlist for. It was a foolish luxury purchase for a broke college student, struggling to make minimum wage. I quickly realized that was a dumb way to spend my money, and sold the bag on eBay for $3,000 (shout-out to the super high demand for that bag in 2011!). I originally purchased the bag because I knew it had resale value, and if I was unhappy with it, I could end up making money off the purchase. From my sample sale experience, I have a very good understanding of the value of luxury goods, and I make strategic purchases, like 80 percent of the time.
I knew, though, that if I let that money sit in my bank account, I would spend it on something else equally stupid, so I thought about my skillset, and tried to figure out what to do next. I knew my heart was set on fashion. I was the best salesgirl at each of my jobs, and every time we got a new shipment, I could predict which items would sell out the fastest with amazing accuracy. So I decided to go with a retailer business model for my new venture.
My first instinct was to open a store in Georgetown. But I had no idea how to open a brick-and-mortar store, so I researched how to create a website. I used a template and, through trial and error, I taught myself some light coding and used Big Cartel as the platform to sell products on. But I had no idea how to make my own products, and I didn't consider designing products one of my passions. So I found a bunch of things I liked on Etsy and messaged the sellers explaining my plans for an online retailer that would spotlight their product.
Doing this meant I had to spend cash to purchase what I wanted to sell up front, at a wholesale cost. I had to pitch my idea hard because I was pre-product AND pre-revenue. There was no proof of my concept; I was selling a vision. Why should these brands give me their product for a steep discount? I hustled and I convinced a few brands to hop on board, though, and I spent the $3,000 I had on merchandise from them.
Sound sort of crazy? It was! Here’s the thing: I didn’t have it all figured out when I started, but that was actually for the best. I didn’t really know what I was doing, so I didn’t know what mistakes I might be making and just went for it. I was optimistic and excited, and I didn’t think too hard about failing. I didn’t know as much as I do now, but I lived in the present and dealt with the challenges in front of me rather than ones I was anticipating.
Writing this now feels like low-key having an epiphany; like, I needed to answer this question not just for the readers, but for myself. Having that early fire is something I want to recapture in my life right now as I venture beyond Shop Jeen after starting it five years ago. I don’t want to over-plan and lack the confidence of my earlier self. I don’t want to feel afraid of starting something new. I don’t want to spend too much time trying to think about what we should be doing and not enough time actually DOING. I didn’t know what I was doing when I started Shop Jeen, and I don’t know what I’m doing now. But that’s a beautiful thing; there is a massive opportunity in uncertainty. The important thing is to follow your instincts and take the risks that you know mean something to you. The hard work has to be put in, but the results will follow if you’re doing what you know is your passion.