As one half of the online fashion enterprise Linjer, Jennifer Chong has taken the company from strength to strength in only four years of operations. Launched in 2014, the first Linjer creation was born as an answer to partner and co-founder Roman Khan’s personal need for a stylish leather bag without compromising on functionality, loud branding and outrageous price tags. The company later branched out into watches, with the focus remaining on clean, minimalist designs that fit within the ethos the company was founded on: that consumers needn’t trade quality for value.
Along with Khan, Chong has seen revenues of over US$10 million in the first three years of sales. How did she attain this? By looking beyond the traditional venture capital funding model for startups; instead, Linjer turned to online crowdfunding and social media marketing.
We spoke to the Forbes 30 Under 30 entrepreneur to pick her brain and find out how she achieved her success.
How did this all begin?
Linjer started with a personal need. My boyfriend and I both worked in corporate jobs, and he was looking for a briefcase for work. He wanted something that was well made and didn’t have a flashy logo or cost thousands of dollars. He searched for months in vain; it seemed like the only choices were fast fashion or luxury products that were extremely expensive. At one point, we thought to ourselves, why don’t we replicate the supply chains of the luxury brands, design our own products, and sell them at more accessible prices? We launched our first flagship product, The Soft Briefcase, on Indiegogo, and sold US $150,000 of preorders in a month. That money enabled us to start our first production.
What’s the story behind the name ‘Linjer’?
Linjer means “lines” in Norwegian, and it’s a reference to our clean design aesthetic. My partner comes from Norway so there is a Scandinavian connection there!
If you weren’t running Linjer, what would you be doing?
I’d probably be running another business! I have an entrepreneurial spirit and I’m always thinking about how things can be done better.
As a business owner, what are your biggest challenges?
Working capital is always a challenge, especially when your business is growing very quickly. It’s quite difficult to get a bank loan nowadays if you have a young company. We haven’t raised any external financing; we started with HK$150,000 of our savings and luckily, we got a nice jumpstart with our first Indiegogo [crowdfunding] campaign. But there are times when we’ve had to take some risks, cash-flow wise, to grow.
Which of the pieces from Linjer are your favourite?
We put so much heart into all our designs that it’s hard to choose! But I am always wearing my Classic Watch (Rose Gold/Tan, 34mm) and I always have an extra spring in my step when I carry the Tulip Bag in Natural/Yellow.
Where do you look for inspiration?
We draw a lot of inspiration from architecture, particularly during our stays in Europe. Our “Classic” and “Minimalist” watches were inspired by the Oslo Opera House, which has a gorgeous roof made of Carrara marble and striking, clean lines. The design for the Tulip Bag was heavily influenced by our time in Florence. It has a fun pop of colour and mixes a lovely, natural vacchetta leather with a fine linen lining. In Florence, there’s a deep appreciation of beauty which you can sense in the whole city. The experience inspired us to design a bag that was just a joy to look at.
What part of your work do you look forward to? Or dread?
It’s the most incredible feeling to see strangers wearing our products when we’re just walking around on the streets. We have made some friends out of conversations we’ve struck up with random customers!
I don’t enjoy doing expense reports, and I dread doing accounting…
You’ve built a successful business at such a young age. What advice would you give other aspiring entrepreneurs?
I think it’s crucial to surround yourself with other entrepreneurs and find mentors. There are so many intense ups and downs that come with running a business, and it’s really helpful to have advice and emotional support from people who have been through it before.
What’s next for Linjer?
We’re growing our team out here in Hong Kong and we’re always working on new products!