How Street Smarts Birthed Shop Jeen | MISSBISH Erin Yogasundram
From raiding sample sales and turning a profit on eBay, to realizing the power of social media before it was even a whisper on any large corporation's lips - Shop Jeen co-founder Erin Yogasundram knows a thing or two about staying one step ahead of the game.
Armed with an almost eery foresight for what's cool, Yogasundram's unapologetically quirky style has gained a cult-like following and incredible success at just 26 years old - but it hasn't always been easy. In our interview with this fierce BISH, she gets real about the challenges, lessons learned, and heavy personal impact being an entrepreneur has had on her life. Read on and be inspired.
How did Shop Jeen come about and what was the inspiration behind it?
I was a miserable minimum wage retail associate, working at three stores while enrolled full-time in college. I’ve never thrived in the classroom setting. When I was 10 years old, I started selling autographs on eBay. Then, when I was a freshman in high school, I started going to sample sales across NYC and hoarding stuff I knew I could flip on eBay.
In high school, I interned at Alexander Wang, Bottega Veneta, Vogue, Marie Claire and 3.1 Phillip Lim, where I retained information that helped me launch Shop Jeen. When I was fed up with working minimum wage and trying to survive school, I decided it was time to take my $3,000 in savings and start something for myself. I combined my hustle with my “passion for fashion” and Shop Jeen was born.
What drew you into e-commerce and merchandising? Do you have a formal education, or has everything been self-taught?
I either learned as I went along, researched, or sought out an opportunity in which I could learn what I needed to know (internships, retail jobs, etc.). I’ve always been into the re-selling game through my early eBay endeavors, so starting an “online retailer” was kind of a no-brainer. I had no idea how to produce my own stuff, so I utilized my talent for finding cool stuff that already existed, reached out the brands and pitched Shop Jeen as the next big online retailer destination, and got them to sell me their products at wholesale.
Social media and the internet played a huge role in your success. What are the positives and negatives of that?
Thank GOD for social media. We were super early to Instagram (in 2011, they only had 10 million users- now they have over 600 million), and at one point, every single photo we posted made the “popular page,” amassing 20k+ likes. This was pre-Instagram’s Facebook acquisition, when the “popular page” was truly that - the most popular photos according to some algorithm they developed.
I would like to say that we were doing “influencer marketing” before that was even a thing - I would sit in my dorm room and comment on cute girls' photos like “you’re so adorable, we’d love to send you stuff from our store! Email me!” We built organic relationships with these “influencers” who had a genuine interest in the product. They loved supporting the hustle. Rather than a 55-year-old VP of some big company, I was 21 years old and they saw me as their peer. I pride myself on building authentic relationships, and I’d like to say that we have kept it very authentic since day one.
Being the CEO of your own business must be really stressful, what do you do to keep your entrepreneurial spirit alive when you’re feeling down?
I struggle a lot internally, and have recently developed an anxiety disorder. I struggled with major depression through the second half of last year. I’m getting back into the swing of things and refocusing myself by taking care of the environment in which I live and work, exercising again, doing breathing exercises, and making sure that I’m staying social and keeping up with my hobbies. Sh*t gets rough, man. You just have to keep pushing!
Many big corporations try to appeal to millennials/gen Z by using memes, viral videos, etc. and completely fail. What are your thoughts on cringe-worthy ads and products aimed at the younger generation?
What has served us well has been being transparent and authentic - ALWAYS. The content we post is content that we genuinely like. The products we sell are products we would actually wear. Our customers see us as their friend - not as a company. That relationship cannot be manufactured by C-level executives at some big corporation.
You’ve mentioned that your next big project is to help give other young people tools to pursue their own business goals, which is awesome. How do you plan to do that?
I would definitely like to do more speaking engagements, write a book, start a podcast, write some e-books that can be purchased for like $4.99 on Amazon, etc. I am so happy to receive emails, tweets, and letters everyday exclaiming how inspiring we are. I’m so happy to be a source of inspiration and I’d like to continue to empower people to follow their own path, but it would make me feel better if I could share what I’ve learned from my experience - because it wasn’t pretty - and I’d love to be able to help prevent others from making some of the same mistakes I made.
“You have to put one foot in front of the other, no matter how hard it seems. Time machines and clones aren’t a thing (yet), so you have to be your own motivator!"
Shop Jeen temporarily shut down due to operational difficulties, but you guys made a comeback! Any advice for others going through difficulties while trying to pursue their ventures?
This probably sounds cliche, but just keep moving. You have to put one foot in front of the other, no matter how hard it seems. I am a pretty strong chick but we got hit with a whirlwind of unforeseen obstacles in early 2016. To be honest, I kind of shut down mentally. Where I think I f*cked up is I shut down out of shock and being so overwhelmed. I wish I could go back in time and have a clone of myself literally yanking me out of bed, pushing me out the door, opening my computer and making me type. Time machines and clones aren’t a thing (yet), so you have to be your own motivator!
You’re a huge WWE fan and have even made comparisons between WWE and your own brand. Can you tell us more about that?
The WWE has built the most impressive fan base, in my opinion. They’ve managed to sustain relevance over decades, and they are just in their prime now. It’s not easy to build a cult-like following. What they’ve done really well is evoke emotion - whether it's positive or negative, you FEEL something. They are a polarizing brand and I love that. I want to make people feel. You don’t have to like me, or Shop Jeen, but I’m glad you have an opinion about it. Vince McMahon, the CEO of the WWE, is my f*cking idol, man. Whenever I’m struggling with something, I think, “what would Vince do?”
What do you think makes your products unique from other internet-influenced brands? How do you keep things fresh and innovative?
I wish I had the secret sauce, but I think we are just the secret sauce. Amelia, my co-founder, and I have such a keen eye for trends. Not just subject to fashion, but overall youth culture trends. We don’t really look at something and say “oh, this is going to be a huge trend soon!”- we are true to what we want to see in our own closet and that resonates with our customers.
What are some hidden gems in LA?
TRASHY LINGERIE! I don't know if this is considered a hidden gem, but I definitely put my clueless friends on. They have all kinds of fishnets for $6, the best lingerie sets for $20-$30, and then a ton of custom-made lingerie. It’s cool because you have to pay $2/yr for a membership card to even go into the store.
What does MISSBISH mean to you?
MISSBISH gives women a platform to share and explore. I’m happy to be included in this community of amazing chicks doing awesome stuff!
Photos by: Christina Choi