Fighting stereotypes and shaping her own destiny
Not content to simply yield to archaic conventions, a former accountant-turned-housewife embraces her business acumen to set up her own shapewear company
Dong Chunling knows all too well the struggle against gender stereotypes and discrimination, having spent the past 10 years juggling the roles of a housewife and an entrepreneur who owns a company designing and manufacturing high-quality women’s shapewear in Changzhou, Jiangsu province.
Her emotional link to the industry can be traced back to her childhood when she would play with threads and sewing kits as her grandfather was a tailor.
“I grew up making handicrafts and clothes for my dolls and now I finally have the chance to follow my childhood dream to design clothes and create my own brand,” said the 37-year-old.
an accountant before quitting the job in 2006 to become a fulltime mother. It was a decision that she said was forced upon her by family members who believed that she should not be working but instead be devoting all her time to the family.
Stuck in her apartment and overwhelmed with boredom, Dong resorted to selling baby products online to kill time. This was when she noticed the booming shapewear market, largely driven by young mothers like her who were keen to look good and dress up in beautiful clothes. Dong excitedly pitched her business idea to her family but the response was still the same — stay home and be a responsible wife and mother.
“It was very tough to go against this traditional bias. The older generation seems to think that women only have two roles in life — a wife and a mother, and nothing else. I didn’t believe in that, so I chose to fight it,” said Dong.
One of her first steps was working with a supplier directly for her online shop. This helped her lower the costs and reduce the risks associated with having a brick and mortar store. Dong priced her shapewear products relatively low, with most of the pieces costing between 50
($7.65) to 60 yuan.
“I slept only three to four hours every day but it’s something I never regretted. I was so keen to fight against the prejudice,” said Dong.
After two years, Dong was receiving more than 2,000 yuan worth of orders every day.
Having successfully juggled her family responsibilities and her online business, Dong had proved to her family that she was indeed capable of managing her priorities. When her child started attending kindergarten, she was able to devote more time to her business and this was also the time when she decided to take her small enterprise a step further.
After establishing connections with various factories, Dong founded her own shapewear brand, Ziyanlier, in 2008, which was stocked in several shopping malls across Jiangsu province.
Again, she faced discrimination, only this time it wasn’t from her family members. Dong recalled how trade fairs would reject her application and how landlords would not lease a space to her as they believed she would not make any money.
“Many people don’t think that female entrepreneurs can be as good as their male counterparts. The men are always deemed more trustworthy and are doubted less,” said Dong.
But Dong never relented. She persevered with the help of a small sales team and proactively approached numerous manufacturers and retailers to promote her ideas and brand. By 2012, Ziyanlier was already a relatively well-known brand in the market that had an annual revenue of more than 3 million yuan.
In the same year, Dong launched Magic Violet, a high-end product line featuring expensive and customized shapewear targeted at wealthy customers. To ensure that Magic Violet products are of the highest quality and comfortable to wear, Dong’s design team utilizes high tech machinery as well as fabrics imported from Italian suppliers.
The new product range looks to have been a hit with the consumers as she managed to post a 200 percent growth in revenue in the past two years.
Dong’s goal now is to establish Ziyanlier as China’s leading shapewear brand within five years. She is also planning to turn Magic Violet into a global brand.
“I’ve noticed that as time passes, more people now are beginning to focus on the advantages of my products instead of my gender,” said Dong.
“I’ve never regretted becoming a businesswoman. After a decade of challenges, I am finally on track to achieving success now.”
It was very tough to go against this traditional bias. The older generation seems to think that women only have two roles in life — a wife and a mother, and nothing else. I didn’t believe in that, so I chose to fight it.”
37, owner of Ziyanlier shapewear
Shapewear company owner Dong Chunling is aiming for her brand to go global in the near future.