News, Culture & Society

Showpo founder Jane Lu reveals how she built multi-million dollar empire from parents’ garage

When Jane Lu’s parents emigrated to Australia to give their daughter a better chance in life, they probably imagined her becoming a well-paid corporate executive – not the founder of a multi-million dollar fashion empire.

The only child of Chinese cleaners Queenie, 61, and Frank Lu, 67, fulfilled their wishes by training as an accountant, but soon felt stifled by the straight-laced rigidity of Sydney’s financial world.

‘I wasn’t enjoying it and because of that, I knew I wouldn’t be much good at it. I realised I didn’t want to be mediocre in a career that wasn’t for me,’ Jane, 34, told Daily Mail Australia.

When a friend suggested they start a business selling clothes from a pop-up stall in 2010, she quit her job, maxed out her credit card buying stock, and shoved it into the garage of her parents’ Balmain home.

Eleven years later, the mother-of-one is widely regarded as one of Australia’s most successful self-made businesswomen, whose knack for social media marketing created a clothing website that turned over a reported $85million (AUD) in 2019 alone.

When Jane Lu’s parents emigrated to Australia to give their daughter a better chance in life, they probably imagined her becoming a well-paid corporate executive – not the founder of a multi-million dollar clothing empire. She is pictured at Sydney Fashion Week in 2021. 

When a friend suggested they start a business selling clothes from a pop-up stall in 2010, Jane (pictured in 2010) quit her cadetship, maxed out her credit card buying stock, and shoved it into the garage of her parents' Balmain home

When a friend suggested they start a business selling clothes from a pop-up stall in 2010, Jane (pictured in 2010) quit her cadetship, maxed out her credit card buying stock, and shoved it into the garage of her parents’ Balmain home

Her success is incredible, but in the early days Jane was so crippled by low self-confidence and the fear of failure that she couldn’t bring herself to tell her parents about her new venture.

She spent six months pretending to work at her accounting firm while she spruiked the latest trends from stalls in Bondi bars and the Arthouse Hotel in the CBD.

‘I still don’t know if they were just turning a blind eye or if they really didn’t know,’ she said.

‘I had a lot of guilt after everything they’d done for me. I’d given up a good corporate job to sell stuff online, which was just totally alien to them.’

In November 2010, the duo opened a permanent store in Broadway under the brand name ‘Showpony’, which eventually morphed into ‘Showpo’ after dropping the ‘ny’ to avoid trademark disputes in the US. 

The Broadway outlet was followed by a kiosk in the middle of the CBD Westfield shopping centre, which proved to be a ‘big money maker’.

But months later, just as things were looking up, Jane was devastated when her business partner announced she had found a full-time job that offered more security than their fledgling operation.

Despite her lack of experience, she had a sense that the future of fashion lay less in bricks and mortar, and more online.

‘We were wasting time on stacks of clothes rails, putting them up and taking them down – it was a lot of tedious manual work,’ she recalled. ‘If the business model doesn’t work, no amount of passion works.’

Jane's parents Queenie and Frank (right) worked as cleaners to give their daughter the opportunities they never had

Jane’s parents Queenie and Frank (right) worked as cleaners to give their daughter the opportunities they never had

Her success is incredible, but in the early days Jane (pictured) was so crippled by low self-confidence and the fear of failure that she couldn't bring herself to tell her parents about her new venture

For six months she pretended to work at her accounting firm while spruiking the latest trends from stalls in Bondi bars and the Arthouse Hotel in the CBD

Her success is incredible, but in the early days Jane (left and right) was so crippled by low self-confidence and the fear of failure that she couldn’t bring herself to tell her parents about her new venture

Jane's advice for aspiring entrepreneurs is to remain 'authentic' and use social media to tell the story behind your brand in a fun, honest way

Jane’s advice for aspiring entrepreneurs is to remain ‘authentic’ and use social media to tell the story behind your brand in a fun, honest way

Frightened but determined, she set about snapping thousands of photos of the clothes still left in the garage and uploaded them to a website, which would be named Australian Online Retailer of the Year seven years later.

‘The online fashion thing was only starting out but it was quickly getting bigger,’ she said.

‘At the time it just seemed like a really low risk way of doing things. I didn’t have the confidence to go it alone in person, so this way I could hide behind the website.’

But sales were slow, ‘maybe one or two a day’, and after six months a deflated Jane began to feel she had made a grave mistake before inspiration came from the most unlikely of places.

‘I was at a point where I wasn’t going to get any more pity purchases from friends,’ she said.

‘I was feeling really low. One night I was lying on the couch watching America’s Next Top Model and there was a segment where you could vote for you favourite girl. I thought, “this is an easy way to get a lot of reach”.’

Today, Jane (pictured in 2020) is widely regarded as one of Australia's most successful self-made businesswomen

 Today, Jane (pictured in 2020) is widely regarded as one of Australia’s most successful self-made businesswomen

The original Showpony store in Broadway, Sydney, in 2011

The original Showpony store in Broadway, Sydney, in 2011

That lightbulb moment led Jane to launch a ‘Face of Showpo’ contest on Facebook, where young women would enter and ask their friends to vote for them by visiting the brand’s official page. 

In the space of one month, Showpo shot from 3,000 to 20,000 followers at a time when few e-commerce businesses audiences that size. 

‘It had this amazing ripple effect and it made me realise how powerful social media was,’ Jane said.

‘To get that kind of foot traffic, you’d have to open two new stores. it made me really double down on the online thing and I guess that’s how it became my competitive advantage.’

Today, Showpo has a fan base of 1.8 million followers on Instagram, 1.3 million on Facebook and 95,700 on its newly launched TikTok. 

By 2012, Jane had moved out of her parents’ garage and into a warehouse where she focused on sourcing a wider range of styles in a broader size offering. Showpo was one of the first Australian clothing websites to stock sizes four to 20.

She believes the commitment to diversity and inclusivity set her brand apart from others on the market, and is one of the reasons it has seen such remarkable growth.

‘We’ve always tried to sell clothes that are sexy in all sizes. We’re still really proud of that,’ she added.  

The savvy businesswoman realised the power of social media after running a contest which secured 17,000 new Facebook followers in the space of a month

The savvy businesswoman realised the power of social media after running a contest which secured 17,000 new Facebook followers in the space of a month

Jane met her future husband and business partner James Waldie (left) on an exchange trip to Sweden in 2008

Jane met her future husband and business partner James Waldie (left) on an exchange trip to Sweden in 2008; they welcomed their first child, a son named Lachie, in 2020

Reflecting on her trajectory over the past 10 years, Jane remembered her first ‘pinch me’ moment which came as she stood in a warehouse surrounded by half a million dollars worth of stock.

‘I just thought, wow – even if this goes wrong I can just sell it all and start again,’ she said.

Another landmark memory is the opening of Showpo’s Sydney headquarters, a lavish ‘office’ complete with luxurious day beds, a tap that spouted rosé wine and an outdoor basketball court where staff let off steam at lunch. 

A dispute with the landlord over rent increases in the midst of the pandemic forced Jane and her team to farewell their beloved HQ and move into a temporary space, but they’re now on the hunt for an even better location.

‘I’m looking at places with huge rooftops, I think that would be so cool,’ she said.

‘It’s important for me to provide a space that’s fun, that people are happy to go to. Work is where we spend most of our active hours, it shouldn’t be boring.’

Another landmark memory is the opening of Showpo's Sydney headquarters (pictured), a lavish 'office' complete with luxurious day beds, a tap that spouted rosé wine and an outdoor basketball court where staff let off steam at lunch

Another landmark memory is the opening of Showpo’s Sydney headquarters (pictured), a lavish ‘office’ complete with luxurious day beds, a tap that spouted rosé wine and an outdoor basketball court where staff let off steam at lunch

While she declined to give Daily Mail Australia current details of her company’s revenue, the entrepreneur is otherwise candid about her rise to the top.

In a recent TikTok video, Jane revealed she was so ‘broke’ starting out that she relied on free Facebook marketing and ‘maxed’ out her credit card to buy stock. She claimed she has never had a business plan.

Her down-to-earth persona endears her to fans, with many calling her an ‘inspiration’ and a role model for young women from immigrant backgrounds.

‘I definitely felt I had something to prove. I had such big expectations to live up to, you feel like your parents have gone through so much hardship to give you this opportunity,’ she said.

No stranger to online hate, Jane has been forced to defend herself against trolls who claim she is bankrolled by her ‘wealthy’ family.

Jane's down-to-earth persona endears her to fans, with many calling her an 'inspiration' and a role model for young women from immigrant backgrounds. She is seen here with her husband and baby boy.

Showpo recently became the official sponsor for Love Island Australia - a 'pinch me' moment for reality TV addict  Jane

Jane’s down-to-earth persona endears her to fans, with many calling her an ‘inspiration’ and a role model for young women from immigrant backgrounds

Jane cradles son Lachie at her warehouse in Sydney in 2020, 10 years after starting the business from her parents' garage

Jane cradles son Lachie at her warehouse in Sydney in 2020, 10 years after starting the business from her parents’ garage

In July, she slammed an anonymous TikToker for saying she is a ‘college privileged girl eating on [her] family’s cash’ after she posted a clip of herself and a friend eating at upscale Parisian eatery, Restaurant le Meurice Alain Ducasse, where dinner costs $600 a head.

The CEO rubbished accusations that she relies on family riches, saying she grew up ‘poor’ and ‘worked really hard’ to be where she is today.

Jane is the first to admit that her story could been very different if she had started her business any later.

Showpo burst onto the online fashion scene when social media was still in its infancy, launching the same year as Instagram and six years before TikTok. These days, the once untapped market is bursting at the seams. 

In the US alone, the e-commerce fashion industry accounted for 29.5 per cent of fashion retail sales in 2020 and is projected to be worth $100 billion by the end of 2021.

Jane advises aspiring entrepreneurs to remain 'authentic' and use social media to tell the story behind your brand in a fun, honest way

Jane advises aspiring entrepreneurs to remain ‘authentic’ and use social media to tell the story behind your brand in a fun, honest way

Jane’s advice is to remain ‘authentic’ and use social media to tell the story behind your brand in a fun, honest way.

‘Keep evolving, always, and try to stay true to what people loved you for in the beginning,’ she said.  

‘It’s really important to focus on visual storytelling, whether that’s on TikTok or Instagram. Find a way to get people to save your posts, it means they’re more likely to come back to the page.’

Alongside her ‘rags to riches’ rise to fortune, Jane has enjoyed a fairytale romance with the man who has been her constant through the thrills and spills of the past 10 years.

James Waldie came into her life on an exchange trip to Sweden in 2008 and the pair have been inseparable ever since.

Jane tied the knot with her CFO James Waldie in October 2019 surrounded by close friends and family in a lavish ceremony at Sergeants' Mess in Mosman, Sydney

Jane tied the knot with her CFO James Waldie in October 2019 surrounded by close friends and family in a lavish ceremony at Sergeants’ Mess in Mosman, Sydney

He got down on one knee during a romantic gondola ride in Queensland in 2018, the same year he was made CFO of Showpo, and the couple married one year later surrounded by close friends and family in a lavish ceremony at Sergeants’ Mess in Mosman, Sydney, in October 2019.

Jane wore a $299.95 wedding gown from Showpo’s bridal collection and dressed her bridesmaids in various shades of pink from her own design racks. 

The newlyweds welcomed their first child, a son named Lachie, less than one year later in August 2020.

Jane is careful to devote the same commitment to her marriage that she gives to her business.

‘I’m conscious to ensure I have a balance,’ she said. 

‘We enjoy watching TV and going out so much that it’s easy to switch off. Plus we have our hands full with a one-year-old!’

Jane (centre) wore a $299.95 wedding gown from Showpo's bridal collection and dressed her bridesmaids in various shades of pink from her own design racks

Jane (centre) wore a $299.95 wedding gown from Showpo’s bridal collection and dressed her bridesmaids in various shades of pink from her own design racks

Jane’s love of reality shows (she says she is ‘addicted’ to Beauty and the Geek and the Bachelor) became a lucrative collaboration when Showpo won the contract to become the official sponsor of Love Island Australia, one of the world’s biggest reality TV franchises.

‘I love it so much, before the business I thought I wanted to be a reality TV producer, so it aligns really well,’ she said.

Once lockdown is lifted in Sydney, there are big plans for the business, with multiple new product ranges in the works and an ‘exciting’ launch from Showpo’s own-brand slated for December. 

On the face of it, Jane Lu is a perfect embodiment of the modern woman who ‘has it all’.

But despite her laundry list of achievements, she insists she is still plagued by imposter syndrome.  

‘I think the bigger you get, the bigger its gets,’ she said.

‘You need to be able to stop pushing the goal posts every time you reach one. You’ve got to tell yourself not to overthink it. That’s what I tell myself everyday – stop thinking!’

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk