Ever dreamed of designing your own footwear? Twin sisters Emily and Jessica Leung did exactly that. After finding a disconcertingly low number of brands that sell high-quality, fashionable, and comfortable shoes, the ladies decided to make their own. Easier said than done though — both Emily and Jessica certainly had to hurdle many obstacles to reach the success they have now.
Chasing the Dream
Born in L.A.’s Northridge suburb and raised in Los Altos, the sisters started the company in 2009 with little experience and knowledge of the fashion industry. On a usual night of partying it up in Los Angeles, Emily and Jessica were talking with other girlfriends about how unfortunate it was that women had to wear incredibly uncomfortable heels while dancing the night away. Fast forward through three weddings in six-month, passing out from in a pair of gold Christian Louboutin 4-inch platforms, and a company was formed.
Facing a Challenge
Only three years after the successful launch of their company, in 2012, Jessica was diagnosed with Stage 4 nasopharyngeal carcinoma, a rare type of head and neck cancer, and was given a zero percent chance of survival. Jessica had to move to Hong Kong for treatments and to continue her recovery for nearly a year, leaving Emily to handle the entire company by herself. The twins had faith that everything would work out.
Jessica’s beat her illness but it also served as a calling, a calling for them to start giving back. As a way of doing just that, the twins now donate $8 from every pair of shoes sold to various causes, including anti-bullying education, marine-life conservation, and rare-cancer research.
Creating Something New
The brand’s mission for customer service can be summed up in three phrases: Once-in-a-lifetime, one-of-a-kind, and one-of-a-kindness. They promise to make customers’ special moments last longer and withstand the test of time; to remind everyone that they are beautiful inside and out; to spread love and kindness, as every pair supports a worthy humanitarian cause.
The Leung Twins have since been named WWD/Footwear News Ones to Watch, Entrepreneur Magazine’s Sibling Dream Teams, and Forbes Magazine’s Glampreneurs since they started their family business.
The Lenung Twins confessed that they had to make a lot of their business as they went along. However, what they didn’t make up were the lessons learned from growing up in a family business.
Can you tell us about your parent’s family business?
Our parents were serial entrepreneurs who even had a donut shop and ocean oil clean up product, but the main one for the last 25 years real estate development business that both our brother Kenny and Emily worked for a period of time
Did either of you or both of you work in the family business? If so, what was your first job? Were you paid?
Jessica’s first job was selling shoes at Macy’s for $8/hr, it was self-motivated just to have some spending money. Emily’s first job was as a bank teller because it was easy during a college summer and you get Sundays off. Unfortunately then Sundays might have to help with open houses haha. Working for the parents at this time would be a “non-paid assistant” endeavor, because you just should as a good daughter. If they needed help with open houses or especially cleaning or setting up technology. Only until after college were Emily and our brother Kenny on the payroll, still pretty minimum and as Emily says more “like an indentured servant.” It’s subconsciously understood that profits go back into the business and that we all get taken care of in general.
How did growing up in a family business shape your childhood? Do you have a favorite story, family ritual or celebration that you can share with us?
You see first hand how hard your family works for you, so you can grow up having opportunities and privileges they never had like having college paid for. Our dad worked three jobs including as a janitor while getting a Masters. Our dad’s immigrant student journey in particular stick with us. Our grandma making and saving money all herself so our dad could come to college in America, only to lose it in the stock market two weeks before he was suppose to come. And then have to swallow her pride and ask for help to raise the money. Our grandma was the original entrepreneur selling her own street foods etc, we all do the little things to make it work.
When you’re younger too, you hang out at the office if there aren’t babysitters. You start helping when you can as you get older. We don’t remember much, just eating a lot of donuts and bubblegum ice cream that one year of the donut business. We saw the all the ups and downs of businesses, including embezzlement from employees of that dang donut business, to the incredible properties they built from bottom up with houses. They truly built something tangible and sustainable out of very little.
Our parents never celebrated much, except to always treat their employees to Christmas dinner. When Emily worked with them, national holidays were normal workdays for them. So normal were non-holiday work days, that when found her parents leisurely having breakfast on a random Wednesday, she was confounded. Her parents had taken a day off for Chinese New Year, apparently the only holiday they allow themselves to have.
Did you ever consider going into the family business? Can you describe your parents’ attitude about you entering the family business as compared to your brother entering the business?
Both Emily and Kenny considered it as a stepping stone to gain experience until you figure out what you really want to do (better than being a “lazy” no-job person to our parents. Jessica lived in a different city so didn’t even have to consider it. Our brother felt like it was more of a DUTY and there was definitely some resentment later one because of this. Emily was more she fell into it because she was there and it was an easy transition than figuring out more of a life purpose at some other job. The parents were hopeful for both to be more permanent but somewhat more understanding than others may be when you try to build your own dreams.
Our parents always of course hoped somebody would take over, and now they’re looking more toward our cousins if they wanted to continue it. As more conservative entrepreneurs they did encourage us starting our own businesses like they had, but more traditionally in fields that we’ve already worked in. NEVER would they really have encouraged starting a comfortable heel business, but they came around 6 months later and said to try when young.
Can you tell us about your mother’s role in starting your business?
Our mother came in later on as we researched manufacturers in China, serving as advisor and interpreter for dealing and negotiating in Chinese culture, but growing up we learned a lot of starting a business through our parents. Experience trumps business school every time. She was also integral in finding our first factory through 7 degrees of separation. Our first factory connection was her elementary school friend’s second cousin who knew somebody who knew somebody who made the undersoles of shoes. As we grew, she was like the third little lady of Hey Lady, just offering support through all the hard times. We’ll never forget when we first started out, at a tradeshow we had male competitors behaving badly and trying to redirect traffic away from our booth. She said, the “the classiest lady always wins in the end.” We’ll never get drawn into or engage in drama or competition with that in mind.
Can you describe your roles in Hey Lady? Are they similar to your roles growing up?
Growing up with siblings, people will always try to box you into categories but our mom always encouraged us to be more than just one thing. She didn’t like the stereotypes of Asians being known as “just good students” and encouraged us to be well-rounded. It helped in being successful entrepreneurs wearing different hats, which is necessary to truly start and grow something by yourself.
Our mom discouraged people from “labeling” all of us kids, like judging that one is the “whatever one” and that one is “always that one” etc. Maybe that’s why we make Shoes with beauty, brains, personality, and heart! We never thought about this before, thank you, amazing question.
Our roles were pretty unspoken, and organically developed without us even having a real discussion. Maybe Emily is CEO because she’s the “older sibling” by 3 minutes?? Jessica is the Creative Director always having a artistic elective classes perhaps??? Neither of our college majors would have predicted this path. Emily was pre-med and Jessica was Communications.
How much did growing up in a family business influence you to start your own family business?
100%. Although we never imagined we would be working together ever even in college. In high school we started our own re-purposing old frames and painting them as a just-for-fun side business, selling them to teachers etc. We did it with one of our friends since junior high. It’s easier to have business partners who you’ve already developed a rapport with and known for years.
Even now when we want to create elaborate lifesize DIY backdrops for weddings and family, we go to our dad for the construction. Building tangible things from a concept is a thing. Probably also because every time we would shop with our mom as kids, she would say “I could make that better and cheaper.” Also you learn follow through and persistence, which is essential. Most people give up right before the big break, and we understand that some things take time and it’s natural to go through seasons.
Can you tell us a little about www.lovetwintuitives.com
Even a few months ago, we never thought we would be starting a second sister business. Even though we are 3rd generation matchmakers (mom’s side) and go-to advice-givers, it has always been just a lifetime hobby. Going from comfy heel entrepreneurs to psychic matchmakers-soulmate mediums-spiritual heart healers- relationship repairers-manifesting makeovers OFFICIALLY was very surprisingly and unexpected even to us psychics. It developed out a post-#MeToo, middle-of-pandemic need for more love in the world.
As entrepreneurs, we are always trying to solve something or make something better, and helping people achieve their wishes was something that came naturally to us. Jessica began with reverse-engineering how she cured her terminal cancer, instead of only having a few months to live, all 5 cancers from nose to tailbone, shoulder to shoulder was gone! We knew there were more miracles to be had and wanted to find out HOW. We discovered that the root of all physical/mental/emotional/social/financial/relationship health is SPIRITUAL HEALTH. Now we help people look at all things Love & Healing & Manifesting through a spiritual lens in order to help people create their dream life. Everything is inter-connected, including your business and love life and family genetics. We had to work through a lot of generational healing to pave the way for professional success. We are coming full circle, starting in wedding shoes to now working with love in all its stages. We’ve always considered ourselves in the love business with our shoes- love your body, love yourself, love your journey. But now we really are in the love biz, funny how life writes itself.