[SPONSORED] What makes a veteran computer science guy walk away from a six-figure tech salary to start a fashion jewelry company? One, true love (Shawn Li wanted to start a company with his wife Jenny, the creative yin to his analytical yang). Two, he loves a challenge, especially an entrepreneurial one. And three, he actually does have a knack for fashion, as his quirky style and colorful 50-pair eyewear collection would attest.
Shawn & Jenny Li found their state of Zen—hence the name Zenzii—by turning their love of business and fashion into a lifelong passion.
Shawn and Jenny Li’s shared vision is paying off, both professionally and personally. The two have struck an impressive work/life balance and the Atlanta-based company is growing by leaps and bounds. Zenzii just opened its first showroom in New York City—a bright, airy space at 366 Fifth Avenue—just in time for August market. That move followed last year’s debut of Zenzii’s Dallas showroom and corporate move in Atlanta to 45,000 square feet of new office and warehouse space.
“2016 is bright,” says Shawn. “We are moving upward and are looking forward to this year’s growth.” Such enthusiasm underscores the couple’s drive and entrepreneurial spirit, which is actually the byproduct of their respective backgrounds.
Shawn grew up in an entrepreneurial family in China that planted the seed for the next chapter in his life. In the early 1980s, during China’s Reform Movement, Shawn’s father was part of the first group of entrepreneurs to develop new manufacturing standards and practices. “Within a few years, my father owned several factories that employed over 500 employees. With my very progressive minded father, who took chances early on in a very closed society, I saw how leadership, teamwork and respect were key parts of building a strong business.”
Simultaneously, Jenny was building her creative spirit as a child in China (the two would not meet until university in the United States years later). “As a little girl, Jenny was always stylish in a world of uniformity,” says Shawn. “She would recreate her clothing, style them in a fashion that was different than the other children. In the mid 1980s, when the first sewing machines were available to consumers in China, she figured out the machine and started making clothing, redesigning clothing and making her statement. This is why today, Jenny is the creative vision behind Zenzii.”
THE ZENZII ADVANTAGE
Zenzii has major financial interests in all its overseas factories, giving it more control of the process. “It’s very normal for jewelry brands to purchase completed designs or have influence on a design but not to have ownership in the manufacturing process,” says Shawn. “We chose to look at our business differently. We wanted to take control of supply chain management—quality, costs, production—and also ensure the ethical treatment of workers.”
With such ownership interests, Zenzii injects its philosophy into all aspects of the brand. “When it comes to the end product, we have the opportunity to be nimble, make production changes, updates or customize for our specific needs,” says Shawn. “The team is just as important as the product.”
More opportunity for control helps aid stores in key pricing and high quality, too. “When we design our pieces, we keep the U.S. and European marketplaces in mind. With best materials for fashion jewelry being utilized and special attention paid to the small details—product, team, customer—nothing is a short-term focus. Zenzii is about long-term, quality of product, partnership.”
Zenzii prides itself on having a sales team with high integrity, and the company uses a unique approach to make this happen. Uniquely, the sales team is not incentivized by sales volume but rather by a “strong salary,” which Shawn believes helps them give the most honest advice to retailers.
“Integrity is key for us. We take a holistic approach to our customer’s needs and look at what is best for the relationship. We call it Zenzii DNA. We want to be here in 100 years and the fundamental way to do this is through respect, strength in character, and the best quality fashion-forward product available.”
A ZENZII STYLE
When it comes to styling, Zenzii jewelry doesn’t have one single aesthetic, but rather focuses on making women happy. “As a company we look to cultivate a core competency: happiness,” says Shawn. “How do we generate happiness? Positive energy!”
Zenzii states that its niche is less on each individual category or trend, and more on overall product. “The Zenzii woman is a stylish, fashionable career woman who wants high-quality fashion accessories but wants to make a bold statement with style (our pieces inspire the woman to express her own unique style).”
That said, one of Zenzii’s signatures is its bold, bright statement pieces with vibrant color. This idea started with Zenzii’s resin collections, which are continually updated each season. From large resin links to Chinese-inspired character pendants, these lightweight pieces add lots of pop without heavy weight.
As an extension of its signature resin jewelry, Zenzii branched out out into resin clutches made at the same factory as the jewelry. “With the unique partnership we have with our factories (ownership) we try new and different items,” says Shawn. “The design and color is incredibly vibrant and unique.”
Zenzii might be known for its bold styles, but it recently added lots of delicate, look-of-real jewelry as per the growing trend.
“We are staying ahead of the trend but in true Zenzii style. In the last several seasons, we have layered in more pieces to bring it to where it is today. It’s not about a petite or delicate piece, it’s about putting our spin on it. The Zenzii woman wants a bold statement from us so layering multiple delicate pieces gives her that modern twist.”
Such delicate additions widen the Zenzii brand, both with existing and new customers. “We are able to touch a new customer and they get to know the quality of our jewelry,” says Shawn. “Our current stores are excited to have a new fashionable option for their clientele. We are building a brand and it is right on target when our boutiques tell us their customers are coming into the stores asking what is new with Zenzii?”
Zenzii’s retail price points start at $20 and go up to $150. Retails: earrings ($20-$60); bracelets ($25-$80); rings $25-$60); necklaces ($30-$150).
To add yet another layer of options, Zenzii recently launched a new luxury high-end fashion line. The Hand-Made line features hand-made pieces with leather backing, 18-20kt gold overlay (with up to three layers of plating on top of the base metal), and natural or semiprecious stones and high quality crystals. Retails are higher: earrings ($50-$150); bracelets ($75-$200); necklaces ($100-$300).
Zenzii goes out of its way to train customers on other aspects of the business—from running a boutique to styling the end consumer—all in the interest of education. “Our goal is renovating how fashion jewelry has been sold, creating long-term relationships with our customers and providing them with a product that meets their needs in style, quality and price,” says Shawn. “Our sales team is educated in the ownership process so that they can understand the boutique business. With this education, they can understand the customer’s needs.”
Another unique aspect for Zenzii is that it employs a fashion stylist. “Kam is a leading stylist in Atlanta who works with individual clients on a daily basis,” explains Shawn. “She is extremely talented and knows what real women love, want and need. She brings us that unique perspective.”
Having ownership in factories also helps Zenzii stay ahead of the technology trend. “Great new innovations in other consumer goods can help change how we approach things from both a manufacturing process to influencing the ultimate product,” says Shawn. “The newest technology in jewelry influences how or what we can manufacture (which can ultimately dictate a new trend). Currently a new approach is the 3D printer—how will we interpret this in a fashionable execution?”
AUGUST MARKET TRENDS
In fashion jewelry, there are always so many trends happening at once, and they turn over very quickly too.
For August market, Zenzii is focusing on these four collections: Resin (especially color); Hand-Made (the new division of beaded jewelry backed by leather); Colored/Painted Metal (a way to show bold color in a non-traditional way) and Silver (equally strong whether rhodium or stainless steel).
Metals have always been key for Zenzii and the company uses a factory in Korea that creates a unique high-quality finish. “Our metals are incredible,” says Shawn. “One of our favorite new categories is the Colored/Painted Metal pieces. These heavyweight chains are triple dipped and show bold color in a bright new way, which is attracting a new customer—but more importantly, appealing to our core customer too.”
Despite the side category of clutches, Shawn notes no plans to add new accessories in the next 18 months. “We will continue to grow the three main categories of earrings, bracelets and necklaces. But, looking at trends, style and technology…new items can show up in future seasons!”
Right now, Zenzii’s business falls into three different categories. Boutique accounts, independent small business owners that can have up to five stores, are the core of the business and these accounts are a strong comp store focus to ensure their customer is always looking for new styles, notes Shawn. Zenzii also uses trade shows (like its huge booth format at AccessoriesTheShow that graces both sides of the aisle) to demonstrate to boutique retailers how to merchandise their stores, and how to layer, mix and match.
Key accounts of all sizes, both domestic and international, make up the rest, and the New York showroom will help Zenzii grow this business. “Our New York showroom is the location for this customer,” says Shawn. “It is set up and designed differently than our trade shows or other showrooms. In the New York showroom, the merchandising is more collection based.”
Currently, the boutique store business is the main driver of our business with key accounts and private label continuing to grow, notes Shawn. “From a category standpoint, we are focused on growing the key accounts and private label but are always focused on the growth of our boutique accounts.”
True to its name Zenzii, which is derived from the word Zen, meaning happiness and balance, it’s clear that Shawn and Jenny Li have it all. www.zenzii.com