With a Touch of Style
Smashing gender stereotypes, traveling the world and inspiring confidence in women are things Richardson native Carol Chen does on a regular basis—and she’s not planning on stopping anytime soon. Chen is only in her 30s, but she is already running her own company based in Singapore and is equally passionate about (and successful in) the business and fashion worlds. We caught up with Chen to find out how this hometown girl is enjoying life as a global entrepreneur.
Chen is the founder of Covetella, a website that allows women to rent out their own designer dresses to other women in Singapore. “Growing up in Texas, I was taught that dressing up and making an effort is a sign of respect,” said Chen. “But then I realized there were a lack of good options in the city. High-quality clothes were very expensive and affordable ones were very generic. With social media nowadays, I also realized that women hate wearing the same thing twice. So I decided to build a website to offer my own designer dresses for rent, and it just grew from there.”
It works like this: women who want to make a little extra money can list their dresses on covetella.com, either keeping the gowns in their own closets or letting Covetella store them in their warehouse. Then when a woman has a social function or formal event, she can choose which dress she wants to rent by browsing the options online. For a more personal experience, the woman can make a styling appointment where she can try things on in the warehouse and a styling expert can help her choose the right dress. Once she makes her choice, Covetella will have it dry-cleaned and delivered for an affordable price. This allows women of all income levels to feel like a princess for a day.
“Anyone can buy a bunch of dresses and rent them out, but it’s the entire experience that differentiates Covetella’s offering,” explained Chen. “Many women want fashion advice or they don’t know what looks good on them, so I felt it was important to add in the styling aspect. With online shopping becoming more pervasive, I also think people appreciate some degree of personalization when shopping for an event.”
A background in fashion design has proven extremely helpful to Chen, as she still designs some dresses in Covetella’s collection. After she graduated from J. J. Pearce High School in 2000, she moved to New York and graduated with a degree in psychology and economics from Barnard College in 2004. Later, she completed a business program at Stanford. She then decided to merge her interest in business with her love of fashion and earned a degree in fashion design from the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in San Francisco.
While in San Francisco, Chen started modeling and, in 2006, became the first Asian-American to win the Miss San Francisco crown in the pageant’s 60-year history. “My experience competing in beauty pageants was very instrumental in learning to love myself,” she said. “Here you had some of the most impressive women in America, one smarter, more talented and more beautiful than the other, so your only choice was to shine only as you can. Consequently, you learn to accept the fact that there will always be someone better than you in some way, but that no one will ever be better than you at being yourself.”
Other accomplishments in Chen’s life include being a finalist on Start-Up, a reality pitch competition show on Channel NewsAsia, being selected as a delegate to attend the Global Entrepreneurship Summit with former President Barack Obama and winning gold at the Marketing Events Awards. Her future goals include growing Covetella and eventually expanding to other markets.
Part of Chen’s love of running a business came from her father’s influence. She was born in Colorado to Taiwanese immigrants, Charlie and Pauline Chen. Her father is the CEO of DFW Technology, a Richardson-based corporate IT service provider company and was the 2015 chairman of the Richardson Chamber of Commerce.
“My parents are my ultimate role models, and I am so grateful to have had their unconditional love and support throughout all my endeavors,” Chen said. “If it wasn’t for them, I don’t think I would’ve had the courage to try and fail so many times. I’m really lucky to have them as a constant source of wisdom and guidance in business and life.”
Her parents have supported her dreams more than once, since Covetella is actually Chen’s fourth startup. She had her own fashion line called C.C. Couture that was sold in 300 stores around the U.S. Afterward, she co-founded a company making cheerleading uniforms based in China, before co-founding a mixed martial arts company in Hong Kong and Taiwan. After those companies did not work out, she launched Covetella on her own two years ago.
Although the gorgeous gowns are always glamorous, Chen’s job does have its downsides. The hardest thing for her is to continue to believe in herself and stay motivated when times are tough. At the end of the day, the benefits are great. “Getting to play fairy godmother to thousands of women and help make their sartorial dreams come true is my favorite part of my job,” said Chen.
One secret behind Chen’s success? She loves her job and the way fashion makes her feel. “My parents like to joke that I’m just a boy trapped in a girl’s body; so although I love to dress up in fancy gowns all the time, my personality is more like a tomboy than a princess,” Chen said. “When I was young, I was very shy, but putting on a pretty dress always helped me boost my confidence. As a result, I wanted to empower other women to feel good by looking good. It’s been very rewarding to be able to do that as my job. I come from a family of entrepreneurs, which has always inspired me to be one myself. Although it hasn’t been easy, I wouldn’t want it any other way.”
With a beautiful gown packed in one bag and a notebook ready to jot down business ideas in another, Chen is always ready to tackle the next challenge. We can’t wait to see what this multi-talented woman will do next.