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Audrey’s One to Watch | Jenny Bui & Elaine Dinh Truong of Antoinette’s Boutique
  • by Audrey Archives
  • May 28, 2013
Elaine-Truong-left-and-Jenny-Buiright-525x350
Elaine Truong (left) and Jenny Bui(right) | photo provided by Calvin Eusebio

Meet Jenny and Elaine: together they own Antoinette’s Boutique, an online and non-profit store of handmade, vintage jewelry.  The Boutique that’s only about a year old is divided into three sections: “handmade,” “vintage,” and “global.” These jewelries are either handmade by Jenny and Elaine themselves, made and sold by other local boutiques or online stores, such as Etsy, or they come from third world countries, which are made by the women there. Despite the fact that the idea of the company was created a year ago, they have created: partnerships with non-profit organizations and other similar jewelry stores, an up-to-date website that channels their vision of French chic-ness, and have already been mention in established publications such as, Teen Vogue, Seventeen magazine, and Pasadena Star News. Oh, and did we mention that they’re only sixteen and eighteen-years-old?

Continue reading for the full interview and for more pictures!

Jenny, sixteen-years-old, is currently a junior at San Gabriel High School; while Elaine is eighteen-years-old and an up and coming sophomore at UC Irvine. Their Journalism class back at San Gabriel High School is where Antoinette’s Boutique all began. At the time, the year of 2011, Jenny was just a “young and crazy freshman” and Elaine was the “preppy” senior writing for the high school’s online newspaper’s fashion blog. They instantly became best friends and discovering they share a passion for vintage styled and preppy fashion, talks of starting their own boutique came about. While most dreams talked and held by young adolescents are far from being successfully achieved, Antoinette’s Boutique was up and running by that same year.

As young as they are, we were pleasantly surprised to hear them talk about their business with such maturity and savvy. Using with what resources they had: the Internet and friends who had skills in specific areas, such as graphic and photography, they made their dreams come to life. Their friends were and are also there for suggestions and feedback on the directions Antoinette’s Boutique should be heading towards. After all, as they stated themselves, “they’re basically part of [their] customers, they’re basically bringing in [they’re] business, so [they] should listen to what they like [and] their interests to incorporate into [theirs].” Keeping in mind that they still attend school; you must be wondering how they manage to get good grades, stay active in extracurricular activities, run their social lives, and run a business. To answer the question, they claimed that they were very good at managing their times – and their success definitely have proven that. Using Antoinette’s Boutique as a “break from their hectic lives,” they work hard on discussing future plans, future partnerships, and jewelry designing and making during the holidays. Their humbling business venture doesn’t stop there, however. 100% of the revenue that are made from the jewelry, handcrafted by disadvantaged women, goes right back to them.

Being feminists, both Jenny and Elaine have great sympathy for women who earn less than $2.00 a day and who take up jewelry making as a hobby. With Antoinette’s Boutique, these women have an opportunity to add more to their income. Not only do they reach these women that live thousands of miles away, they have never forgotten the people living close by.

Seeing joining communities as a significant value, they partner up with local shops and online companies such as, Etsy. They have also created ties with an independent jewelry company Violet Bella. When asked what future plans they had for Antoinette’s Boutique, they both said that they hope to collaborate with more local shops, non-profit organizations, and entrepreneurs like themselves.

By the rate that their going, we don’t doubt that they’ll fulfill their dreams of having more partners and growing enough to establish their own offices and headquarters. As they said themselves, businesses that are driven by passion and skills will succeed, their ardor for fashion and people will keep Antoinette’s Boutique around for a while.

AM: Can you guys each introduce yourselves, where you’re from, and what you do for our readers who aren’t familiar with both of you?
E: My name is Elaine. I’m 18 years old and I go to UC Irvine and I’m a Material Science major. I started Antoinette’s Boutique with Jenny. We met in Journalism class and we always talked about starting a boutique on our own, selling things of our own style we couldn’t find in stores, and that’s pretty much how we got started.
J: My name is Jenny and I’m 16 years old. I go to San Gabriel High School and I’m currently a junior. We both met in Journalism [class] and because I have a really great interest in fashion.  I write for the fashion blog for the Matador Newspaper, and so that’s why I got into this interesting little thing with Elaine.
E: After time in high school I was also really involved with non-profit work – especially with Do Something. Do Something is a non-profit organization, and I was really involved with them. Since non-profit work pretty much was what my high school life revolved around, I decided to combine it with fashion as well.

AM: How does it feel to be entrepreneurs at a young age? Explain how this all began. How did this idea come about? What is the back story behind the name?
J: About the entrepreneur part – I don’t know I don’t feel any different. It’s just what we wanted to do and what we like doing so…yeah, I mean it’s fun. It gives you a sense of like, “oh we’re the only ones who happens to be one of the very few people who are able to do this, who are able to do what we like and be passionate about it too.” And it’s a really nice break from school as well because we lead such hectic lives that [running Antoinette’s Boutique] is really fun so it’s just a really nice break.
E: When we first started our boutique we were very inspired by Parisians and their French chic-ness. We decided to go with [the name] ‘Antoinette’ because we imagined our ideal customer as this Antoinette lady who was preppy and classy who also thought about the environment as well because that was one of our models and we decided to go with eco-friendly and we really wanted to do a boutique because we found a lot of non-profit organizations who sold jewelries from Africa and South America so then we decided to go with that route with the resources that we had.

AM: So explain how all of this began.
J: It kind of began when we met in Journalism for a whole year. I was this young, crazy freshman and Elaine was this preppy senior, and we [became] best friends. We started talking because she wrote for the fashion blog and I wrote for the fashion blog – we kind of started the chain of fashion blog for our school newspaper on the online website. We started to talk about how we should open up our own business and how it should be. Then during the summer of that year, 2011, around June or July, Elaine got it going. We chose our title and then later we started to assemble everything we could.
E: There [were] also a lot of things that helped us start our business obviously since we’re so young. We don’t have the resources as maybe say a Harvard business school graduate would have but we did have the advantage of the Internet, so then we were able to find online communities like Etsy where there were a lot of supportive young women entrepreneurs. We also were able to ask our fellow students [for] help because when we were first starting the website I didn’t know much about what design or coating or graphics, so then we decided to ask our friends from high school. One of them is Michelle Fong, she’s our graphic designer in Art Center College in Pasadena, so we asked her for help and we also asked fellow photographers, we met up with bloggers, and we kind of got the chain rolling.

AM: Explain how your company works. Who does what in the company?
E: Basically for Jenny’s part, she’s more of the outgoing, social [person], so she handles the PR, and I also do some of that too. I’m more of the business and the customer oriented person, so I fill orders and make sure they ship out on time. I handle email campaigns, and Jenny and I meet up a lot to talk about our goals and missions. We both make some of the jewelry, and Jenny makes the hair bows as well. She’s the more artistic side, and I’m the more business side.

Hair Bows made by Jenny & Elaine | Photo provided by Calvin Eusebio

AM: Your website states that Antoinette’s Boutique is ‘rooted in promoting entrepreneurship and sustainability’ by choosing jewelry makers from around the world. How does that work exactly? Do you guys run an application system or scout out jewelry makers around the world?
E: We work with a couple of non-profits. They actually travel to the countries themselves, and they meet with the local women there to look at the resources they have. A lot of women there are unemployed and they also take up jewelry making as a hobby so then to help them find an extra source of income the non-profit employs them to make jewelry and transports [the jewelry] into the U.S. to sell them. We also help out by bringing the jewelry to other people around the surrounding communities around here.

From left to right: Nicaraguan women making jewelry; Green Melange Paper-Bead Bracelets hand-rolled by Nicaraguan women | Photos provided by Bead Amigas and www.Antoinettes-Boutique.com

 

The Little Ballerina Necklace; handmade by local shops in the community | Photo provided by www.Antoinettes-Boutique.com

AM: What are some of the non-profit organizations you guys communicate with?
E: For the Namibian bracelets that you see with the African designs, we work with a college non-profit named Promote Africa. For the Nicaraguan beads, we work with Bead Amigos so those are the two main non-profit organizations that we’re working with right now.

AM: How do you guys manage school, extracurricular activities, and running this business?
J: We do have to admit that we do lead very hectic lives, but we do also have a good sense of how to manage our time. When it’s a holiday, like during the summer, we spend many hours working on the boutique. Like this past summer, we were able to launch the hair bows, [prepare for the] upcoming stationary and the hand strung pearl collection. When we meet up we also try to take as many pictures that we can for our blog. We actually have 5 outfit changes in a day where we take pictures continuously. We also meet up occasionally maybe a few months or so for our next business plan, plans for the future, plans for the blog, future collections, and future partnerships.

AM: Is it just you two when you guys are discussing these business plans or is it with everyone that contributes to Antoinette’s Boutique?
E: For now, for the business decisions and our business plans, it’s just the two of us but when it comes to photography or campaigns like photo shoots or our graphic design team we usually involve the others too.

AM: Your parents, friends, and family members must be extremely proud of both you. What do they think of what you guys have achieved? Are they big customers and fans of your products?
J: Yes. Yes, they [are big customers and fans] and they’re very supportive and proud of us. My parents are actually really funny because they always advertise Antoinette’s Boutique. [My dad] would actually pass out the latest news or give out my email for contacts [to my dad’s customers or wherever he works at].

AM: Do your friends buy your products?
J: Yes they do.  I actually make sales with my friends in high school too and they totally love our products. They kind of give us an idea towards where we want to go or what we want to aim for because they give us their suggestions. They’re basically part of our customers, they’re basically bringing in our business, so we should listen to what they like [and] their interests to incorporate into ours.

AM: Do your parents work in business as well?
E: Yes, my dad was an entrepreneur. He’s retired right now, but he used to own a business in L.A.
J: My mom is a home-maker but my dad, too, does work with relatives for a family-run business.

AM: So was part of this idea or starting a business inspired by your parents jumpstarting their own businesses?
J: I think some part of having parents who are entrepreneurs helps because they would also give us advice. I also saw that entrepreneurs have to wear a lot of hats, and I got used to doing a lot of things and learning [those] things very early on.

AM: Did you guys always have a passion for vintage, handmade, one-of-a-kind jewelry?
J: Of course! It is like the pleasure in my life, especially about fashion. I love to shop, shop, shop so much. It’s just so fun – and it’s just a nice break from reality whenever I look at a pair of shoes and you fall in love with it, …or necklaces and jewelry. I totally am interested in that ‘vintage-y’ look, which is a really big, trendy thing right now. Especially when you see the dresses on the red carpet, it’s very vintage inspired and all of these high-end fashion designers who are coming back for the whole 50’s, 60’s, 70’s vibes.
E: Yea, I used to scavenge flea markets in high school and we saw that there were lady-like finds and we got inspired from that. I always had an interest in fashion especially because I used to read tons of magazines when I was little. With the invention of the Internet, there are so many fashion bloggers everywhere so it’s hard to ignore fashion.

AM: What inspires you both – in both the boutique and personally?
E: I’ve always been involved in non-profit work and I’ve always had an interest in fashion, so I thought it would be interesting to combine those two together.
J: We go towards that vintage inspired look so we want to aim towards that or be in that kind of range, and, in addition, we also take into consideration into what’s wearable to kids our age or young women. Also, my mother is also good at hand-making jewelry. She helps me a lot with creating some of the necklaces and the pearls especially. Also, if you see some of the other necklaces that you see on our website it’s actually from another partnership we have on Etsy with a line of Violet Bella. She’s actually a jewelry maker who currently resides in Texas, [and] her name is Laura Mazurek.

AM: So the jewelries are divided into “global,” “handmade” from third-world countries, and jewelry that you and Jenny make, and from other shops like Etsy?
E: Yes that’s exactly right. We have three sections, which is  “vintage,” “handmade,” and “global.” Our “vintage” section is mostly made up of what me and Jenny make. For “handmade,” we really like to work with other handmade artists as well because they also have small businesses and we love to join communities. For our ‘global’ section, that’s when we try to focus on the non-profit aspects more and we work with third-world countries as well.

Their 1st collection | photo provided by Pasadena Star News

 

AM: You guys are best friends right? Do you guys ever face any challenges while running the shop?
J: Surprisingly, we’ve never had any disagreements. We always compromise so well at times, but I think it’s just that we understand what we like. Whenever we do get into a disagreement, we just know how to work around it and we know how to negotiate.

AM: Do you guys have any unique, funny stories to share?
J: Our photo shoots produce most laughter because there can be a lot of mishaps during a photo shoot. Like maybe a crowd of pedestrians would walk by and we’re just like should we freeze. Or I had one problem where my heels were actually sinking into the dirt and grass at our photo shoot location, so it was a struggle for me to model and deal with that the same time.
E: We’ve been having technical difficulties lately with our cameras because since we’re just starting out, we don’t have time to invest in a DSLR or anything fancy like that. I just use one of my dad’s old cameras and it’s a bit primitive so we’re always being careful with the right lighting. We have to be careful about the battery – just   little things like that.

AM: Have you guys ever faced a challenge business wise?
J: Definitely, at times I feel like our revenue isn’t at its best at certain times especially when our inventory is really low and the process of releasing a new line. That’s probably one challenge and sometimes we’re just too young. It’s kind of hard for us to reach out to our communities and be able to have a voice.  But we definitely try to overcome that by getting as much public attention as we can to publications, newspapers, magazines, and anything we can grasp.

AM: What makes you guys want to help these women living in third world countries?
E: For women in third world countries they don’t get a lot of privileges like people somewhere else and they’ve also been exploited or abused, so we try to take that into account when choosing which non-profits to work with. We chose Nicaragua because most families there earn less than $2.00 a day and the women there are also exploited as well. Also Jenny and I are also feminists so we like to reach out to women.

AM: Which jewelry designer or designers do you guys look up to?
E: I really like Chanel, some of the pieces are really classic. I also like Kiel James Patrick. They’re just a really preppy brand, they’re kind of like Juicy Couture. They’re very New England based and that’s kind of like why we started this business because so many of those preppy brands and designers were in the East Coast so then we decided to bring the prep to the West Coast.
J: My favorite designer is Alexander McQueen, mainly because he’s the biggest legend. Elaine told me about how he died like a year or so ago and I was like, ‘what?!’ I also love the Korean culture and I love their fashion also, so Bean Pole is also my other favorite line of clothing. Mainly because I love their casual yet also I love their polos, which is really preppy and it’s also very adorable. [I also like] Stella McCartney; mainly because she’s also a high end designer, and she’s so great with what she does, and show casing her pieces during New York Fashion Week and things like that.

AM: What’s some of your favorite things right now (whether it’s music, a product, piece of clothing, etc)?
E: Right now I’m really into the nautical trend…I really like the navy and white stripes, starfish bracelets – just anything that’s nautical inspired.
J: For me, I’m really obsessed with a lot of things like if you go into my closet there are so many things that go with whatever I’m feeling. You can find like a denim jacket on one side and then you can find a high-low skirt that’s totally chic and nice on the other side.

AM: Can you guys describe your own personal style?
E: For me, I think I’m a more minimalist than Jenny. I prefer the classics and I really focus on quality and fit. I’m super picky when it comes to clothes like when [it comes to] shopping. Some of my style embodies the Boutique’s style: preppy and classy.
J: For me, I feel like I dab on everything but I do love the preppy and classy style too. I believe in this philosophy whenever I shop: ‘I buy with no regrets,’ so whatever I buy I have to absolutely love. I do love the preppy and classy style but I also dab on the edgy – [my style] is everything.

AM: What are some exciting projects you’re working on for Antoinette’s Boutique?
E: Well, right now Jenny just finished designing the stationary part of our section so we’re trying to release this collection of greeting cards that Jenny illustrated, painted, and drew herself. The other part of our new collection is coming out…and we’re also working on our second hair bow collection, which is more prep inspired. We’re always looking for more non-profits to work with, and we’re testing our Christmas collection as well.

AM: What’s some advice you could give to other fellow young entrepreneurs?
E: I think just make sure that the type of business you go into is really something that you’re good at, something that you could be a teacher in, that you could advise people in.  There are also superficial reasons for starting a business and they’re willing to die out fast and your business won’t last unless you really have that motivation and passion for what you do.

AM: Where do you see Antoinette’s Boutique in ten years?
J: Hopefully in ten years – oh god I’ll be twenty-seven – our Boutique will be a well-known brand where we’ll have a bigger company where we could have our own office and headquarters, different franchises. Hopefully we could have more collaborations with so many people.

To find out more about Antoinette’s Boutique, Jenny & Elaine’s blog, and to purchase their jewelry visit www.Antoinettes-Boutique.com.

 

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