“I would like to inspire big businesses to take responsibility for the waste they produce. I believe that reducing plastic and chemical waste is vital for ensuring future generations have a reasonable quality of life on this planet.”
I had the pleasure of interviewing Jay Wich, Founder of J.J. Threads which creates made to measure custom men’s dress shirts that suit each customer’s unique personal style. Jay has been living in China for the last ten years, and tailors each J.J. Threads shirt out of Shanghai.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?
I grew up in Hunt Valley, Maryland. My father was a lawyer and my mother is a talented children’s books author. After high school I went to Harvard, where I played lacrosse and earned my bachelor’s degree in economics.
After graduating from college I secured a job in finance which took me to New York, then London and finally Hong Kong. I’ve been in China ever since.
Can you share an interesting story about a challenge that you faced, and how you overcame it?
Some things don’t translate perfectly into Chinese. For example, we once had a special order for a ‘Mandarin’ or ‘band’ collar. The translation incorrectly interpreted the word ‘Mandarin’ as the fruit, rather than the style of tailoring, and the result was a shirt you couldn’t even pull off wearing on the beach in Hawaii.
Are you working on any new or exciting projects now?
I recently represented Hong Kong in the lacrosse world championships and I was honored to create a range of custom shirts for the national team. A lot of the other teams were pretty jealous of our swag, so we’ve expanded our offering to include team uniforms and also custom hospitality uniforms.
We’re currently developing a range of custom boxer shorts too.
What advice would you give to other business owners who do business in China, to help their employees to thrive?
Relationships are key on a cultural level; the Chinese call it ‘guanxi’. Personal trust between business associates is very important. I’m omnipresent throughout all aspects of the business and our suppliers on the ground always have a direct line to me and our other heads of business. I visit the factory regularly and entertain our factory manager often. Today, I consider him a friend.
A deep understanding the factory’s process also enables us to streamline product delivery. Early on we worked with our team in China to understand what would facilitate a smooth process for them and tailored documents and order forms according to need. Orders are as easy for them to receive as they are for us to send, and we painstakingly translated every aspect to ensure nothing was lost in translation.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
It may sound cheesy, but Dale Carnegie’s teachings are the foundation of my business mentality. I feel like I’m a pretty good leader because I never let myself waste energy forcing people to do what I wanted. The path of least resistance is definitely inspiring people to get on board with your brand’s way of thinking and maximize their own potential. This has been especially helpful in launching a business in a country with a totally different culture to the one I was raised in. It was easy for me to gain rapport with my team and make J.J. Threads a success quickly.
What do you think are the new untapped markets that may become the next “big thing”?
Tier two cities in China would dwarf many cities in the States and these places are making their mark when it comes to design and technology. For example, Shenzhen is home to over 12 million people and is developing a reputation as the Silicon Valley of China.
South East Asia is benefitting from the tourism generated by China’s new middle class. Recently I travelled to Jordan and learned that they would soon be opening up package tours specifically for Chinese travelers. Certain hospitality brands are getting on board with WeChat to market to this enormous and relatively untapped market. I think there is plenty of opportunity for other countries to take advantage of this.
We keep hearing about the “Trade War”. What are your thoughts about it? Given the unknowns, how do you plan to pivot?
I believe there will always be a strong relationship between China and the US. It’s mutually beneficial to both nations to remain on good terms. We have no plans to shy away from China just because of a little headline drama.
What are your “5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully Do Business In China.”
- Be culturally sensitive. Calling someone out or raising awareness of a shortcoming in a communal settling can be taken as public humiliation in China. We are careful to give this kind of feedback in private and offer positive solutions. Public praise on the other hand, is very welcome and goes a long way.
- Karaoke — all of the best meetings in China are done over a solid karaoke session, complete with whiskey green teas.
- Always expect your China flights to be delayed, cancelled or worse, and make preparations to be spending more of your trip at the airport or on the ground. Chinese air space restrictions are known for causing travel woes. It once took one of our team members 13 hours to get from Hong Kong to Beijing, a journey that should only take 3 hours The J.J. Threads team work off of a shared drive and are equipped with charging banks and VPNs to make sure that we can set up a mobile work space no matter what delays pop up.
- Beware of the Great Fire Wall. Gmail, Google, Facebook, Whatsapp, Youtube and even the New York Times are all blocked in China. A VPN can help you get around these but basing your business off of G Drive would be a grave error.
- Adopt local innovations. China is a cashless society these days as nearly all transactions are done via WeChat or Ali Pay. WeChat is also a communications platform. Not only does WeChat take the place of text messaging in China, but it’s used by businesses to market to their customers. It’s Facebook, Instagram, online banking and iMessage, all in one app. Uber was squeezed out of China. Didi is the best way to get from A to B and is a far more pleasant experience than a lot of local taxi rides!
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Cut your losses early and quickly.
We opened a physical location before taking our business exclusively online. Although the traction clearly was not there, the temptation was to keep fighting to make it work and throw more money at it,. However, we recognised our business’ strengths and doubled down on what we knew was working. It was a tough pill to swallow, but minimising that dent on our P&L was worth the slight bash to the ego.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I would like to inspire big businesses to take responsibility for the waste they produce. I believe that reducing plastic and chemical waste is vital for ensuring future generations have a reasonable quality of life on this planet.
Originally published at medium.com