When we first launched L’AMOURZINE we wanted to highlight the stories of a few breast cancer survivors who we had gotten in touch with. When I reached out to personally thank one of the interviewees for her candor and courage, she expressed what a sense of closure it was to speak about her breast cancer journey with us and how she hopes her story will help other readers. She also felt a particular connection to The Cristal bra because the tiger served as a motif of strength and protection throughout her recovery. She used to tell herself “I’m going to tame the tiger.”
As part of my series about young people who are making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Deean Yeoh & Jinrong “Agnes” Zhan.
Deean is co-founder and CEO of Amour Caché, a new intimate apparel company that seeks to create space for everyone from bralette lovers to breast cancer survivors and beyond. Deean found her passion for customer-centric products while working at a digital marketing agency. Since then she’s found ways to incorporate market research data into Amour Caché’s designs. When she’s not working on new bra designs or scouting for unique fabrics, you’ll find her curled up with a book, writing, or taking 35mm photos. She’s lucky enough to work with her best friend, but in her downtime recoups via solo sports (ballet, boxing, and sailing).
Agnes is co-founder and CFO of Amour Caché. She previously headed project management at a VR company before founding Amour Caché with her best friend. She is passionate about how technology can streamline and advance “traditional” processes and hopes to incorporate this into Amour Caché’s product development flows in the future. Agnes’s dream is that one day public perception of intimate apparel will shift to encompass beauty and function — not just one or the other.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit how you grew up?
Deean: I grew up in Malaysia and was raised by two self-made entrepreneurs for parents who I’ve always looked up to. My mom likes to say that I grew up listening to business commentary and that one day I’d inevitably run my own company. When I was 13, I moved to boarding school in Australia, at the time I had a deep fascination for journalism and thought I would end up writing about fashion or business. When I eventually moved to the US for college, I decided to study Business Administration with concentrations in Finance and Marketing. When I wasn’t studying I pursued my passions for writing and fashion through student run magazines and fashion organizations.
Agnes: I was born in China and I traveled to the U.S. for high school at the age of 17. I lived in the far east side of Guangzhou and the area I grew up in was renowned for the production and export of denim. Almost everyone there had a job that was related to the garment industry — manufacturing, dyeing or fabric weaving. I always thought it was interesting that fashion and styling have the ability to change a person, but I didn’t anticipate I’d be working in the industry one day. Now I know it’s not only interesting, it’s also hard. Bringing to life a clothing brand requires an understanding of all the steps and parties involved in a business. One bra alone takes over eighteen components, several suppliers, and numerous logistics operations. It’s our job to understand the implications of all those roles and how they impact our product and, ultimately, our bottom line.
You are currently leading an organization that aims to make a social impact. Can you tell us a bit about what you and your organization are trying to change in our world today?
D: Our goal with Amour Caché is to create a new breed of inclusive lingerie where everyone from bralette-lovers to breast cancer survivors and beyond feel seen and catered to unlike ever before. My love for visual arts and writing inspired me to create a magazine to accompany the brand. L’AMOURZINE is our way of featuring individual stories and inspiring conversations around topics like mental health, body diversity, and gender identity — an extension of our brand’s goal of inclusivity. Having a space for discourse and dialogue on a wide range of topics allows us to make space for all the identities we want our brand to reach in the near future.
Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?
D: Agnes and I had initially planned to create a size-inclusive lingerie company, 30–40 bra bands and XS-2XL bottoms sizes. During the course of our company’s evolution, Agnes discovered she had breast lumps. Soon after, I heard from two other girlfriends who had either just discovered their breast lumps or just gotten biopsied. All these women were below 25. It was kind of existential and made us question “well, what if we did get breast cancer? How would we feel? What would we want? What would help us feel like “ourselves” in a time of distress and uncertainty?” We started speaking to survivors to hear their stories and get their perspectives. When we did more research into the intimate apparel space, we discovered that beautiful, luxurious post-mastectomy bras were in short supply, particularly in Asia (where Agnes and I grew up). As we continue to develop the brand, we’re realizing the same can be said for many marginalized groups that haven’t been catered to by the traditional lingerie industry. From there, we’re continuing to expand our range of what it means to be inclusive, which is how Amour Caché was born and continues to grow!
Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions, but never manifest it. They don’t get up and just do it. But you did. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were actually going to step up and do it? What was that final trigger?
D: Agnes and I both come from entrepreneurial families. As a kid, when you bear witness to the rise, falls, and risks that come with owning your own business you want to run in the opposite direction. Prior to 2017, we rejected the idea of owning our own company. But as cliché as it sounds, we were driven by our passion. We both share a deep love for business and fashion. When we saw a gap in the market that we believed we had a solution for, we went for it. Lucky for us, we have very supportive families that pushed us to chase our budding business and friends who tried our products and were convinced we had a future in the industry.
Many young people don’t know the steps to take to start a new organization. But you did. What are some of the things or steps you took to get your project started?
We set up the company with proper incorporation documents and spoke with lawyers about website legalities (privacy notices, GDPR), and trademarking. We learned very quickly not to underestimate the importance of contracts, company bylaws, and other legal documents. Legal services can be a huge sunk cost at first, but it’s important to properly incorporate your company, register for any relevant trademarks, and create employee/contractor agreements from the beginning. These things take time, so it’s best to get them out of the way early on.
We had also witnessed horror stories of best friends and family members whose working relationships ruined their personal relationships with one another. It was really important to us that our friendship wasn’t impacted by the business; the best precaution we could think of was having contracts in place and difficult conversations early on. We also work with a lot of our friends as contractors, so we carried the same principles forward in those work agreements. Contractor agreements are really important so that expectations from both parties are laid out from the beginning to avoid tainting interpersonal relationships.
We’re also really selective of who we choose to work with, whether it’s writers, photographers, models, manufacturers, or lawyers. We look for talented people who believe in our company mission and genuinely want to help and/or grow alongside us. We try not to settle on any partnerships. In 2017, we made the mistake of not vetting our business partners carefully enough. Ultimately, they were good people but weren’t the best fit for our company. When the partnership fell through, it ended up costing us a lot of irreplaceable time and resources. It was a very teachable moment that we continue to carry with us. Now, we have a small but strong writing team, suppliers who go above and beyond for us, and a manufacturer who lowered their minimum order quantity (MOQ) because they believe in, and support, our small business. We got lucky to cross paths with good people.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?
We started conversing with fabric suppliers in the early months of 2020 — before most people knew how long or detrimental COVID would be. The first fabric supplier we visited had the foresight that COVID would be bad and so when we arrived at their office, they requested for us to sanitize ourselves and put on these disposable neon orange gloves before touching any of the fabrics. It felt like the procedures of entering a hazardous laboratory instead of a French lace wholesaler. We didn’t know it at the time, but in hindsight, this was the first of many compromises we had to make while starting a business in the midst of a pandemic.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson or take away you learned from that?
Back in 2017, we attempted to register our company as an LLP at Boston City Hall. After walking through the metal detectors, we headed to the elevator and eventually arrived on the sixth floor. The City Clerk’s office was Room 601. We got the certificate and left feeling, as you would imagine, pretty elated. A few days later we attempted to open a bank account only to be told that we had filed for the “wrong type of partnership.” Turns out Boston City Hall registers for LLPs and Domestic Partnerships (amongst many other things) in Room 601. We’ve since had our Domestic Partnership annulled and were extra careful about registering our Corporation the second time around. Now we can laugh about the time we accidentally became domestic partners.
If either one of us had died during the time of the partnership, it would have made for some seriously awkward inheritance-related conversations. We still laugh and cringe when we retell this story. That’s why one of our biggest pieces of advice to new entrepreneurs is to make sure incorporation documents are taken care of early and properly.
None of us can be successful without some help along the way. Did you have mentors or cheerleaders who helped you to succeed? Can you tell us a story about their influence?
D: My mom is my biggest influence. I had the privilege of being raised by a strong woman who loves denying naysayers. When she was 23 she started a boutique business with her own savings. By 25 she had paid for her own BMW and house, and expanded her business into three branches. She’s tactful, diplomatic and intuitive. She leads with tenacity and grace. No challenge has ever stunted her and no fire has ever been too big for her to single-handedly put out (literally and figuratively). She’s also my biggest and most critical advocate. I hope to be half the woman she is.
A: My dad. My dad always believed that one day I would own a business just like him. We like to play this game where he gives me a business scenario and asks me what my response would be. We go over each other’s responses and he’d explain what he would do instead and why. That’s how I learned to problem solve. He doesn’t ever hand me answers when I face business problems, but he gives me guidance and confidence to know that I can solve them myself.
Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?
D: When we first launched L’AMOURZINE we wanted to highlight the stories of a few breast cancer survivors who we had gotten in touch with. When I reached out to personally thank one of the interviewees for her candor and courage, she expressed what a sense of closure it was to speak about her breast cancer journey with us and how she hopes her story will help other readers. She also felt a particular connection to The Cristal bra because the tiger served as a motif of strength and protection throughout her recovery. She used to tell herself “I’m going to tame the tiger.”
The synchronicity of her journey with Amour Caché’s mission was touching. It embodied what we had set out to do, which was to make a special connection with our customers, help them heal, and foster a community of resilient story tellers.
Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?
There are a ton of incredibly influential community leaders that can help with our mission of inclusivity and story-telling. We’ve been lucky enough to work with body-diversity advocate and model, Enga, and have many other collaborations coming soon with interesting and insightful folks throughout beauty, fashion, and advocacy spaces.
Instagram has been an incredible platform for the Amour Caché community. The rise of social media and social influencers has created a new opportunity for models/influencers to share their thoughts, experiences, and beliefs. As a brand, we value people who are candid and speak up for good causes they feel impassioned about. Social media platforms have just provided us with a new medium for seeing, identifying, and reaching out to these amazing people and ultimately connecting them with our community.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
1. Choose a manufacturer that is an expert in your field and never take their word for their expertise. Ask for samples, visit their factory, and talk to their production managers.
2. Never let a manufacturer tell you something is impossible without having tried it first. Just because they haven’t done it that way before doesn’t mean that the idea you’re proposing is impossible. The road unpaved is often the rockiest to trek.
3. Plan, plan, plan. A solid game plan is crucial. Get good at forecasting timelines and figuring out how long each project should take.
4. Talk to three or more candidates/suppliers before making any decisions. If you are new to the industry you’ll need to collect information on fair market prices and procedures. Talking to multiple suppliers will give you a better idea of how everything works and you’ll feel more confident. You can also fact check candidates by asking them the same questions and comparing their responses.
5. Start social media promotions early. It’s hard to grow your following. Don’t wait until the moment you start selling to open your social media account.
If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?
You never know what ripple effects your idea can, and will, have. When we started Amour Caché we asked ourselves, “why isn’t there an intimate apparel company that offers bras for everyone? Why do people have to go to one store for sexy lingerie and another for post-mastectomy bras? Why are people made to feel separated, exclusive, or different?” We had the confidence and conviction that we can design something for everyone, and we felt it was time for the intimate apparel industry to innovate and reinvent itself.
If we can make a breast cancer survivor’s healing journey that much easier or inspire the confidence of a marginalized person to feel confident and beautiful in their own skin, then we know we’ve made an impact.
If you have a vision of change, you should do everything in your power to make it a reality. It may inspire an industry revolution. We have many brands to thank for paving the way for lingerie inclusivity — Skims and Parade to name a few.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
D: I would love to meet the innovators at top fabric mills and fabric technology companies. The innovation in that space is remarkable and inspiring. I’d love to have an in-house material sciences research and development (R&D) team one day to develop our own patented fabrics. Aside from that, Malcolm Gladwell, David Rubenstein, and Bella Hadid! A pretty eclectic group of people, but I think they’re bound together by their unique ability to connect with others and share their reflections of the world around them. They all seem honest and grounded. I’d love to understand how they balance being intuitive and kind in the business world, and hear their advice for young leaders.
A: I would love to have a steak and wine with Claire Chambers, founder of Journelle (New York City-based lingerie retailer). I found a lot of similarities in how Claire and I regard lingerie. In one of her interviews, Claire said “I feel polished and powerful when I wear great lingerie, and if someone else sees it, it’s a bonus. Even if I were a nun, I’d be wearing lingerie.” I have always felt that way about lingerie and would have said the same thing! She’s an incredible entrepreneur and I’d love to talk to her about all the interesting stories and challenges she faced (importing, supplier relations, creating Journelle’s in-house lingerie line, and how she led/grew her team).
How can our readers follow you online?
If you have a story that you’d like to share with our e-magazine (L’AMOURZINE) readers, email us at [email protected]
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!