DIANE ABAPO: Hi Donna and Jo! I know you both are currently based in Anaheim and have been orchestrating many Ladies First Events in the Orange County and Los Angeles area. Can you tell our readers how Ladies First Events first came about, and how it spawned from (or alongside), ShopDandJ.com?
JO: Through our online store ShopDandJ.com, we were constantly meeting and working with so many dope girls in the industry; Girls in sales, marketing, design – building their own brand or business – and sometimes all of the above! It was very inspiring for us. We were also doing a lot of pop-up shops but always felt a bit out of place. We found ourselves wishing we could vend at an event that would be our perfect demographic. So, we decided to take a leap of faith and curate one. After a few events under our belt, we decided to pursue Ladies First Events completely. It’s an incredible feeling to have everyone come together for a purpose.
DONNA: Yes! Since the inception of Shop D&J, there was always a message we were trying to convey. Ladies First has definitely given us the opportunity to spread that message more clearly. It was a natural transition for us to shift our focus onto Ladies First. With that being said, I am so grateful for the 3 years we spent dedicated to our online store; I learned so much valuable information and skill sets that I’ve been able to apply to our new venture.
Let’s take it back even further - You both mentioned prior styling gigs yesterday in conversation. How and when did both of you get into working in the Fashion industry?
JO: I always knew I wanted to be in the fashion industry, so I picked up a bunch of fashion internships while I was in college. At an internship for a fashion PR agency, I was introduced to a stylist. From there, I started assisting her on shoots and fell in love with it. I pursued it for a while but stopped shortly after we launched our online boutique.
DONNA: I’ve always loved fashion but didn’t fall in love with the industry until we started Shop D&J. Doing the online store was really my first introduction to the fashion business, and it’s been a love affair since.
I read your guys’ biography statement on your ShopDandJ.com website – Donna! Had no idea you were in the Vietnamese entertainment industry. That is awesome! That’s so interesting that you mentioned wanting to find a balance between being the sweet more “cookie-cutter Vietnamese woman” and the “alpha-female, Beyonce obsessed, feisty Bay Area girl” – Since writing that bio, what has changed?
DONNA: I wrote that biography at least two years ago. #embarrassing Haha. But, so much has changed since then. I think as you get older, you start to accept yourself for who you are and who you are not. I no longer wish to label myself or try to define who I am. I’m a constant work in progress, always on a mission to evolve and be the best version of myself.
And Jo (I love that have your B.A. in Business Entrepreneurship). How do you feel like working with your sister has complemented the success so far that you both have experienced with Ladies First Events?
JO: Thanks! We have great synergy together. Because we are sisters, we know each other really well. We have found that our strengths and weaknesses naturally complement one another and there’s 100% trust between us. Plus, we have the same goal and vision with our company so ideas are always flowing and we give each other the freedom to explore them.
How much planning goes into coordinating the pop-up merchant events? Which event has been most memorable for the both of you?
JO: There are so many details and coordination to cover for each event. At one event, we could be managing over 20 people including vendors, DJ’s, bloggers, special guests and staff. It’s crazy and hectic – but rewarding when you see it all come to life. The most memorable event would have to be our first event at Angel City Brewery. It was our very first event, so everything was new to us. We didn’t know what we were getting ourselves into!
DONNA: Yes! It’s a lot. We are both detail-oriented and particular, and we fully engage ourselves every step of the way. From shopping venues, to naming each event, picking brands, sponsors, and etc., it can get overwhelming. Especially when considering it’s just us 2 doing it all. But, it’s so rewarding for that very same reason!
As for the most memorable event, I would have to agree with my sister and say the very first event was my favorite. Everything was new and the support we received was so awesome. I’ll never forget that feeling of euphoria. It was the beginning of it all.
One of the components I’ve noticed at the Ladies First Events are the “Shop the Closets of…” notable social media influencers. What are your thoughts on social media and this new terrain of allowing unlimited exposure and connections for people that are plugged in and participating in the various social media outlets?
DONNA: Social media is everything!! We are so so lucky to be starting a business in this era. We have access to everything and everyone at our fingertips. As a business owner, social media is the best tool you can use to get your business out there. You can market on your own terms, and reach out to people all over the world. There’s something so magical and amazing about that! I love working with social media influencers and involving them in our events. Being that we got our start from our online store, I know what it’s like to literally stay at home, all day, just working at my computer- talking to so many people, yet not really anyone at all. I believe our events give not only social media influencers, but also brands an opportunity for face to face interactions and transactions!
JO: Absolutely. My sister puts it in words perfectly - social media is everything!
What has been the biggest challenge so far as entrepreneurs?
JO: I think the biggest challenge is learning to go with the flow. What I’ve learned and have been told is that true success comes from a plethora of obstacles and failures. You have to roll with the punches and just remain positive and true to yourself.
DONNA: Agreed. Every day presents a new challenge and you just have to embrace it! Entrepreneurship is an all-absorbing endeavor. Your mind races constantly, your to-do list never ends, and the lines between on and off the clock blur. So to sum it up, the most challenging part of being an entrepreneur is being an entrepreneur.
What’s next for Ladies First?
JO: More events, more fashion, and more girl power!
What do each of you do to unwind?
JO: I like to pour myself a glass (or two) of red wine and be engrossed in a book on my kindle!
DONNA: Go outdoors! Whether it’s a nice park, beach, or Disneyland...I love and enjoy it all.
Where do you feel most SUSPEND-ed? (ie. lose track of time, find true bliss, etc).
JO: When I go on dates with myself. Every now and then, I like to get out and seek my own adventures.
DONNA: True bliss? I would say when I’m working on my ventures. I truly lose track of time and feel happiness. It’s a blessing to get to do what you love, and I try not to take it for granted.
Photography by Diane Abapo
Follow Diane on Instagram at @dianeabapo