Paradigm Shifters is a series of interviews with a select group of women and men from eclectic walks of life. It will highlight unspoken, real life insights on how they have been able to turn weakness into strength. A naked soul point of view of how their breakdowns were really a preparation for breakthroughs. They are your quintessential Paradigm Shifters; internal shifts converted into genuine change.
Everything I have ever done has been focused on this underlying theme of shifting the paradigm because, "what we think determines what we feel and what we feel determines what we do." Hence why Empowered by You takes lingerie, which has traditionally been seen merely as a tool of seduction and redirected that energy as a tool of empowerment.
I hope from these stories you will look at your own situations, struggles and accomplishments through a different lens. At the very least you will be more equipped with real life tools to change your own paradigm. At the end of the day we are our own Alchemist turning the silver we were born with into the gold we are destined to become.
Ling-Su Chinn - Founder of Planet Blue
I can tell you're a really hard worker. Where does this work ethic come from?
[The work ethic] comes from my parents. Hard work hard is almost all I've ever known. I started my business with no money and bootstrapped it myself up to only a couple of years ago.
My father was instrumental. He always told me, "Find something that you're passionate about and you'll be successful." He was right. I never feel like I'm working too much because I'm so passionate about [what I do]. My father also told me, "Either work for yourself twenty-four hours a day or work for someone else nine to five." He was right about that, too. It [does take working] around the clock when you turn a passion into a business. It's a blessing and a curse. Looking back on my life, there may have been times I wasn't that happy. But I look at who my friends are, who my family is, and who my employees are, and I wouldn't have it any other way.
Tell me about your journey as a visionary...was there a fear of your business failing?
I move forward and am almost incapable of looking back, which is also a blessing and a curse. I may experience small or temporary failures, but I just will myself forward until I wear the failure down, learn from it and evolve it into a success. A perfect example is the recession. The recession was basically six years of hell. I had worked so many years to build my business and I had so much to lose. I could have easily folded but I was like "no, I'm going to get through this."
As far as vision goes, I think it [comes from] growing up in Hawaii. It was the beauty I was subjected to. Hawaii is so breathtaking; there is always color. I was around beautiful colors and I loved clothing and I just came upon [this passion]. I think my father inspired me because he is an artist, a playwright, and a musician. He has done so many things but he is a visionary as far as how he merchandizes. I realized only a couple of years ago that's why I am the way I am. You ultimately see yourself in your parents.
What was your first break?
After college I moved to California. Through my roommate I met this woman named Carol Shaw. She started Lorac Cosmetics and it was a line of the best foundation and colors. I worked with [Carol] and was in charge of business development. She just saw something in me and I was very dedicated to her because of her trust in me. She taught me a lot about working hard and paying attention to detail. She really gave me my first break. I told myself by the time I was twenty-six I was going to make $100,000. That was my goal... and I did it. I did it with her. She taught me amazing lessons. She taught me one of the biggest lessons for when I would have my own employees. She told me, "I'm so happy because if you're making money that means I'm making money." That was a big thing for me, knowing how happy she was.
How does that translate to how you deal with your employees now?
Honestly, I can be tough. I have high expectations, but when my employees excel, I make sure that they are very well taken care of, both financially and emotionally. I'm very happy, I'm very thankful. I always try to make them feel good. And I'm so happy when my employees excel in my business and grow and do other things because I taught them a little bit through the years that they were with me. Even when I lose employees, which can be hard, I never cry about it. I'm never resentful because [if I were them] I would want my big break too.
What is your breakdown to breakthrough moment?
The breakdown moment was the recession. My business was cut in half virtually overnight. I was like, "What am I going to do?" I didn't really know my business... I had way too much overhead. [I was] buying too much [inventory], I didn't appreciate the finer points of cost controls and operational planning. Hard times can change everything, even the way you buy toilet paper. You're like, "That's bulk pricing right?"
The breakthrough was huge. Before [the recession] I had started my own line, but it wasn't a serious venture. And I realized [during the recession] "there's no way I'm going to survive this without making my own line." I said, "I am going to make a lot of clothes." My accountant said, "You can't do it, you don't have enough money. Are you crazy? To do this now?" I said, "This is going to save my business." And I did it. I started making clothes. I started realizing what was missing in the market. I learned how to be a manufacturer. My line is now 35% of my revenue and it helped me survive. I learned [the manufacturing business] really fast. I learned because that was my saving grace.
If you could give your younger self some advice, what would it be?
[Try to] understand and appreciate the planning side of business. It's easy to make money in good times, but it's even easier to lose it all in bad times. I just approached my business as a passion project. I didn't think about how best to do it or how to sustain and grow it. But if I did it all over again, I would learn more about the planning, the ABCs and 123's of opening up a retail store.
But I was never opening a store because I wanted a store; I was building a brand. I was building a look, a feel, a vibe. I wanted a store that was happy. I wanted a place like an ice cream store... I mean ice cream is not really a thing anymore, it's all about juices now, but who comes out of an ice cream store unhappy? We used to get shipments into the store and we used to just open up the boxes. It was messy, but those were our best days because the women would come in and rummage and think they had to have it. Everything doesn't have to be neat and sitting pretty because most people aren't like that. It was organized chaos. And the thing about Planet Blue is when people hear it or when people meet me, they go, "I love..." You hear the word love, and that's what I wanted. I think people really love Planet Blue and they feel attached to it through their soul for whatever reason. Planet Blue is like the neighborhood store; people come in just to say hi.
What do you want your legacy to be?
I want my legacy to be that I was a platform to launch people's careers, through help or inspiration. [For example] when I was doing my buying last year, there was this cute clothing line. The [designer] looked like she was 19 and she said, "Oh my God you're the owner of Planet Blue! You inspired me." I'm trying to take that in because that's amazing. It's amazing to have a platform that could enable others to pursue and hopefully profit from their passion.
Ling is living proof of what success looks like when you are true to self. She is honest about her path not being easy but nothing worthwhile ever is. Her story is a clear depiction of how innovation comes from laser focus and that nothing can stop you from achieving your true potential. A testament that Planet Blue threads are threads of authenticity.
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