A Redwood City startup is making the cheongsam — a traditional Chinese dress typically worn at weddings — and modern takes on it more accessible to Asian Americans.
Best friends Vivian Chan and Jennifer Qiao, both 28, founded East Meets Dress about a year ago after Qiao had a hard time finding the right cheongsam for her own wedding.
“When I was planning my wedding I was really struggling to find a dress that could celebrate my culture. It’s surprisingly hard to find any choices out there,” Qiao said. “We’re trying to bring more Asian American representation to fashion.”
The cheongsam, also known as a qipao, is traditionally made with red silk fabric decorated with embroidery on top, often of a dragon or phoenix. East Meets Dress offers 50 customizable designs, including traditional and modern versions of the dress.
“We’ve taken the key elements of a traditional cheongsam, for example the Mandarin color and Pankou knots, and we’ve added them to more modern silhouettes that are flattering for many different types of body types,” Qiao said.
Customers can also design their own dress from scratch and the brand has recently expanded its collection to include accessories and groom attire.
The East Meets Dress shopping experience is entirely online — there is no brick-and-mortar location — and Chan and Qiao personally field customer questions via a chatbot on their website or by phone or email.
Customers begin by taking a “style quiz” on the website to narrow down their vision, select a design and then submit their measurements. The dress will then be shipped within two to six weeks while the process for creating and sending a custom dress can take as long as four months. All custom sizes come with a $50 credit for alterations if they’re necessary.
The brand will also mail customers a sample kit so they can feel the dress and see it in person before purchasing. Shipping is always free within the country.
Custom dresses begin at $350 and standard collection dresses are under $200.
Chan said demand for modern versions of the cheongsam is growing in the country.
“A lot of Asian American brides want some element of the western ceremony, but also the Asian ceremony and they want some way to honor their parents on their wedding day and family and relatives, but do it in a way that’s more modern and fits their aesthetics so I think we have been seeing a much larger demand for this,” she said.
The dresses are made in China in towns such as Chaozhou, where the two founders built relationships with dressmakers who have been making cheongsams for decades.
Chan and Qiao began the brand initially by building a $30 Shopify website which they promoted via a $50 Facebook advertisement. That campaign netted them about 40 customers and the confidence to keep growing. A year later, the brand has reached six figures in revenue and two part-timers have joined the team.
“Our philosophy has always been test small, but quickly,” Chan said.
Chan and Qiao continue to manage the brand from their Redwood City apartments and in local coffee shops and they handle the modeling and photography themselves.
The two met while studying at Yale and after moved to the Bay Area. Prior to founding East Meets Dress, Qiao worked for Google while Chan taught with Teach for America and worked for various nonprofits and startups.
“We both had this itch to build our own company and we took an existing problem and from there created East Meets Dress,” Chan said.
Visit East Meets Dress here.
(650) 344-5200 ext. 102