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Alum’s new site targets college-age shoppers

While abroad, Jessica Lam ‘03 was inspired to create fashion shopping website PandaSundae

By
Contributing Writer
Thursday, April 4, 2013

Jessica Lam ’03 was working at a private investment fund in Hong Kong four years ago when she had the idea for her own company.

“I didn’t think I was really adding value to my work,” Lam said. “I wanted to figure out a way to leverage my finance and consulting experience but still do what I love, which is fashion.”

Feeling as if she was just contributing “numbers in a spreadsheet,” Lam and Bowdoin alum Katie Hernandez launched the startup PandaSundae, an e-commerce brand that targets female college students in the United States and Hong Kong. As the website develops, Lam said, the goal is to make PandaSundae an “interactive brand” that includes blogs and forums students can access to for entrepreneurial tips and to learn about opportunities.

Lam, who grew up in Hong Kong, met Hernandez right after college when they began consulting in a startup company. Since then, Lam has gone to business school in Columbia, worked for SAKS New York and gained experience through different internships in the fashion industry. She said she felt like she gained knowledge participating in different aspects of the business industry, but the difficult part was figuring out a marketing strategy. She decided to work for Gucci to better understand the American consumer pool.

At Gucci, “I finally understood what I wanted to do,” she said. Lam said she learned how to “connect with consumers,” and that inspired her to create her own brand.

The co-founders combined their skills — Lam focused on the merchandising aspect, sourcing products from Asia, while Hernandez provided feedback on what American consumers really value, Lam said.

The name, PandaSundae, represents both the company’s Asian influences and customers’ ability to customize its products, she said.

“One of the most important things about running a successful business is mastering soft skills,” Hernandez said.

These skills include understanding what a customer values and building strong networks with them, Hernandez said, adding that business school helped her build confidence in approaching people and knowing they are willing to offer help and advice.

“The hard skills come more easily,” she said, referring to technical skills such as “crunching numbers” and mastering Microsoft Excel. She added that she didn’t have a lot of guidance in college on working as a woman in the business world and with PandaSundae, she could give back to students what she learned later on in life.

The Hong Kong Students Association hosted a lecture and question-and-answer session with Lam and Hernandez Tuesday, where they spoke about their vision for the company.

“This event was unique in that it had direct Brown/Hong Kong alumni involvement — an aspect HKSA hopes to expand,” said Tiffany Chang ’16, a member of the group’s executive board. “PandaSundae’s products do a good job merging utility with cuteness,” she added.

The co-founders were wearing apparel from their website and had samples of their products arranged on a table, which the audience members were invited to test after the lecture. The items included panda-shaped speakers, studded handbags and an animal-print tablet case. The co-founders also offered free folders, pens and sunglasses featuring the Panda Sundae logo.

“We’re (making) things we wish we had in college,” Lam said.

She said there are few companies that offer functional and fun products for college students, adding that she and Hernandez also hope to share their 20 years of combined experience in the business world by offering internship opportunities.

While students can learn about marketing in the classroom, Lam said she wants to give them a way to translate that knowledge into the real world.

“We want to help put students in contact with mentors,” Lam said at the event.

The co-founders are launching a PandaSundae Collegiate Marketing Challenge that offers up to $2,300 for each team, an additional $1,000 for the winner, internship opportunities and a chance to be featured on the company website.

The competition requires participants to submit a marketing strategy to promote PandaSundae and launch it for a week to see which plan is the most successful in attracting attention to the brand.

Lam said she hopes to get ideas and feedback on her products as she travels around various universities in the United States.

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One Comment

  1. Thank you Maria & Brown Herald for covering our event! If anyone has questions about PandaSundae (the marketing challenge (deadline April 11), internship opportunities or just want to learn more about us, please email us at ask@pandasundae.com! Jessica Chief Scoopster @ PandaSundae

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