At the corner of Halsted and W. 16th in Pilsen sits a shop with large glass windows and light pouring inonto mannequins donning gorgeous white dresses.
Inside, classical music plays overhead, and Wini Wu, owner of Jade Bridal, is there to meet excited brides-to-be.
The walls are lined with beautiful gowns – from form-fitting dresses with delicate lace to cascading A-lines with sweeping trains.
Walking in, I instantly felt comfortable and excited to be there. Jade Was my third and final stop during a day of dress shopping with my mom, and once there, I said yes to the first dress I tried!
Though the dresses are beautiful and the service spectacular, when I sat down with Wini to chat, I learned so much more than what meets the eye of the shop.
The New Local: What prompted you to open up the store?
Wini Wu: I had a dream. I'm Chinese, and [everyone is] always talking about "you should get married, get a husband." So my whole life, I thought, "what does that look like, getting married and being in love with someone?" It feels like its such an amazing moment. It's not just a ceremony, it's more like you've found the love of your life, and it just seems so magical to me. It's the moment a girl transforms to a woman.
TNL: That's amazing - it sounds like it's been so many years in the making! How has it been running a business? Is there work-life balance?
WW: It's incredibly challenging! I think most female entrepreneurs experience the same thing. As a female running a small business, in the first few years, people don't take you seriously. I don't want to say it's all because of gender, but it's plays a little bit of a role. People look at women and say, "okay, can you really handle this?" They just doubt you. As a woman of color, I experience it, and it can be really challenging. When people don't listen to you, you have to repeat yourself. I've learned how to be confident and bold because I mean what I say.
TNL: When it came to starting the business, what made you choose Chicago?
WW: Me and my family moved here, and a couple years ago I moved to Chicago. The opportunity in Chicago is big. The year we opened, there weren't a lot of bridals stores.
TNL: You said you went to school for interior design, but are studying marketing and advertising. How has that been?
WW: It's crazy. I love creating things, I love art, I love beautiful things. Once I started, I said I had to learn about running a business and accounting. But I realized that knowledge it not enough. I said "what am I missing?" I went to a friend's event and he talked about personal branding. I read books, watch videos online, go to seminars and started leadership training. There's so much learning and it's never ending.
TNL: What advice do you have for someone who's looking to start something of their own?
WW: Don't wait for the best moment to do it. If you know you have the knowledge or the passion, you just need to have courage to start from somewhere, and you'll learn along the way.
Also, the first few years in the business, I tried to prove myself. Don't do it because you're trying to prove yourself - that's the wrong motivation! You can't lose yourself by competing because the true intention is your passion and making a difference in other people's life.
TNL: How do you go about acquiring dresses? Do you stick with certain brands?
WW: When I opened the business, everything in the market was so expensive. It used to be on the family for [wedding] funds, but now it’s on the couple, and brides are trying to save.
I grew up in a Hong Kong, so I thought I could import some dresses from there. They may not have been designer, but still high quality, so that brides actually have more options for affordable dresses.
Then we started carrying Pronovias. It has been our main designer, and we carry their different labels. We also carry a Couture collection for brides that have that style. We have so many brides saying they want some sparkle! Typically we have dresses with lots of lace, and the clean look is becoming popular, but we try to find the style the brides likes that is affordable and within their price range.
TNL: If a bride comes in knowing you carry the labels that you do, will you order a dress for them that’s not in store?
WW: We don’t order just one dress, but we will provide the feedback to the brand so they can keep the dress on their end and as part of their loaner program, loan it out to stores for brides to try on, so that’s an option to fulfill the bride’s need.
TNL: What is your favorite part about owning the business?
WW: Even though it can be challenging, my favorite part is overcoming those challenges and learning from them. Also, the relationship I build with the bride. They’re more than a customer; some brides become friends with you along their few months journey and you learn about their planning process. The joys they share with you is just amazing.