Clad in a pink fur coat and bobby socks, Joellen Lu isn’t your typical entrepreneur. As the business-savvy, go-getter behind Cali boutique Can U Not, Joellen knows a thing or two about balancing a hectic schedule. While studying psychology in college she transformed her Tumblr-based personal shop into a fully stocked retail force to be reckoned with. Striking the perfect balance of vintage and modern, Can U Not has quickly become a must-visit haven for Santa Ana babes with a penchant for quirky sartorial gems.
Joellen continues to change the boutique game by creating her own rules; rules that follow the cruelty-free, independent women mindset of her brand. A quick browse through the blogosphere and you’re sure to spot the unique markings of this California girl. Perhaps the secret to Joellen’s staying power is her branding strategy, skillfully employing pink sprinkle doughnuts and Hello Kitty phone covers strung together with pop culture catchphrases. Either way, we think anyone who sees “International Puppy Day” as an excuse to have a sale should be elected president of the world, stat!
Amidst her busy work/life hustle, Joellen gave us the lowdown on vintage picking, local bands, the best part about owning your own business…while still making time for burritos of course.
You just completed a degree in psychology, which is much different than fashion. How did you get into blogging and running your own business?
I’ve always kept some sort of journal since I learned to write, which inevitably turned into online blogging. Being able to share my photos and thoughts, as well as used clothing, helped me realize that I could make money while doing something I really loved, and it didn’t have to be from something a textbook told me to do. (Although psychology is something I will continue to pursue!)
On the topic of school, balancing a business and college must have been insane. What’s your secret?
It’s incredibly draining, but I’m the type of person that loves being occupied and constantly working on something on some days, then totally relaxing (and doing nothing) on other days. In the end, it just balances itself out.
Part of Can U Not’s success is linked to its solid social media presence. What is your best tip for using social media as a business tool?
It’s funny because the tips for using social media as a business tool overlap with those of fashion blogging, or any other type: take high quality photos, update regularly, and stay connected with your commenters.
Describe a typical day at Can U Not.
I’m a night person, so the day starts out around 2pm. I come into the studio and get right in. I go over daily tasks with our general intern, take product shots, and work on our marketing calendar. I send our social media intern posts to share on our networks, while my partner & best friends works on order fulfillment. Then, time for burritos. Luckily we’re located in downtown, so we’re surrounded by amazing food at all price points. After our intern leaves, we hit the hot spots for vintage. I like going later in the day to avoid crowding. Thereafter, we work on store maintenance, email customer service, and finish up any loose ends from the day.
What was your biggest hurdle in transitioning from an online retailer to a brick and mortal shop?
The biggest hurdle has definitely been splitting my time between school, the store, and my personal life. Right now our hours are by appointment and during our art exhibits during the art walk, and fortunately it’s been working out great.
In 140 characters or less, tell us your mantra for success.
Let go of your reservations due to fear of what people will think, be kind (especially to those from whom you can gain nothing), & HAVE FUN!
If you could build a cool-girl army who would be in it?
My cool-girl army would include all Can U Not’s customers & supporters, and our motto would be “You can sit with us.”
Much of your inventory comes from flea markets, estate sales, and charity shops. What do you look for when hunting for these gems?
Often times I’m faced with giant mounds of clothing, without being able to see what the piece is. First, I spot unique fabrics, colors, and textures. When I spot something interesting, I estimate its decade of origin and imagine it styled with modern pieces. Lastly, I check for any damages. It’s almost heart-wrenching when I find an amazing garment, only to find a patch of missing fur, a discolored sequin, or…armpit stains.
Your art walks feature local artists and musicians so we’d image you have a pretty killer playlist. Are there any local bands we should know about?
I love that through our art walk exhibits, I’ve not only had the chance to discover some of my favorite bands, but have also gotten to know some of them to be great friends. A lot of really talented artists have played our events, and my personal favorites (and extremely local!) bands are Bür Gür, Hollow Ran, and Flying Hand.
You’re also an avid painter. What female artists are you inspired by?
I was directly inspired by Kimberly Gordon, the creative director of Wildfox Couture. When I first laid eyes on her watercolors and pen & ink artwork, I got straight back into drawing and painting. Additionally, Karen O will always be an inspiration to me. Her very being gets my creative juices flowing.
What is your go-to girl power song?
This is a little absurd, but whenever I’m getting ready to go out, or if I need a pick-me-up, I play the Sailor Moon theme song on repeat. It works, trust me.
What’s the best part about having your own business?
The best part of having my own business is being in complete control over what we put out into the world and being able to oversee everything. I love that I don’t need approval before sharing my views and ethics through my business, like being cruelty-free, providing sustainable clothing, and stressing the importance of supporting other females and our individual autonomy. It also applies to the lighter stuff. Oh, wikipedia says it’s International Puppy Day? I’ll whip up a graphic and take 20% off all orders that day, just because I love puppies.
All pictures courtesy of Joellen Lu.