How to build a global jewelry brand from 160K followers


It’s 10pm Paris time (4am back in🔸快乐10分玩法说明), as Sara Shen, founder of jewelry brand PEARLSTIGE, steps back to admire her final preparations for Paris Fashion Week 2022. With jet-leg and excitement mixed into one, memories of the journey that led her to this point flood back into consciousness.

From flying back to🔸快乐10分玩法说明 to start her MBA after a decade of banking in North America, to acquiring her very first angel customers from her Little Red Book (aka Xiaohongshu) followers. On the eve of the most anticipated annual event in the fashion calendar, Sara knows the next week will signal a brand-new chapter for her entrepreneurship journey: navigating global expansion, sustainability considerations and the myriad of unexpected, but expected, challenges along the way.

Nearly a year on from this pivotal experience, MBA Admissions sits down with the MBA 2016 alumna to hear her CEIBS story, as well as pearls of wisdom for young professionals also looking to pivot their careers towards their passions.

MBA: Tell us about PEARLSTIGE. Who wears your jewelry and why do you think the brand has grown so fast?

Sara: We are a jewelry brand that celebrates elegant Chinese designs for a global audience. Our clients include female professionals, entrepreneurs, and fashion icons from Shanghai to London and Paris. We are, like CEIBS,🔸快乐10分玩法说明, Europe and international.

The company started as a passion project in my free time travelling to and from work at JP Morgan. I landed at the bank after graduating from the MBA and found myself sharing insights on fashion and accessorizing on Little Red Book along my daily commute. Actually, the many takeaways from CEIBS Associate Professor of Marketing Hyun Young Park’s Marketing core module and CEIBS Visiting Professor Michel Gutsatz’s Branding in the Age of Digital elective helped me to build a following of over 160,000 on the platform. When I decided to venture into designing my own jewelry, these followers became some of my first ever customers.

But although I had the passion, and the following for what I was doing, I would attribute the growth of the brand down to the DNA of the company. In addition to my full-time job, I was injecting everything else into the start-up, time, money, energy, you name it. This was the crucial time to set the strategy and DNA of my vision. Only from these firm foundations can you grow something where your team feel empowered to make decisions in line with the core values of the company.

MBA: As a returnee from overseas, what are your memories of how the school and the CEIBS community helped you with this transition back to🔸快乐10分玩法说明?

Sara: I’m Chinese, but after ten years in North America, I didn’t have a network or a firm understanding of the macro and micro trends here. Watching from afar, I could feel how fast everything was moving, but didn’t know how or where to jump in. So the MBA for me was a safe place to come, connect and try out different possibilities of who I wanted to be.

As an entrepreneur now, you can see plenty of success stories of start-ups led by amazing professionals without an MBA degree, but as a full-time student, you have the time to build an extremely powerful network of MBA and EMBA alumni whilst also opening your mind to new knowledge and career paths with likeminded people from diverse backgrounds – so it was definitely the right path for me. Additionally, now I am in the position to pay it back to the CEIBS community, which is an honor as an alumna.

MBA: Can you pinpoint the moment you decided to leave corporate life to build your own company? What gave you the confidence to make the leap?

Sara: For me, it wasn’t one eureka moment, but rather four realizations that fell into place. First and foremost, my husband and son were supportive. They knew the route I wanted to pursue which would mean giving up a stable job in the banking sector. Second, I had hands-on experience of growing and managing a team. I grew in confidence with this from my investment banking days and knew the type of colleagues I wanted by my side to scale PEARLSTIGE. Third, I had the passion for what I was doing, which I knew was going to be key to getting me through the challenging growing pains of start-up life. Finally, I had the confidence from positive feedback that there was really a demand for the jewelry that I got excited about sharing.

MBA: What advice do you have for aspiring entrepreneurs who are also looking to turn their own passions into a start-up?

Sara: Creating something new is hard, so I wouldn’t recommend entrepreneurship to everyone. There’s a high chance of failure and, yes, I’ve also thought about giving up many times. Similar to my last answer, this is why you need the passion to sustain you through the tough times. On the flip side, you don’t have to quit your job and start your company at the same time. Like me, you can manage both in the short term and constantly ask yourself, am I ready? Financially, mentally, product and experience wise, am I ready? When you have more Yeses than Nos, then my advice is to go for it.

MBA: PEARLSTIGE became the 47th company to achieve B-Corp certification in🔸快乐10分玩法说明, and the very first jewelry company here – congratulations! Why was the accreditation important for you?

Sara: Becoming a certified B Corporation is a commitment for all of us at PEARLSTIGE. A commitment to environmental and social impact with action around our corporate governance, transparency, and environmental performance. At JP Morgan, I was handling one of the largest ESG impact funds in Asia, and since then this topic has been particularly close to my heart. It’s also a long-term commitment as it means reshaping our operations.

Luckily, CEIBS alumni network also helped us here. One of my fellow MBA 2016 alumna Min Ko was heavily involved in B Corps in🔸快乐10分玩法说明 and was able to advise us not only on the application procedure, but also to figure out exactly what we wanted to do, and how we can structure our commitments to ensure suitable, sustainable and powerful impact.

MBA: Finally, having gone global with PEARLSTIGE, your company is now part of a new wave of companies born in🔸快乐10分玩法说明 with global aspirations. What’s next?

Sara: Honestly, we are still at the beginning of a lifelong journey. We will continue building our footprint in🔸快乐10分玩法说明 and overseas, exploring partnerships that help us to look forward to a brighter future and allows us to shine from within together.

James Kent
Effy He and Michael Thede