Entrepreneurs

Her parents left Taiwan for the American dream. She moved to Asia to follow hers

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Living the American dream abroad

Carol Chen considers herself to be living the American dream: Her parents immigrated to the U.S. from Taiwan, and she now owns her own business as an adult.

But instead of staying in the U.S., she headed off to follow a dream in Singapore. She started Covetella, an online and brick-and-mortar company that offers designer dress rentals in the island nation, and just worked with the hit film "Crazy Rich Asians."

"I think that the American dream is a bit outdated in the sense that it can happen anywhere," Chen said. "It doesn't have to be in America."

In 1980, Chen's parents came to the U.S., where her father was the first in her family to go to college and her mom worked as a restaurant server. She was born in Colorado and lived between there, Mississippi and Texas.

"It's kind of ironic that now that they have established themselves in the U.S., I'm coming back to Asia to establish myself," she said.

Chen came up with the idea for Covetella after moving to Singapore four years ago when she was unable to find dresses within her budget. She cited Rent The Runway — an American dress and accessory rental company that was started in 2009 in New York — as an inspiration to launch her start-up.

The challenge

Initially, things were slow as consumers in Singapore were skeptical of rented clothes, she said: It was tough going.

"There are so many days that I want to give up," she laughed. "Probably every quarter I say I'm going to quit, but that's just the challenge of entrepreneurship."

Yet she has powered through. Chen said both Covetella's customer and sales have grown 2.5 times year-on-year for the past two years. She started the company in 2016.

Meanwhile, more than 70 dresses and accessories were rented from Covetella for the set-in-Singapore blockbuster "Crazy Rich Asians."

Growing abroad

"The thing about the U.S., it's definitely a bigger market," she said. "But I don't think I could have established Covetella so fast because there's much more competition."

Chen visits her friends and family once a year in the U.S., but for now, her career remains in Singapore, where she's exploring expanding to other markets in the region. "I just don't feel like [the U.S.] is as exciting as Asia, especially Southeast Asia. Everything is booming here. E-commerce is just getting started, there's new brands that launch every week here and it's such a vibrant, growing economy," she said.

"There's so much more potential to grow and establish new kinds of businesses," she said.

She advises her siblings and former interns from the U.S. who worked for her in Singapore to consider moving abroad — especially to Asia.

"The U.S. will always be my home and I'll probably end up back there," she said. "But you can learn a lot more being put outside your comfort zone in a new country than just being where you are."

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