By Hailey Eisen
At 25, Lulu Liang was named CEO of Luxy Hair, a global beauty brand with more than 300,000 customers in 165 countries. She had joined the company just three years earlier as an operations assistant.
While such a quick leap up the corporate ladder may seem unusual, Lulu insists she joined the premium hair extensions e-commerce company with the intention of rising to the top. Now, just two years into her tenure as chief executive, Lulu has added a side hustle, with the launch of Evergreen Journals, an entrepreneurial collaboration with a friend and former colleague.
She credits her drive and success to the way she was raised — though the entrepreneurial nature of her career was certainly not what her parents expected.
“They had really high standards for me growing up,” Lulu says. “I lived in Beijing until I was seven, and in those days, my parents would quiz me on my multiplication tables every night over dinner.”
When her family moved to Toronto, Lulu didn’t speak any English, but her math skills were beyond what was taught in the grade three class she joined. “They were multiplying four times five using apples, but I had already learned my times tables up to 12 when I was five years old.”
Not speaking English, however, made things tough for Lulu. Plus, her parents were starting over in a new country and were working constantly. “They couldn’t afford after-school programs or care, so I stayed home alone a lot,” Lulu recalls. “Those experiences helped me to become really independent.”
As she grew up, Lulu found her footing, working extra hard in school. “I once got an 88 per cent on a math test, and my mom told me I was hopeless,” Lulu recalls, laughing. Thankfully, her mom was wrong. And, while Lulu thought about becoming an optometrist, she found herself stronger in math than sciences and enrolled in the Commerce program at Queen’s University’s Smith School of Business.
In her first year, Lulu went to a recruiting event for consulting firms and decided that she too wanted to be a consultant. “I was sold,” she recalls. “My goal was to launch my career in consulting for a few years, then do an MBA at an Ivy League school before working in leadership in the beauty or fashion industry.”
Her love of fashion came from the movies. “As a kid growing up, we didn’t have a lot of money, and I’d wear the same outfit five days in a row. But I watched The Devil Wears Prada and fell in love with that lifestyle,” she says.
“Maybe I was thinking of becoming a math professor in another life. The math building at Queen’s was where I truly felt at home.”
At Queen’s, Lulu co-chaired the Queen’s Business Forum on the Fashion Industry (now the Queen’s Retail Forum), a student-run conference that explored the multifaceted world of fashion and retail from a business perspective. This hands-on experience, coupled with a summer internship at L’Oréal in Montreal, solidified her love of the industry.
When Lulu secured a consulting job with Accenture at the beginning of her fourth year, it took the pressure off finding a job upon graduation. With that peace of mind, she decided to take on a more extensive course load. A year later, Lulu graduated with two bachelor’s degrees — the commerce degree and another full degree in math. “Maybe I was thinking of becoming a math professor in another life,” she says. “The math building at Queen’s was where I truly felt at home.”
After a summer of travelling in Asia and Europe, Lulu started at Accenture, expecting to thrive in her role. “I had always done well in school and I wasn’t used to failure,” she recalls. “I guess I had a big ego back then, but consulting certainly humbled me. And to be honest, I hated it.”
In the midst of what she referred to as a “quarter-life crisis,” Lulu realized that she’d been working so hard toward this one particular goal that she hadn’t stopped to consider what would happen if it didn’t work out.
It was around this time, while watching “morning routine” videos on YouTube, that she discovered Luxy Hair. “I had been following Luxy’s co-founder, Mimi Ikonn, on her YouTube channel,” Lulu recalls. She watched all of Ikonn’s videos in two weeks, then reached out to learn more about the companies that Ikonn and her husband, Alex, had founded.
“They were hiring for a social media position with their other company, Intelligent Change,” Lulu recalls. “But, as I got to know them, they decided they wanted to bring me on to Luxy Hair and train me for a GM role they needed to fill.”
Leaving consulting for the new venture world was risky — but Lulu was ready for the change. Luxy had grown from a startup created to fill a gap in the market for quality hair extensions to a scale-up with a million dollars in sales in its first year. In 2017, Time.com named Luxy’s YouTube channel as one of the 15 best to watch. Today, with over three million subscribers, the company’s videos have accumulated nearly half a billion views. The Luxy Hair channel has become a go-to source for tutorials, hairstyles, hair hacks, extension tips and more.
“When I started with Luxy, we were a small group working from a co-work space,” Lulu recalls. “Now we have a beautiful office and an amazing team and we’re world class in what we do in terms of people and culture.” The company was named one of the Top 50 Best Places to work in Canada, something Lulu is especially proud of.
“While there may be a stigma attached to hair extensions, and it’s still a niche industry, I know that lipstick was once taboo, too,” Lulu says. “Our goal is to empower women to lift each other up and make it okay for any girl or woman to change up their hair, make it longer, fix a bad haircut, create a natural balayage look without dye, or do something special for an event.”
In 2018, Luxy Hair was acquired by the American beauty conglomerate Beauty Industry Group, and Lulu, then the GM, led the company through the entire sale process. One stipulation of the sale was that she’d stay on as CEO, while the Ikonns left to start another business. “Overall, we run the business autonomously, but the owners are really supportive and helpful when we need it,” she explains.
“I had that moment of realization that there was no point of achieving huge successes if you weren’t going to feel happy day-to-day — the moments you work so hard toward aren’t you or your life, in fact your life is everything that happens in between.”
While 2018 was certainly a milestone year for Lulu (selling the business, becoming CEO, getting engaged and travelling a great deal), she says it was actually one of the most anxious years of her life. “I had that moment of realization that there was no point of achieving huge successes if you weren’t going to feel happy day-to-day. The moments you work so hard toward aren’t you or your life. In fact, your life is everything that happens in between.”
Lulu began to think critically about her own habits, and what she did have control over in her life. Then she and her best friend created a tool they could use to build better habits. With the entrepreneurial drive lit within her, Lulu decided to take this tool and create a product she could share with others.
Together Lulu and her friend launched Evergreen Journals and their first product, The Habit Journal, in May 2020. “Our journal is available online and will be in the Goop holiday gift guide,” Lulu says. “It feels really good to have created something of my own, and we have more products and ideas in the pipeline as well.”
Looking back on her career to date, Lulu is proud of her successes and excited for what the future holds. “I’m so grateful I hated consulting, because I don’t think that if I’d been successful I would have had the courage to take the leap,” she says. “My greatest lesson in all of that was, sometimes you have to let go in life. It’s important to have goals and work toward your dreams, but you also have to let go of expectations and focus on what you can control. And don’t take anything for granted.”