Entrepreneur – Helen Zhu, CEO of


The Internet has become a virtual hotbed for social networking sites within the past couple of years, but fashion is one area that has remained generally untouched. But those who are in dire need of a cyber style oasis can rest easier via, a website dedicated to connecting style seekers to trendsetters.

Chictopia launched in April, but it has been gestating since September 2007. Helen Zhu, the site’s CEO, has eight years of web experience but was looking for a change of pace in her career. A light bulb to ignite this change shined over her head when she picked up an issue of Time magazine.

“I was reading an article in where it named ‘You’ as the Person of the Year,” says Zhu. “They did a spread where the Internet had enabled talented individuals to make a name for themselves. I thought I had a talent in fashion, not because of my knowledge or experience, but because I have good taste. I thought that was a talent and wondered where I could showcase that talent.”

Zhu said she could post on MySpace but would only get date propositions. She could also go the YouTube route, but posting fashion videos where funny ball-busting and cutesy animal clips reigned supreme wasn’t really ideal.

Thus, she formed an alliance with Corinne Chan, Richard Ho and Lulu Chang, and Chictopia was born.

Street style blogs like the Sartorialist and Face Hunter may have found success within the cyber fashion world, but it’s still one person’s point of view. More than that, if you think you have style, and want to be featured on those sites, you might be on a long waiting list.

Chictopia gives everyone the opportunity to be their own sartorialist. You can post posh pictures of yourself, seek style advice from “real people,” find out where to buy clothes and gloat about your fabulousness — but be prepared to get critiqued. Readers and users can rate their stylish peers on a scale from “not” to “chic.” Ultimately, it’s a fashion community created by the people for the people.

“I really saw the opportunity to make a webspace more of a democracy,” explains Zhu. “Just like MySpace made the music industry a democracy and how YouTube allowed creative filmmakers a portal to get seen. I saw the opportunity to change the [fashion] industry via web technology.”

With style mavens named Homme, FashionToast and StarrGirl gaining popularity within the chic community, the site already caught the attention of Teen Vogue, saying that it was “the next big thing.”

Zhu and her Chictopia-ites have created a “fashionocracy” that started with a modest readership primarily based in San Francisco, but since its inception, it has spread to New York, the Midwest and Texas. It has even migrated internationally, gaining a following in Australia, France and Singapore.

As for Asian Americans, Zhu says style is embedded in the culture.

“I can’t speak for others, but for me, it’s deep rooted,” says Zhu, who is Chinese American. “My mom always taught me to look presentable when I go out. There’s always an emphasis that the way you look is a reflection of not only yourself but of your parents. When you go out, you need to notice how you look and how it affects others.”

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