“. . .all my life I’ve been in careers where I was a minority”
by Anna Glotzer
Cynthia Chen started her career as an engineer. And even after more than a decade of owning a custom menswear shop, she still identifies as a peer with engineers.
“We wanted to take a mathematical model of your profile. We created a solution where we could create a custom garment and apply equations to the measurements and all these different variables such as age, shape, and preference and create equations to create an output for a perfect fit for them,” says Cynthia, who owns Savile Lane in Fairlawn.
“It wasn’t very hard of a transition for me to go from an engineering curriculum or engineering role into this because it was male-dominated, so I was used to it,” Cynthia continues. “[In college,] I was a minority and a woman in engineering, so falling into the workplace was the same thing. I was always exposed to that environment.”
“All my life I’ve been in careers where I was a minority,” she says.
After noticing the blind spots in the custom menswear industry about 12 years ago, Cynthia got to work with the help of her family.
“I wanted to be more grounded and local. We knew there was a need for custom. As an engineer, you think, ‘there has to be a better way to do this,’” she says.
Her enthusiasm for business translates to genuine interest in how clients are growing their professional lives.
“I approach my clients in a different way,” Cynthia explains. Smiling, she poses questions like: “What are your needs? What are your variables? What are your issues? Let’s have that conversation first and then let’s figure out how to fix all those issues. I will work with you on how to fill in those needs. I don’t try and sell them. Just like an engineer, I’m a solutions provider.”
Appropriately enough, Cynthia remarks that a number of her clients are engineers. “I think I actually gain more respect from them, only because I share the same background as them. I can talk in their technology world or in their engineering world and understand how they work. I understand how they think, their analytics, their processing, because I was there.”
Perhaps this is also why Cynthia’s clients take so well to her methods of producing custom dress shirts or perfectly-fitted suits. As I learned more about Cynthia, a client came in to pick up an order and raved about his dress shirts with personalized buttons and thread colors. He described his experience as a collaborative effort with Cynthia.
Cynthia’s commitment to providing a standard of quality within the walls of her business can be linked to her parents, as the Chen family has a history of offering solutions to Akron’s community.
Cynthia’s father was born in Taiwan and her mother in Hong Kong. After meeting at Vanderbilt University, the Chens married and settled in Akron. Cynthia describes both of her parents as “serial entrepreneurs.”Her father was an engineering professor at the University of Akron and had several business ventures.
Her mother, May Chen, helped found the nonprofit organization Asian Services in Action in 1994. The organization makes efforts towards improving disparities between Akron’s Asian community and other residents.
Cynthia proudly recounts that May “grew Asian Services in Action from a small little office with four women with this belief . . . that there were needs to serve in the Asian community and they weren’t being met.”
Cynthia explains that her mother was able to put together programs that targeted Asian seniors and bring them together to educate them on some of the benefits available in Akron. The organization helped to settle refugees in the community and has since expanded, adding a location in Cleveland.
“That’s where I get my energy and foundation,” she reflects.
To would-be entrepreneurs in Akron or elsewhere, Cynthia says, “Don’t let the barriers or stereotypes of being a woman or a person of color prevent you from achieving what you really want to do.”
Savile Lane is located at 117 Ghent Rd. in Fairlawn. For more info, visit savilelane.com
For more information on Asian Services in Action: http://www.asiaohio.org
Anna Glotzer is a mother, literature enthusiast, and lover of all things Akron.