Molly Wang came to the United States from China in 1998 with only $200 and a single hope: better medical care for her rheumatoid arthritis, which had become so debilitating Wang found it difficult to hold anything in her hands.
Wang had no friends when she arrived in Orange County, California. A local church group helped her get hired as a salesperson at a Nissan dealership. There was a steep learning curve for her, but soon Wang excelled at working with the customers other salespeople had rejected.
“I learned you don’t prejudge anybody. You just do your job,” Wang says. “Anyone who walked in, I helped them. I don’t mind doing all of the legwork. If you know you’re not better than anyone else, you just need to work harder and keep learning.”
As her life stabilized, Wang knew cars weren’t her calling. She heard that patternmaking was steady work, so she found a trade school in Los Angeles to learn this skill. While attending school, Wang needed to make money. She met a classmate who was importing costume jewelry, and offered to sell that jewelry as a side hustle. And so her life in the jewelry industry began.
It wasn’t glamorous, Wang says. She sold at farmers markets, flea markets, swap meets—anything she could do outside her school schedule. “I learned how to deal with customers, what kind of product people like,” Wang says. “Before I graduated, I knew swap meets weren’t what I wanted to do. I wanted to do wholesale.”
Wang took a big swing to see what might happen: She started meeting with additional California manufacturers and learned more about the business. She flew to Hong Kong, attended a jewelry and watch show, met vendors, toured some factories, and found the right partner who needed a U.S. distribution channel.
“I offered to help them open the American market, and they accepted. That’s what got me started,” Wang says. “I promoted their manufacturing and took their samples to shows.”
Wang expanded into marketing micro-pavé diamonds, diamond simulants, and private-label jewelry. She saw space for better-quality pieces at affordable prices and decided it was time to go out on her own, founding the Lafonn jewelry brand in 2010.
“It was for women, created by women,” Wang says. “It is a gift women can get for themselves as reward for their success.”
Today, Lafonn is sold in more than 1,000 retail locations, including Nordstrom and Saks Fifth Avenue stores. Wang says the jewelry is for women of all ages, ethnicities, lifestyles, and abilities. As she qualifies as disabled because of her rheumatoid arthritis, she hopes her life inspires others to do everything they can.
She says one of her proudest moments happened in 2022 when she received a Stevie Award for Women in Business. The judges recognized Wang for keeping her employees on the payroll during the pandemic and helping her team thrive throughout her years as CEO. Her two sons attended the award ceremony with her, something that brought her much joy as a single mother.
“Nothing can really stop you if you have a dream. If you pursue your dreams, you can get there,” Wang says.
Top: Molly Wang turned her skills as a salesperson toward jewelry, and eventually created her own jewelry company, Lafonn. (Photos courtesy of Lafonn)@jckmagazine
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