Chelsea Pearl Li: The third year model, actress and entrepreneur with her own lingerie line
She’s the face behind LILIPEARL
You might have heard of Chelsea Pearl Li. Earlier this year she became Depop’s #1 seller after setting up LILPEARL – a handmade lingerie and clothing line.
Aside from setting up her own business, she goes to uni, has modeled for Burberry, and has appeared in Made in Chelsea, the Inbetweeners and a Bond movie. She is 22 years old.
Just a year ago, she was hand-making lingerie from her bedroom, and now she’s opening up her own store during her final year of uni at SOAS. The actress, model and student has sold her designs to Perrie Edwards, partied with Rita Ora and has 25.4k followers on Instagram.
The face and brains behind LILIPEARL spoke to me about juggling a degree with her business, killing it on social media and working alongside Daniel Craig.
How did it all start?
I actually started by making pieces for myself and after posting pictures on Instagram. So many users began asking where I got the piece and if I could make them one too. And so it began. LILIPEARL literally started in my bedroom. Eventually, it then moved to my garden shed, then garage and now I am moving into my own studio in East London.
When did you start designing?
Not long, it all happened quite quickly. I began properly designing roughly last summer just before being announced Depop’s #1 seller out of three million users worldwide.
You’re in your final year – how do you manage juggling your business with your degree?
Juggling my final year of uni with my rapidly expanding business has definitely been one of the biggest challenges I’ve ever had to face, but I guess it’s all part of the process. I have had to make a lot of sacrifices. In my second year, I did genuinely contemplate quitting uni. I realised I could actually make more money sitting at home. However, after much convincing from friends and family I’ve decided to persevere and finish my degree as I was already two thirds of the way there. I guess it’ll be good to have it on paper in the end, too.
I also absolutely love SOAS, it’s such a fun and multi-cultural environment and the people you meet are so interesting. It’s a great place for inspiration and meeting other like-minded people. Although I do just wish there were more days in a week for me to do everything!
Do you manage to go out as much as your friends?
Most normal 22-years-old girls would be partying it up on the weekends I’d be catching up with university work or working on new LILIPEARL designs and wrapping up my orders.
Has your course helped you with your business?
I don’t think my business would be anywhere near where it is today If I didn’t go to uni, so there are no regrets. Over the last couple of years I have learnt so much about managing a business. I’m currently studying International Management which is a huge subject largely covering Economics /Business /Statistics/ Accounting.
Did you have any design experience before you started?
I had absolutely no designing experience before this, I owe a lot to my Mother and Father, my amazing friend Clare, my Aunty Mei for gifting me a commercial sewing machine and my cousin Ann who has helped me with designs, as well as the actual making of items and the wrapping/sending off orders. And of course I owe a big thank you to all of my amazing friends, family and supporters whom have kept me motivated all the way.
What’s it like selling on Depop?
Depop has been an amazing platform for selling and I’m glad it was the birthplace of LILIPEARL. The style of the app is very creative and easy to use and the users are absolutely lovely.
Have you had an difficult customers?
There are the odd weirdos asking if I’m selling any used underwear or socks. Some have even asked if I can send nude pictures to them on there, but obviously they just get blocked. Depop has been a big part of LILIPEARL’s growth especially after inviting me to their HQ in London for a photoshoot and interview and regularly featuring my items.
Any advice for people selling on Depop?
For fellow Depopers, the best way to get noticed is via pictures. Depop is a very creative selling platform which is what makes it different from others, so good pictures are key. Also of course writing full descriptions of the items and constantly updating your shop really helps. LILIPEARL was also invited to become a featured designer on the independent designers website Silkfred too which has been exciting.
Your products are more affordable than anything you’ll find on the high street – how do you decide on pricing?
I tend to look at other affordable brands such as Missguided or Topshop which gives me a little niche, as my products are affordable and of a high quality yet unique. Of course my items take longer to make and require a lot more detail than the mass produced items at these stores but affordability is a huge factor for LILIPEARL. Especially as my target market is for stylish young women roughly my age (17-28) most of whom are students themselves or working to save up for more important things such as cars, houses etc. So we can’t really always be spending hundreds of pounds per high quality lingerie set or outfit.
Your lingerie is similar to For Love and Lemons – do you have any inspirations?
For Love and Lemons are one of my biggest inspirations and I’ve always admired their pieces but not their prices as much. As I was already selling crop tops and lingerie on my Depop I decided to look at higher quality fabrics similar to those by For Love and Lemons and designing my own styles. I also spend a lot of time researching Tumblr and Instagram pictures for inspiration on new ideas.
You have a huge Instagram following, how long did it take to get so big?
My Instagram has only recently blown up. Six months ago I only had around 2000 followers, now I have 25,300. A lot of my following is definitely from word of mouth, or word of pictures in this case. I put a little note into each of my parcels for my lovely customers to tag my account wearing LILIPEARL goodies which is a great way of promoting my brand and in return I feature them on my account.
Have you have many famous customers?
Yes I do. My most recent famous customer was Perrie Edwards from the Little Mix. She ordered some of my crochet monokinis and beachwear for her recent holiday in the Maldives, that was pretty exciting.
What did you do before LILIPEARL?
My first job at 16-years-old was working for the Abercrombie & Fitch flagship store in London, which created a lot of grounding for me to start LILIPEARL and helped me to learn all about the clothing/retail/fashion/modelling/acting industry from the inside. Working there was an amazing opportunity as I met such amazing like-minded business people and artists some of whom are really famous now – such as Daisy Ridley who is in the new Star Wars movie. I even spent my 18th birthday at an after party with Rita Ora.
You’ve done a lot of modelling and acting too.
Yeah, my first acting job was as an extra in James Bond Skyfall and it was a completely surreal experience. One minute I’d be on set talking to the lovely Daniel Craig, and then the next minute during the filming breaks I’d be revising for my A levels. I took a week off school just before my final A level exams to film it.
What other things have you acted in?
Filming the Inbetweeners 2 was an absolute laugh, the guys and the directors were so lovely and so funny that the filming just went so quickly and it didn’t feel like work at all.
What was it like acting as an extra in Made in Chelsea?
That was great. It was an episode from a couple of years ago. The cast were great – Ollie Locke told me that he had better hair than me and cheeky Jamie slapped my bum and then pretended it wasn’t him. So awkward. There was a PJ party afterwards for Tatler magazine when Millie Mackintosh came in and absolutely wowed everyone. That was a really fun experience, as I was allowed to bring a couple of my friends with me too.
Are you still continuing with acting?
Over the last few months, with uni work and LILIPEARL stuff I haven’t really had any time for auditions or castings so am being really picky with which jobs I do. But when and if I have time I’ll definitely get back into it properly. I actually just did an advert filming for Burberry which was an absolute dream. I cannot wait until that comes out.
Has your life changed much since LILIPEARL’s growth?
I don’t think my life has changed drastically, other than being alot busier than usual. I’m having to keep a diary of everything and actually plan appointments and meetings to fit things in my schedule. But that’s probably because I’m still at uni. If I wasn’t studying I’d probably be chilling on a beach somewhere nice. Oh uni. Just kidding…I wish.
Where do you like to go in London?
My favourite London hangout is definitely West, you get away from the busy central and everything’s just nicer, prettier and quieter. I’m a pescatarian so I love finding great food places one of my fave new places is the Ivy garden in Chelsea. The food is incredible and the restaurant is so cute. It’s actually making me hungry just thinking about it.
Any advice for our readers?
As for advice for fellow #girlbosses out there: don’t give up on your dreams. Just go for it, even if you have to make sacrifices, everybody has to start somewhere. One of my favorite ways of motivating myself is googling what people did before they were famous. Kanye West working for GAP when he was younger. It really makes you realize that if you keep working hard, anything is possible. I’m so glad and excited to have found my passion, but I also know that I still have a lot more work to do and a lot further to go. So watch this space.