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Business in Beijing: Woman entrepreneur blazes a trail in textiles

By 14 June 2009 No Comment

When Meng Yanmei quit her job of 18 years, friends and family begged her not to throw away her career as a general manager for the subsidiary of a government-owned apparel manufacturer, ChinaTex.

Yet Meng wanted something more. “I think it’s better to live,” she said, “so I decided to live.”

She realized that despite her success, she would never be able to attain a top executive position at ChinaTex because of the glass ceiling created by gender discrimination in China’s new free-for-all economy. So in 2005, she started NewTex, a company dedicated to manufacturing licensed apparel for American brands.

“In China, successful women business leaders are increasingly self-made,” said CCTV anchor Jacqueline Chen in a March 2006 interview with Beijing This Month magazine. “They want to make it big with their own creations, rather than being tied to a huge establishment.”

Twenty percent of Chinese national entrepreneurs are women, and 60 percent of them  within the last decade, according to an April 2006 white paper from the Chinese State Council Information Office.

Meng’s husband, Patrick Yu, is the president of state-owned Fortune 500 company Cofco. Yu’s executive position allows the couple, their son and Yu’s parents to live comfortably in a 5-bedroom Beijing apartment. But unlike many women who might have been content to be a stay-at-home wife and mother, Meng was determined to pursue her goal of personal fulfillment.

When Meng broached the subject of beginning a business to her husband, he cautioned her about the struggles she would encounter as a female entrepreneur in China. Yu understood the slim chance of Meng rising to an executive position at ChinaTex, but he thought that starting her own company presented even greater obstacles.

“At first he didn’t agree,” Meng said. “He said to me, ‘You did a very good job in your company – you can work your whole life there.’ But I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to challenge myself. I told my husband, ‘You married me, so you should [support] me.’”

Despite Yu’s reservations, Meng’s thirst for a challenge only strengthened her resolve.

Although NewTex started up four years ago with only six employees, the company quickly expanded to 40 employees within the first few months of operation. High-end retailers such as The Children’s Store and Union Bay Apparel drive $45 million annual export value for NewTex, according to the China Exporter Catalog.

When it comes to NewTex, “I think I’m very lucky,” Meng said.

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