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Tricks of the trade: Chictopia

Corinne Chan and Helen Zhu founded Chictopia, a privately funded social networking site for fashionistas, now with 20,000 registered users. Go to


Name: Corinne Chan (B.S.'97 EECS)
Title: Cofounder and CTO, Chictopia
Former job: Web developer and systems architect, Wells Fargo


Name: Helen Zhu (B.S.'00 ME)
Title: Cofounder and CEO, Chictopia
Former job: Senior product manager,

What is Chictopia?
You create a profile and view “People like me,” which I built. It lets you see what people similar to you are wearing.

Zhu: It’s a fashion social networking site that answers the question “What looks good on you?” according to body shape, skin tone, age and taste in brands.

How did you get the idea?
I was reading Time magazine when they named you Person of the Year [2006]. They talked about MySpace and YouTube; but fashion was left behind, and that’s something I have a lot of passion for. I’m interested in what people around me are wearing, but I don’t have the time to sit in a cafe all day and people watch.

What’s the secret to a good outfit?
Zhu: Finding something that suits your body shape and skin tone, clothes you feel comfortable and confident in and putting together that outfit that, when you look in the mirror, makes you want to take a second look.

Who are your style icons?
I like the J. Crew catalog and our user “annabel.”

Zhu:  I like Scarlett Johansson. She dresses really well for her body. On Chictopia, I love “Snowshoe”—very vintage. And there’s a 16-year-old, “camiller,” who dresses like Audrey Hepburn.

Do you ever show up for work in sweats?
There are days when you feel more fashionable than others, but it’s always a quest. It feels good to dress well.

Zhu:  I feel more inspired to get dressed these days. I used to work in engineering companies; that’s not necessarily the audience that appreciates my new oxford boots or pea coat. Now, putting on an outfit is part of my work.

What’s the hardest part of your job?
Finding the right balance between feature development and the other technical/IT support things I want to do to maintain the health of the site. Since we are small and have limited resources, both are very important. Things change each week, based on feedback from our users; but to me this is the adventure in building a new website.

Ever been a fashion victim?
In high school, my normal outfit was a plaid flannel shirt, sweat pants and tennis shoes.

Zhu: In machine shop at Berkeley, I wore sandals once and the instructor made me put on toe caps: big, round, yellow things. Everyone was laughing at me. From then on I wore Converse and cargo pants every day. Sometimes you’re a fashion victim by choice, other times by major.

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