Two names that abruptly come to mind when discussing top-notch celebrity jewelers are Johnny Dang, also known as “TV Johnny,” and Koreatown’s very own Ben Baller. Not only do they share an affinity for providing high-grade gems in extremely rare forms, both bling connoisseurs are of Asian descent. LA-based jewelry designer Ken Jen is meticulously molding and polishing his own diamonds to shine bright in the industry, just like his OGs from the Far East.
The 24-year-old entrepreneur’s come up is nothing short of spectacular. Born in Taiwan, Ken moved with his family to Shanghai at the age of seven. After receiving a green card eight years later, Jen and his brother (sans parents) flew to the states---Austin, Texas to be exact. “I was not a big fan of living in Texas,” Ken admits. “The culture is way different from China, but it wasn’t what I expected. I was pretty young at the time so no complaints. I was really there for school and to learn english.”
Although he disliked the new setting, Jen managed to graduate High School with honors. As a matter of fact, his studious ways helped him gain a full scholarship to the University of Texas. During his freshman year, Ken was presented with the opportunity to work in the retail/wholesale industry by an Instagram buddy, which prompted him to immediately drop out of school and move to the West Coast in 2013.
The city of Angels served as fertile ground that enabled Ken’s wildest dreams to bloom. He became the COO of his comrade’s retail company in just two years. In 2015, Jen’s interest in the jewelry industry blossomed and Ben Baller himself eventually gave him a shot to work under his wings. Fast forward to now, the former apprentice is flying high all by himself as owner of his three months old custom jewelry company Fenom & Co.
I recently sat down with the young CEO to further discuss his rise in the jewelry industry, celebrity clients, favorite pieces and fashion industry past. Check out our conversation below:
FRENDY: Where did you and your older brother crash when y’all moved to Austin?
KEN JEN: We moved there in 2008 and stayed with my dad’s friends, who were our guardians at the time.
FRENDY: What was so off putting about living in Texas?
KEN JEN: I didn’t know what the fuck I was doing. I moved to Texas mainly to learn English. I wasn’t sure what I would be doing after.
FRENDY: I came to the United States when I was seven years old from Haiti so I know all about the culture shock that you felt. What HS did you attend in Austin? Were you able to make a lot of new friends?
KEN JEN: I went to Crockett High School in Austin. I didn’t make many friends my first year and a half because of the language barrier. Eventually, I made some.
FRENDY: How long did you know the person from Instagram that blessed you with the opportunity of working in wholesale?
KEN JEN: Instagram is great for our generation to link with people. We were friends for about 6 months before he offered me the job.
FRENDY: There are tons of catfishes online, what made you trust in him so much?
KEN JEN: The Internet is a dope place --- it brings a lot of dope people together. You just have to trust it. We just had similar interests in certain things like fashion, music etc, and he was in the business I wanted to be in. It was a win-win situation for both of us to work together.
FRENDY: Is it safe to say that you weren’t enjoying your stay at the University of Austin since you decided to dip from there at the drop of a dime?
KEN JEN: All day! It was one of the biggest decisions of my life. It’s all about trusting the process...taking risks. Everyone thought I was crazy when I dropped out *Laughs*. I didn’t have a major in college nor did I know what I wanted to do in life. I got into college on full scholarship, but I kinda went for my parents, you know.
FRENDY: Were your parents informed about the big move prior or after moving to LA?
KEN JEN: No. I booked a one way ticket to Los Angeles, logged into the wifi on the plane, facetimed my mom and told her the news. Of course my traditional Asian parents weren’t happy with my decision, but they didn’t say much because I was already on the plane.
I knew I would make it in LA, if not, at least I tried. I mean, I was 20, I had nothing to lose *Laughs*.
FRENDY: *Laughs* Talk about taking initiative. What was the first order of business when you moved to California? And was it difficult for you to flow with LA’s pace?
KEN JEN: First order of business? Make money! It all came pretty easy for me because my mentors put me on.
FRENDY: What were your initial job duties in LA?
KEN JEN: At the time, my friend and I were attending trade shows like Agenda, buying from other brands and then resale.
FRENDY: Where did you guys do the resale?
KEN JEN: Online and physical shops in Asia.
FRENDY: What sparked your interest in the jewelry Industry? And how exactly did you get acquainted with the legendary Ben Baller?
KEN JEN: I was always a fan of jewelry, but never thought I’d become a jeweler. When I was working with the guy from Instagram, we had a grand opening in China. We flew Ben out for the opening as a guest.
FRENDY: What made you depart from the business partnership with your Instagram friend?
KEN JEN: Failed business because the resale industry wasn’t doing so well. Ultimately, I had to do what was best for me.
FRENDY: You said you didn’t get involved with the designing aspect of jewelry while working with Ben, as you only focused on the marketing/sales aspects of things. I see you’re with celebs now, molding their teeth for grills etc. Are you currently involved with customizing pieces?
KEN JEN: Yes. Now I own my own company, where I'm hands on with all aspects of the business.
FRENDY: Who do you run Fenom & Co. with?
KEN JEN: I have two partners who are like family.
FRENDY: How do you obtain clientele? Word of mouth?
KEN JEN: Absolutely! Word of mouth is the best way to promote in the jewelry business. But at the end of the day, as long as I have good product and keep doing the right thing then we’re winning.
FRENDY: Do you remember the first person you helped make a piece for?
KEN JEN: Yeah, it’s been about 2 years and I actually spoke to him just the other day.
FRENDY: What’s the process of making a custom piece?
KEN JEN: To start we need a clear design, and then we will cut the wax of the design. After it is casted into gold. After the gold is done, we discuss diamonds. Last step is polishing/finishing.
FRENDY: What’s your favorite jewelry design that you created?
KEN JEN: It got to be the piece I did for Lebron James. It’s a 18kt solid “Diamond Dust” lion head pendant, featuring VVS Diamonds on the engraving. And it’s hand-made just for the king!
FRENDY: In your opinion, what’s the biggest trend in the Hip Hop jewelry world right now?
KEN JEN: Custom jewelry is changing the game. Jesus pieces, cuban links, iced out Rolex, tennis chains and custom grills are always trending. The biggest one in my opinion are custom grills.
FRENDY: Most people reading this are aware of Nigo’s immense impact in the streetwear industry and jewelry culture. If he ever contacted you to provide him with a custom piece of your own creation, what would it be?
KEN JEN: *Laughs* I would probably make him an iced out Chinese To-Go box.
FRENDY: Are your parents aware of your increasing success?
KEN JEN: Yes. I’ve been taking care of them since I was 21.