From the source: Phoebe Yu, Ettitude

Phoebe Yu launched bedding brand Ettitude in 2014 when she created 100 per cent organic bamboo lyocell in partnership with the University of Shanghai. Eighteen months after launching into the US, the brand grew its revenue by 10 times and surpassed its local month-on-month revenue. Here, Yu shares her future overseas plans and her insights into the US market.

Inside Retail Weekly: Earlier this year, you guys won the International Conqueror Award at the Online Retailer Industry Awards. Do you feel like you’ve conquered overseas?

Phoebe Yu: I wouldn’t say ‘conquered’, but our US revenue is more than Australia and we have gained some international recognition. In the last 18 months, the US has grown 10 times but overall company growth has grown four times. The market size has a quicker growth rate and we’re fairly new there.

IRW: What has Ettitude been up to in the past year?

PY: We’ve been really busy and travelling a lot within the US for conferences and business meetings. It’s a challenge but a blessing. 

We have two teams – one in Australia and another in the US – and we draw talent from different countries to gain a wider perspective and different talent and skillsets that we can utilise. It can bring some challenges, that’s why we put the US office in LA, not New York, even though New York is our number one city in terms of sales, but timezone-wise, it would be hard for our teams to collaborate. The LA afternoon is morning in Melbourne, so we have three or four solid hours that the team can work together, when all hands are on board discussing and constantly communicating, so that helps. 

Our teams are growing too. We have four in Australia and six in the US. We recently hired a part-time graphic designer and we’ll probably hire marketing in the US.

IRW: What’s on the cards for the business next year?

PY: Next year, the size of the company will grow by three or four times. We’re opening a pop-up store in LA in October-December to test physical retail. If that goes well, we’ll probably focus on opening a permanent store or do more pop-ups in New York and Australia. There are some good opportunities and locations we can test, so next year, we’ll be omnichannel. Our fabrics are very different to cotton, so people only get it when they touch it and when they do, they’re totally sold – it’s so soft and breathable. Physical retail will accelerate the growth rate of the business and we’ll do really well.

We’re looking at launching a pop-up next year in Australia but if an opportunity comes along, it may launch at a smaller scale around Christmas. As a startup, we move quickly, so if there’s a good opportunity, we can do it later this year, but if we do a bigger launch, it will probably happen next year.

IRW: What kind of products will you be stocking in the pop-up?

PY: Bedding and sleepwear and some accessories. Sometimes in a physical space, smaller items have a higher conversion rate. We’ve tested it in other ways. In the US, there are often curated pop-up stores that stock 10-12 different brands. We’ve tested it and we had some learnings around what items could sell well, like pillowcases, sleepwear or eye masks. People might not think, “I need a full set of sheets”, but they love the fabric, so they’ll start with smaller items. Once they fall in love with the fabric, they might go online and buy sheets later. It’s about brand awareness and introducing people to the fabric.

IRW: Do you think American customers appreciate Australian brands?

PY: I think Australia is very strong on design and making eco-conscious products. Americans definitely appreciate that. Skincare brand Frank Body is doing quite well and I’ve seen coffee brand Bluestone Lane from Melbourne, too – they have many stores raised by funding. We’ve collaborated with them a few times too. When it’s done well, I think Americans are quite fond of Australian brands.

IRW: I’ve heard that Australia tends to be a lot more environmentally friendly than many other countries. 

PY: Compared to America, Australians do well from that perspective. I started Ettitude because when I came to Australia from China, I had a re-education on environmental issues and climate change. Years ago in China, those issues weren’t communicated very well. I definitely think that in terms of awareness and education, Australia does a great job. 

IRW: Have you noticed more people are becoming more conscious of what they buy and how it impacts the environment?

PY: I think the trend is shifting that way, especially the younger generation like millennials and Generation Z. People have children and they’re aware that if we don’t do something about climate change or use our shopping power to make a shift and hold companies and brands accountable, one day, there won’t be anywhere for us to live. But we also have to be aware that there are some companies that are greenwashing and pretending to do their due diligence to check on their supply chain. 

It’s a welcome trend that people are looking at more sustainable produce. Less consumption is always better and it’s better if you can reuse something or recycle.

But if they have to buy something new, people want to know where the raw materials come from and if the workers are fairly treated. Our consumers ask us a ton of questions, which we welcome. It’s another opportunity to educate your customers who hold us accountable.

Millennials and even Generation Z are shaping company culture and they’re a major part of the workforce. My company is made up of millennials and Gen Zs. They love that they’re building something and they represent the customers we’re seeing, so we sell to them in an authentic way. 

IRW: Tell me about the community initiatives that Ettitude supports. How do you choose which ones to get involved in?

PY: I think the causes come down to what our employees care about. We support environmental causes but also One Girl in Melbourne. They support African girls who don’t have access to school and they help them to get an education. Studies show that supporting women in education is a major force that can counter climate change. Social and environmental causes are all connected.

According to Project Drawdown, the world’s leading resource for climate solutions, there are currently 130 million girls denied the right to attend school. This is hugely problematic, because the more educated girls are, the fewer children they tend to have and the more equipped they are to not only be financially self-sufficient, but also face the impacts of climate change. Project Drawdown released a report that highlighted the power of education in reducing C02. According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, by closing an annual financing gap of $39 billion, universal education in low- and lower-middle-income countries can be achieved. It could result in 51.48 gigatons of emissions reduced by 2050.

Causebox was a natural collaboration for us. Because we share the same values and world views, it was easy to work with them. Causebox is a subscription box where they send out a curated set of socially conscious products to their customers. It’s about discovery for the customer and its cheaper for them to buy the box than buying the items separately at retail price. When we connected with them, they were a great fit for us. Our eyemasks are within their box. They’re also a B Corp and one of our next year’s goals is to be a B Corp – we’re in the process of doing that. 

I have family and friends who are in the LGBTQI community, so Pride is a cause that’s close to our heart and which we support. We believe everyone deserves a comfortable night’s sleep in a safe environment. But for some, finding a place to go each night is a struggle in itself. Every night in the US, thousands of LGBTQ+ youth have nowhere to go. We designed a limited edition bedding collection called Good For Everyone, and donated 30 per cent of every purchase from the range to the Ali Forney Centre (AFC), the largest agency dedicated to serving homeless and runaway LGBTQ+ youth in New York City and across the US. The AFC implements some extraordinary initiatives. On a typical day, the agency’s programming reaches nearly 500 homeless LGBTQ+ youth aged 16-24.

IRW: You developed the bedding in partnership with a Shanghai textile university. Tell me what makes it so special.

PY: It’s unique because of the fabric which we developed for years with a supplier. It’s the third generation of bamboo fabric, bamboo lyocell. It’s a closed loop production – that means we recycle everything within the production to save resources, including water. We use an organic solution to dissolve the bamboo so there are no harmful chemicals. 

The final product is finer and stronger fabric and there’s less pilling. Its softness rivals silk – it’s way softer than your high-thread-count cotton and it’s super breathable and lightweight. It almost feels like you’re not wearing anything, it gives you a buttery soft, snuggly feeling. And it regulates to your body temperature at night. If you’re too warm at night, you sweat a lot and it interferes your sleep, but with a breathable fabric, you sleep better. 

The whole lifestyle that we try to advocate is around better health and a more sustainable lifestyle, which starts with good sleep.

IRW: Apart from the US, are you looking at other international markets to expand into?

PY: We’ll shift into the UK and Singapore, but we won’t push it. We’ll grow our presence there because of our popularity on social media where people find us, but we don’t allocate too much resources to it yet. 

IRW: What are some of the interesting things you’ve learned about the US since you launched there?

PY: The US customer is more comfortable to try new things, which is why we grew so quickly. Because they’re spoiled for choice, they have a higher expectation of customer service levels, so you may have a higher return and exchange rate than in Australia. If there’s anything wrong, they’re happier to return. They expect super fast shipping because of Amazon, and everyone has to compete with those expectations. Free shipping and returns is expected and everyone does it. The customer levels provided by US brands is higher than in Australia because there’s so much competition.

There are more marketing channels there because of the size of the market and because of Silicon Valley, a lot of the marketing channels and adtech are often first available in the US because of testing – many businesses will launch features in the US, then open to countries later. So sometimes we may be able to test something in the US, but it may not be available in Australia.

Subscription boxes are a huge industry in the US but in Australia, but there are not as many famous ones at the same kind of scale.


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