Phoebe is the founder and CEO of ettitude, an online retailer of eco-friendly bedding essentials. With over a decade’s experience working in supply chain management and merchandising, Phoebe’s inspiration for ettitude came when her entrepreneurial instincts and her interest in sustainability and environmental awareness came together. Ettitude was created with the vision of offering luxury and ethical bedding essentials at an accessible price directly to consumers.
Prior to ettitude, Phoebe had founded two international trading and sourcing companies in Asia. With a love of technology, the internet and sustainability, Phoebe constantly seeks new ways to use emerging technologies to solve real-world problems and provide better online shopping experiences.
Tell us a little bit about your idea and what made you decide to take the plunge and make it happen?
Back in 2006 when I just moved to Australia from China, I wasn’t aware of the climate crisis problem because that was not being talked about much in China at that time. So though there was not too much of a “culture shock” for me being a new immigrant, there was indeed an “awareness shock” on the environment issues facing our planet.
I just couldn’t see myself remaining in my old job anymore, which was helping international big retail chain stores sourcing price competitive giftware and homewares in Asia, knowing that those products are part of an unsustainable lifestyle of overconsumption. Most of those products will be used only once or twice during the holiday season and tossed away as they were not designed to last but to make the chain stores the highest profit margin. In addition, they were not made with eco friendly or biodegradable materials so they will end up in landfills for thousands of years!
So I started research to develop my own product line, which is well designed, well made and more sustainable. The idea for ettitude hit me when I was shopping for bedding for my first home in Melbourne. I was in shopping centres for hours hunting for the perfect sheets and was very frustrated by the fact that the affordable linen was of very low quality, while the more comfortable options were outrageously overpriced, not to mention the lack of any eco friendly choices. The solution for my frustration: to build a business from scratch offering luxury and ethical bedding essentials at an accessible price and sell online directly to consumers to bypass the bloated supply chain, and expensive designer licensing fees that were passed onto them by traditional retailers.
Can you please explain your business model?
Our business model is vertically integrated eCommerce. We design in-house and work directly with the manufacturer and sell online directly to consumers. No middleman, no high retail mark-up means a fairer price for our customers.
What are you working on right now and what are you most excited about in the next three months?
We are busy working on several collaboration projects with other Melbourne designers and artists to roll out a series of limited edition printed pillowcases using water-based eco friendly ink. A portion of the proceeds from these projects will be donated to various charities we support.
In the next three months I am most excited about launching our second crowdfunding project on Kickstarter to introduce a brand new and innovative eco textile to the market. Last year we launched our first digital printed collection on Pozible and it was a huge success.
How do you make ideas happen?
I believe in the power of collaboration to make ideas happen, and to make a positive impact. For example, our first crowdfunding project we collaborated with Melbourne fashion label Limedrop to develop and launch our first digital printing collection. So we can leverage the talent and resources of both companies and tap into each other’s fan bases. It was an instant success and brought lots of media attention for both of us.
What does your typical day look like?
I have two types of working day routines. One or two days a week, I carpool with our marketing team to go into our Epping office and warehouse to work onsite with the operations team. On the other days of the week, I work with the marketing team or have business meetings in various co-working places or cafes in CBD or inner suburbs.
We are an eCommerce company, so except the order despatching part which has to be done in our warehouse, most other work can all be done at a computer. We actively promote a more flexible working environment as I find that also leads to greater creativity. It also saves time and petrol on commuting. Sustainability is the core of our company values, so in everything we do, we try to lower the environment impact as much as we can.
What challenges have you faced when starting or growing a business/organisation in Australia?
One of the biggest challenges is the high postage cost in Australia. More than 10% of our total revenue is just the postage. Apart from the cost, it is also slow and unreliable during holiday peak times.
Another challenge is the lack of “growth funds”. There is more money available at the seed level then at the growth stage. There is an undersupply of Australian capital for raising the large amounts needed to build big or global businesses.
What is one idea you are willing to give away for free?
Ask for a ton of advice and then actively ignore most of it. Nobody knows your company better than you. Other people’s advice is really good in helping you find your blind spots or to avoid common mistakes, but you need to do your own thinking about what’s the best solution for your company at that particular moment.
Who do you think is doing really cool stuff in your industry at the moment?
What role do you think business can play in affecting social change?
I think these days, entrepreneurs have the best opportunities to drive significant positive social change through innovation. Companies should be purpose-driven and create benefit for all stakeholders, not just shareholders. A good example is the global movement of certified B Corporations. They are building a global economy that uses business as a force for good. Our company is also aiming to become a B corp within the next 12 months.
Speaking of affecting social change, is there a particular charity you’d like our readers to support?
We are forming a partnership with Swags for homeless, a not-for-profit charity working to provide emergency relief Backpack Beds to every homeless person turned away from shelter. A portion of the proceeds from the sales of our sheet set will be donated to them to help fund the manufacturing and distribution of the life-saving backpack beds to improve the health, dignity and comfort of those sleeping on our streets, under bridges and throughout our cities.
Can you name 3 websites you would recommend to our readers?
This week in startups: http://thisweekinstartups.com/
Both sides of the table: http://www.bothsidesofthetable.com/
Are there opportunities for people to get involved with your idea (e.g. are you looking for funding, interns, marketing help)?
We are always looking for opportunities to collaborate with other brands/companies who share similar value to ours. We also have social media and PR internship position available: https://www.ettitude.com.au/pages/jobs.html
We’re aiming to build a community of Australian idea makers helping each other. If you could have one question answered about startups, marketing, social media, accounting, monetization, product development etc. What would it be?
How to measure social media ROI?
What’s your favourite bar/café/restaurant?
Shimbashi Japanese Soba and Sake Bar, the best handmade buckwheat soba in Melbourne!