Born and raised in China, Phoebe Yu spent 15 years producing homewares for some of the largest US retailers. Now Phoebe is the founder of online eco-bedding retailer, Ettitude, and her decade and a half of experience proved fertile ground for Ettitude.
“It taught me a huge amount about logistics and strong supply chains in the lifestyle goods sector – but equally, I had a front-row seat to the compromises that were made to quality and sustainability in the name of saving money and keeping costs as low as possible,” Phoebe says.
When she felt ready to hang up her corporate stilettos and dive into her own enterprise, Ettitude was born out of Phoebe’s own frustration at not being able to find what she wanted: in this case, good quality, eco-friendly, affordable linens.
“When I moved to Australia and started kitting out my new home, I saw a huge gap in the market for homewares that were well-made, reasonably priced and made in ethical and sustainable ways,” she says.
“I couldn’t find bedding that felt and looked good that didn’t cost a fortune and was environmentally friendly. Ettitude is really the culmination of my career experience and the personal values that came from that experience.”
With a gut feeling that a growing number of people were becoming more conscious of their environmental footprint and wanted to make more sustainable purchases, her first practical step to see if the idea had legs was to “take a really direct market research approach, by crowdfunding the development of new products”.
“We partnered with a textile university in Shanghai to develop our exclusive lyocell fabric, so we knew the product itself was of very high quality, but being such a tactile and personal purchase, buying bedding online without touching it first is a bit of a barrier for some. So we offer a 30-night sleep trial for customers,” Phoebe explains.
“We found this to be a really effective way of seeing the enthusiasm in real terms for different ideas and designs. The most important thing, for us, was to get the touch-feel of our textiles right.”
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That exclusive fabric Phoebe refers to isn’t just any old textile: the Lyocell fabric is made from 100% organic bamboo, the most resource-efficient plant on the planet, instead of traditional wood. The process saves 98% of the water and it results in a fabric that shares the feeling of silk.
And because the linens are breathable and free from harmful chemicals, it’s also ideal for sensitive and acne-prone skin, while the bamboo is anti-static – ideal for those who battle frizzy hair.
It’s all of these qualities that make Ettitude so unique and special, but Phoebe says she also worked overtime to ensure the products remained affordable to the wider community.
This proved to be something of a challenge, and resulted in a time-intensive prototyping phase that Phoebe admits was, at times, hard to push through.
“Bedding has to be both soft and durable, and because we were essentially trying to create a new type of fabric composition, there was a lot of testing that had to happen,” she says.
“All the trial and error could sometimes be disheartening. Overcoming that was really a matter of perseverance and patience and I am of course so glad we stuck with it!”
So are thousands of happy customers. After launching in Australia in 2016, Ettitude expanded to the US market in October 2017 and by November 2018, they had opened their LA-based office and set up internal logistics in the region.
“It was a big move, but in 10 months, our revenue grew by 300 percent and in 12 months, our US revenue had overtaken our Australian revenue,” Phoebe confides.
“That confirmed the appetite for our product and gave me greater confidence in our overall business growth strategy. Just last month, we opened our first pop-up store in Los Angeles. Seeing Ettitude come to life in that way has been a very exciting milestone for the whole team.”
Part of their business model is leveraging strategic partnerships and collaborations, as Phoebe believes a great way to find new audiences is by working with like-minded brands and people.
“In the USA, we partnered with the Ali Forney Center in NYC for our Good For Everyone campaign in support of Pride Month and at a broader level, we donate 1% of the revenue from our signature bedding each fiscal year to 1% For The Planet, which supports environmental nonprofits,” Phoebe says.
“In Australia, some of the recent standouts include a partnership with Geneva Vanderzeil of Collective Gen and events in partnership with The Blow salon in Melbourne and The Old Clare in Sydney. We’ve also worked with sustainable and ethical retailers including Well Made Clothes and The Dirt Company; for us to partner up or collaborate, there has to be a strong values alignment first and foremost.”
For those who see Ettitude’s journey and are keen to replicate their success with their own business, Phoebe offers some simple guidance: get a good night’s sleep where you can, and don’t listen to everyone opinion or piece of advice thrown your way.
“Starting any business is going to be tough, and this was made clear when we first started seeking VC funding; as a female immigrant entrepreneur, there were barriers. But generally, there is a lot of goodwill and energy directed at start-ups in both Australia and the USA,” she says.
“Don’t be afraid to use all the resources available to you: the government is a great source of information and guidance on launching a new business. And probably the most vital tip: if you believe in it and it’s your true passion, stick with it. I’ve actually been amazed by the overwhelmingly positive interest in Ettitude’s products and our mission. This has been a really wonderful social and cultural change and continues to motivate us to improve and develop the brand further.”
You can shop online at Ettitude, here.