Julie Mathers, Founder and CEO of Flora & Fauna is one of the most purpose driven entrepreneurs you will ever meet. A passionate retailer, whose mission is to have people ask what’s in their products and where did they come from, rather than who’s wearing them, Julie puts customers at the forefront of her business. At Flora & Fauna you can source the best natural, organic vegan skin care, make up, body, home and lifestyle products. There are over 2000 products available online.
Flora & Fauna’s ethos is being passionate about living ethically, nature and natural alternatives. Julie is an animal lover since childhood, often rescuing and rehabilitating sick or injured animals. Her love for animals drove her decision to become a vegetarian at age 16, and further research on animal food production methods spurred her to become vegan. These days, her pets include 3 cats, and Flora & Fauna’s mascot, Rosie, the 100% vegan pig.
Julie is a Women2Watch in Retail Disruption Honoree 2017. In addition, Flora & Fauna was awarded as a 2017 Finalist in the World Retail Awards – Responsible Retailer of the Year category, as well as a Finalist of ORIA’s – Best Bootstrapped Growth Initiative 2016 and Finalist of ORIA’s – Best New Retailer 2016.
Tell us about the moment you decided to take what you had learned from the world of large corporate retailers and start Flora & Fauna.
I’ve dabbled for years in various ‘projects’ but have always wanted to develop and run a business which makes a real difference and which is 100% customer focused. I remember in June 2014 trying to find a lipstick that was cruelty free. It was far too difficult to find out what testing had been done and what was in it. It was a very frustrating shopping experience with a complete lack of transparency. Add my passion for the environment and being vegan, and that was the perfect catalyst for Flora & Fauna.
What did you need to unlearn from your corporate retailer background in order to make Flora & Fauna an online commercial success?
There are some amazing things that corporate life has taught me such as planning, prioritisation, relationship management and general business acumen. The difference is the speed at which we can operate. In corporate life there is often quite a bit of red tape to get through, whereas in your own business you set the rules and you manage the consequences good or bad. You have to be bold and make decisions. Personally I love it, as I’m a real trader so am totally in my element and love being close to the customer. It’s incredibly empowering along with being really quite stressful! That should never be underestimated.
At what point did you introduce personalisation into the online customer experience and how has this benefited Flora & Fauna and its customers?
Right from the start. I love retail and love being an individual. It goes right back to when you’d go to the corner shop and the shopkeeper knows you and what you want. Shopping should be fun, exciting and give you a real sense of joy, and that’s what we’ve created. As an example we write a handwritten note with every order and it isn’t formulaic. We don’t want to just be a box that arrives in the post. We want our customers to have an experience. Customers love it and our retention is good.
What has been the most impactful marketing communications strategy for Flora & Fauna?
Social Media has been very successful for us. We use social media to educate and share information and our community gets a real sense of us as a brand. I am a firm believer that social media needs to be real and, if anything, a little rough around the edges. Our community wants to talk to us and they want to talk to each other. This works for us but it varies for each industry.
What’s been your greatest challenge?
Getting everything done. We have grand plans and a lot to do everyday. We’re a small team that is self funded so we are operating at maximum capacity and we have to prioritise what we can do. This, along with ensuring our cashflow is managed and making sure we’re still growing. It’s a constant juggle.
What are you most proud of?
The one thing I am very proud of is the difference we have made whether that be to the environment, animals or our wonderful customers. I answer a lot of customer queries, as does everyone. One I answered earlier was from a customer who had come out of chemo and wanted help with what hair dye to use. Emails like that are very humbling and it makes me realise the difference we are making from being around. We’ve made shopping and living a more ethical lifestyle easier which is our mission.
What’s one piece of advice for future female leaders?
Be authentic. I have worked with many female leaders who are so desperate to prove they are worthy that they develop a facade. The best leaders I have ever met, and worked with, are unashamedly themselves and incredibly supportive. They listen.
So be you, be authentic and back yourself. Leave that door open for other women and be conscious of how you are behaving as a leader.
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