Phoebe Yu, Founder of ettitude works directly with manufacturers to design and create a beautiful range of modern basic bed linen using sustainable design, technology and organic bamboo. The sheets, made from 100% organic bamboo lyocell are as fine as 1000 count Egyptian cotton, but the manufacturing process uses two thirds less water and doesn’t use harmful chemicals. Phoebe spoke to us about her leadership journey from China to Australia, and how she gives back.
When you came to Australia from China you experienced “awareness shock” on the environmental issues facing our planet. At that time you were part of an industry which produced disposable holiday products that gave a retailer high margins, but weren’t great for Earth. What did you learn from your experience in that industry to create a successful, sustainable, eco-friendly business?
The things I learned during that period of time was how to work and communicate with suppliers. They are happy to go for the eco-friendly option if clients want that and are willing to pay for it. Normally, it won’t cost too much extra. Suppliers also like to work with clients who are happy to pay a bit more. They look for quality long term relationships, which delivers slightly better margins than working with big chain stores, who just want the cheapest price on the market.
How did your leadership style change going from a large corporation based in China to a startup based in Australia?
I only learnt “how to lead” from when I had my own startup. In the large corporation, I was in charge of my own clients and suppliers but not did not really need to lead other colleagues. Later, I had my own startup first in China, then in Australia when I moved. Being responsible for my own company and employees forced me to learn how to lead.
I don’t like to micro-manage. I always try to give my employees autonomy to handle their own projects, and also learn a lot from those experiences. I like to teach and encourage them to learn all the new technology developments in our industry. We provide an education fund for each full time employee, and they can learn whatever they think is helpful for them, using those funds to pay for it.
Tell us about a successful ettitude collaboration and why collaboration is important to you and your brand?
In 2014, we did a collaboration with Melbourne fashion brand “Limedrop” to created our first digital print collection. We used their pattern, our material and did a Pozible crowdfunding together. That was quite a success. So we leveraged both brands’ strengths to create something brand new, and used both brands’ marketing channels to promote the new collection.
I think collaborating with other brands who share a similar target demographic with us is a great and cost-effective way to reach new customers. And I love that during collaboration there are always good ideas coming out when we brain storm so that 1+1>2.
At what point in your business did you start giving to charities, One Girl and Swags for the Homeless?
We started doing that from late 2015.
You are the Director for Community Impact for Startup Victoria. What is one of the new female founded businesses you are most excited about?
Marita Cheng’s aubot. aubot (‘au’ is to meet in Japanese – pronounced “our-bot”) is focused on building robots that help us in our everyday lives. Based in Melbourne, Australia, the company aims to make robots accessible to everyone.
What’s been your biggest challenge?
How to scale the company quicker and expand into the international market.
What are you most proud of?
That customers love our products and do a lot of world of mouth marketing for us. Nothing makes me feel happier than reading a really nice review written by our customers thanking us for creating this product.
If you have one piece of advice for future female leaders, what would it be?
Be more data driven and learn to say “no” more.
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