Episode 05
Ettitude — Founders, Phoebe Yu & Kat Dey

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Every episode we talk to founders and leaders at some of the most exciting DTC brands in the world. We discuss their vision, how they launched, and how they are growing their brand.

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In this episode, we talk with both founders, Phoebe Yu (CEO)and Kat Dey (President), at Ettitude. They’re on a mission to change the world, one sleep at a time.

Ettitude stands for eco attitude. It’s the perfect name because they promote sustainable bedding and lifestyle products made entirely from Bamboo.

Why Bamboo? Phoebe says, “it’s a wonder plant.” It requires way less water than cotton, doesn’t require pesticides or fertilizers to grow, and when you harvest the plant you don’t need to cut the root (which means you’re not damaging the soil).

Some people call it vegan silk because it’s as smooth as silk, but the worm isn’t disturbed.

Because they’re on a mission to change the world, they’ve partnered with 1% Percent For The Planet, One Girl, and CO2 Website.

Phoebe needed a partner to expand into the United States. She found Kat Dey, who shares the Ettitude’s values, and Phoebe’s founder mentality.

The duo says that balancing sustainability and growth isn’t that hard. Use technology, and make it happen—it’s a founder’s job to make it happen. The journey there is hard, filled with difficulty, but doable.

The brand is resonated in the US—the product and the message. They’re seen incredible growth in sales, and customer reviews are incredibly positive.

Going direct to consumer has given them the ability to get feedback and iterate their products and packaging quickly—like software companies. The DTC model is just way more efficient for them.

They’ve opened up a store, and it gives them the opportunity to educate people in person. They can share personal stories, and let customers touch and feel the products. People are driving as much as two hours to come and visit the physical location.

They’re also partnering with several other brands who share their values and mission. Sometimes, they’ll have their partner products in store to showcase.

Kat was pregnant when they pitched VC’s for funding. She shares what that was like, and talks about being a mother, and balancing her work and home life.

Her daughter Anna made her become even more environmentally conscious. She’s more aware of the products that come into contact with her baby, and it makes her think about what she’s purchasing.

Phoebe and Kat were very generous. They’re giving DTC Growth listeners 20% off orders! Just visit Ettitude.com, and usethe promo code

GROWTH20.

Thank you for listening!

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Today, I’m not talking to one, but I’m talking to two founders at Ettitude, a company that’s changing the world one sleep at a time. Phoebe, Kat, thank you for joining us today.

Kat: Thank you for inviting us.

Phoebe: Thanks

Phoebe, Can you tell us, what is Ettitude?

Phoebe: Ettitude stands for eco attitude, and that is sustainable bedding and lifestyle brand. We make the world’s softest sheets comforters, sleepwear and bath products made out of 100% organic bamboo. Why bamboo? Well bamboo is or wonder plant. First is require way less water to grow than cotton, and it can grow up to three feet a day. Wow. So it’s a really efficient pod. It’s basically a weed. It’s not a tree. It doesn’t require any pesticides or fertilizers to grow. So it’s just naturally organic. Harvest bamboo also doesn’t require cutting its root, so it keeps growing without any damage to the soil. When you grow cotton, after you grow cotton, the land is very deployed, it’s very hard to grow any other crops. So by far it is the most environment friendly plant on planet and it’s now being planted by many governments around the world to prevent climate change as it also absorbs a very high amount of carbon dioxide while releasing a high amount of oxygen.

You call your particular fabric clean bamboo?

Phoebe: Yes, because the production method we use are super clean. There’s no any harmful chemicals in the production process. We use our process called lyocell technology. It’s a closed loop production. So we use recycled water in it. We use organic solution to dissolve bamboo. You can even put your hands in there and nothing will happen. So we’re definitely keeping the production as clean, and as healthy as possible.

You describe it as vegan silk, right, Kat?

Kat: Yeah, so I actually learned about Ettitude just when Phoebe started launching into the US market. And when I received that first sample, I was really amazed by how soft it was. And the best comparison could be kind of like mulberry silk, which is some of the most expensive fabrics on the planet. It’s very buttery soft. Flowing, but at the same time, it’s kind of cooling to the touch. When we were thinking about how to describe this on the internet, it’s so hard to tell somebody what it actually feels like. But we realized that many people were comparing it to silk. And we coined this term vegan silk, because it’s similar to silk, but it’s without harming the silk worm. And it’s kind of like the best way to describe it. And we saw that consumers are really reacting positively to that.

You’re part of the one person for the planet network. Why is that important to you?

Phoebe: Yeah, we are losing time to fight climate change. I think, so we need to really act quick. Patagonia and its founder Yvon Chouinard is my role model. I think he proved that he can develop better products and at the same time, be environmentally and socially responsible and really contribute back to the planet, to the people, to the community — and the 1% for the planet is also funded by him. I find that just perfectly aligns with Ettitude core values as well. So that’s why we decided to be part of that network and really help the battle combat for climate change.

You’re also supporting a couple other causes like One Girl and CO2 neutral website. Tell me a little bit about those ones.

Phoebe: Yeah, so many people might not know know, woman in growth education is actually ranked number six by a nonprofit called Project drawdown as a solution for climate change. And also personally, I’m also very passionate about women’s education that was lucky to have a really good education back in China, because I was born in Shanghai, but there’s so many women in the world they are very talented, but they never get the chance to get a good education. So that one thing kill two birds. So first is empower women and also it helps to battle climate change. I think the first step towards tackling the challenges of climate change is empowering women to safeguard environment. Like they safeguard their children and family and as C02 Neutral website is also like, there are different ways we just learned as a lever little thing helps, you know, our website, we wanted that the power of users is been offset. So we just want to show people that you just can contribute and help them solve this problem in all type of little things.

Did you find a partner who shared your values in Kat?

Phoebe: Oh, absolutely.

Tell me a little bit about finding cat.

Phoebe: Yeah. So when we start to see the demand come from America, and we decide to launch in the US. I know like, I need a partner that’s super strong and believe in the same vision, as I believe, together to grow in US market. I know the landscape of Australia, but USA is a new territory, and it’s a very competitive market. So that’s how I find Kat on Angel List. And I sent her an example. And she fell in love into it and she really loves the mission behind Ettitude. So she joined early 2008, and since then, we just took off in the US market,

Kat, of all the companies you could have joined, Why Ettitude?

Kat: For me it was really important to find an amazing, mission driven company with a product that could really disrupt a large industry. So I was really on the hunt for that globally, I was looking for that. And prior to Ettitude, I actually had just sold my first company which was also mission driven. I knew how important it was to me to spend my days not just you know, marketing some products but also knowing that whatever I’m doing every day is contributing to bettering the world. I really fell in love with Ettitude very quickly as soon as I found the product and felt it and realize how much impact we could make if more and more people would switch from cotton. Which is second most polluting industry in the world and uses a lot of pesticides, a lot of fertilizer, you know, people are getting all sorts of health issues. The ones who are working with cotton growing and production process. So there’s also you know, health impacts, human rights impacts, etc. And unfortunately, organic cotton is not a solution that’s scalable, because it takes much more water to grow it much more land. So unfortunately, billions of people could not even afford that. What I really loved about Ettitude is this breakthrough solution that could really change lives for potentially millions, billions of people, especially given that it’s more affordable than these affordable luxury cotton brands, and certainly a lot more affordable than silk, which you know, could run $500-$800. So what I liked about it is, here’s a product that is so much better than a conventional and it’s ready to be deployed in the world.

You mentioned being mission driven. That isn’t easy to do when you have growth or profit at the forefront of your mind. How are you balancing sustainability and caring for the planet?

Phoebe: One thing is like use technology. Our fabric uses the latest technology, and not necessary will be more expensive to be sustainable — I think that’s one myth. And also when I start Ettitude, I wanted to prove that to be sustainable, it doesn’t have to be expensive. Consumers should not be penalized that they have to pay more for a better product. It’s up to entrepreneurs to find innovative ways to provide cost-effective products. And also bamboo is a way more efficient plant. It just grow more per acre. So it used more fibre per acre, way more than cotton or trees. So that also helps the cost won’t go through the roof because it’s a very economical plant. I think that’s one way to think on it, how to balance sustainability and profitability, just to think smarter and really innovate every little thing. And we use cut off fabrics as our product packaging. So it first cut down the waste. And another way is it also cuts down on costs — basically the cost is just the cut and sew. The cost of fabric is already, because it’s leftover fabric. So there are many, many ways to do that.

You mentioned that it’s a founders job to figure it out, essentially. Tell me a little bit about your founder mentality.

Phoebe: Yeah, I think my fundamentally especially, there’s one thing recently I also talk about a lot and also almost like an athlete or crossfitter mentality. It’s like this whole journey. It is hard, but it’s also about pushing boundaries. And don’t think if sometimes you fail, don’t think it’s a failure. Like in weightlifting, of course, you’re going to drop the barbell many, many times once you start to lift heavier and heavier, but that’s okay. But when you drop the barbell, make sure you didn’t get hurt, get injury and then you rest and you come back with better techniques, and try again and eventually you live to you know, heavier and heavier weight. You push your personal best records every time, every couple of months. So I start to also put that mentality same as the entrepreneur journey. So a lot of things there. There will always be obstacles or temporary setbacks. But it’s always an opportunity to think and pull back, and think how we can improve. Like, I start to think less I failed this, I failed that. No, it’s just part of the experience, of this journey. I stopped to take those as failures. I think that helps a lot, if many founders have that mentality, it will really make this whole journey less stressful.

I want to read out a review that I found online from someone who bought Ettitude. They say. “I’ll never buy any other sheets as long as I live.” That’s one of the 2864 five-star reviews that I found. Why do you think people love Ettitude?

Kat: I think the experience I mean, once you sleep on it, you really get it. It’s the best sleep of your life. There are so many poetic ways to say this. You know, we love our customer testimonials. You know, people say it’s like, oh my god, it’s like being cocooned by a bazillion kittens, or you know, like this makes my 1600 thread count Egyptian sheets feel like sandpaper. There are so many creative ways to say this. And our customers are way more creative than we are. But I mean, the best thing is to actually experience it.

What do you want customers to feel from the moment that they come to your site, they place an order, they get the package, which we’ve received here at the office, it’s absolutely incredible. So tell me how you’re thinking about that whole experience from beginning to end?

Kat: Well, we definitely want them to understand that in addition to having an amazing sleep, they’re making a positive impact on the world. And we try to communicate that in all of the touch points that we can so of course on the website, but also post purchase when you open the package we tell you, you know, we’re using sustainable packaging biodegradable, we’re recycling and using cut off material to create additional packaging so we’re not throwing anything out. So we’re trying to educate the consumer as much as possible on the impact itself. And then a couple of other things we want them to know is how to care for the product. It is machine washable, but because it is a more delicate fabric, we recommend using cold water and tumble drying. So once they fall in love the brand, we want this product to last them a lifetime, or you know very long time, and we want them to share it with their friends. That’s definitely what we want happening. And that’s happening organically. When people experience something so radically different. They do talk about it naturally. So those are the most important things.

How has that experience changed since you’ve launched?

Phoebe: I think we keep improving our products, our packaging and also taking the feedback from customers. I think being a direct-to-consumer brand, that’s one of the beauties that you see. And when they love you, they really give you a lot of good feedback. So we listen to that and quickly put into production, to change the next batch. So next year, we will launch a lot of new packages, even better, even more sustainable material, and also even looking better. We just keep innovating just to provide the customers the best experience as possible.

You just mentioned that you’re fully direct-to-consumer. Why did you make that choice when you launched?

Phoebe: At that time when I started in Australia, because I don’t have retail experience. And also as a new brand, Australia is a relatively more conservative market. It’s very hard to actually crack into the traditional department store as a new brand people never heard about. It’s a novelty product. So actually direct-to-consumer is, I think, a great business model that democratizes new products, new entrepreneurs, new brands — they have an opportunity to connect directly with consumers, bypass all those middle persons, and it can really deliver the message very precisely. And also you get feedback from consumers quickly. So we iterate our products, almost like a software company iterates their products, being our abilities to very deeply integrated into the whole supply chain, we start with the more fiber, we make our own yarns and weave that into a particular fabric so we can quickly fine tune everything on the supply chain to just make the product better and more sustainable. So I really love it. It’s just way more efficient.

You’ve recently launched a physical store. So still direct-to-consumer, but now you’ve got a store. How did that go?

Kat: Yeah, really good. It’s actually still going on. Right now. We have the lease through end of December. It’s in Venice, California in Los Angeles. So anyone who’s listening definitely feel free to stop by. We are really excited about how it’s going so far, as I mentioned, as a product that needs to be touched to be believed how soft it is. It was really important for us to test out How would perform in the physical world? And so far, the response from customers has been amazing. When people walk in from the street, they’re really shocked by how soft it is. And also, we’ve seen customers who have been following our brand for a while drive for two hours to come visit our store. Wow. I mean, it’s been pretty amazing. And we also have the opportunity to educate consumers in a very different way. In the store versus online, our stores also use sustainable materials; we are limiting the use of paper, for instance, we’re using bamboo for all the shelving, so it resonates with kind of our entire purpose and mission. So that’s been really exciting to translate that into the physical world.

How does the education change in store, versus online? What are some of the opportunities that you have when you’re in front of someone?

Kat: Yeah, so I mean, first of all, you have the human being there that can tell you something more about the product, you don’t have to just read about it. And of course, you can touch the fabric. But when you do have a person there that can explain to you some of the stories of other people experiencing the product that really translates really well. We’ve heard some of our customers, for instance, you know, who have sensitive skin loving our fabric or you know, telling stories of how it really changed people’s lives. For instance, we do have customers who, for instance, have cancer, right, and they can’t sleep on anything like no cotton, no flannel, no silk, everything is very, like it’s kind of painful, because they are so sensitive, but they can sleep on Ettitude, and it’s just such a testament to how soft it is and also hypoallergenic. For people with the most sensitive skin. That’s a really great solution. These types of stories do really well in person.

When did you think it was a good time to launch that store? What indicated that it was the time was Right.

Kat: We experimented with a few in real world kind of IRL experiences before launching our pop up store. So we participated in batch, which is a store that assembles some of the coolest kind of up and coming direct to consumer online brands into a physical location. And that was a store we tested in in San Francisco and it did super well. So we knew it was time for us to launch our own store where we can control that education and that experience a little bit more. It took us a few months to actually develop the concept to find a place to manufacture all the shelving, etc. And then actually launch so it is a long process.

How are you driving traffic to the stores? What’s your primary method of telling people that you’re there and you’re present, come and visit?

Kat: Yeah, of course on all of our channels. So social media is one of our biggest channels, email or websites. also working with partner brands. We have a multiple events there every week, which drive people to have different experiences. But also because we’re an avid Kinney in Venice, there’s a ton of walk by traffic and for us is really important to communicate that we’re different, even on the window display, so that these people who are just passing by and have no idea about Ettitude, they can very quickly understand what we’re doing. We have a bed display there, you can see our fabric and all sorts of colors. We actually say on the window, what we do, yes, it’s clean bamboo fabric, we donate 1% of our bedding sales to 1% for the planet. These types of messages are there, even if they’re just walking by it’s super visible.

How important was it for you to be in a location like Abbot Kinney with a lot of traffic and eyeballs?

Kat: Very important. We selected Abbot Kinney after doing Some analysis in terms of where in Los Angeles our current customers already are. And Venice is certainly one big area. We also looked at other retailers on the street. So what we liked about Venice is there are a lot of other sustainable brands or ethical brands, Everlane is just down the road and just opened Allbirds is a couple blocks away, there’s TOMS shoes. So we felt like we were in good company to open in this particular location.

You mention email, web events at the store, social, partner brands. Tell me a little bit about the partner brands that are calling to partner with you, because you’re getting inbound requests.

Kat: Yes, a ton. We work with, you know, variety, but they’re all in this health and wellness space. We certainly are looking for brands that align with our mission and have a similar customer base. So we work with companies like beam which makes all natural and very healthy, our quality CBD products. We’ve partners with a company that actually creates this blanket where you can sweat it out. So we have that in our store where people can actually book a session there. So that’s super interesting. We’ve partnered with also speakers in the wellness space, sustainability space. And that’s been really interesting. Just bring that education and experiences to our customers.

How do you see those channels for communication changing over time as you grow?

Kat: I think we’re still going to rely a lot on the same channels. And we’re also getting a lot more press. So that’s certainly going to grow. Other brands will interact more with our brand as well. So we’re going to rely more on that. And then probably some sort of advertising with very minimal at the moment, but we are testing reaching people through Facebook or display who are in the area. We’re also doing Some direct mail tests. So for folks who have either visited our website or you know we identify to be the right kind of demo. We are testing direct mail letting them know hey, by the way, there’s a new store in your neighborhood come stop by,

In a short time after you launch in United States you sold 10s of thousands, and I quote, “10s of thousands of units.” You were seeing 20% month over month growth. Why do you think you were able to grow at this rate?

Phoebe: I think because the product quality really works we have a lot of loyal customer that coming back to buy more. We see a lot of behavior where customers sleep on Ettitude sheets, they just cannot go back to their cotton sheets. Once the first set gooes to laundry, they quickly jump online to buy the second so they keep rotating, and then they start to dress their guest’s rooms, and they tell their friends or sometimes their friends visiting, people who sleep in the guest room say, “Oh, what is this bed sheets? What is this brand, like it’s so soft.” And then they quickly become customers. So definitely we have this word of mouth viral growth opportunity there. And also, I think we also tested a lot of different customer acquisition channel. One particularly being we also partner with a lot of lifestyle subscription boxes, including like pillowcase sets that deliver to 10s of thousands of their numbers, which then are introduced to Ettitude brand, and then people love to the brand, the product and they come back buy more on website because we also include marketing collateral there. So that is a really good channel for us, not additional revenue, but it’s like a free customer acquisition channel. And only we are able to succeed in this channel because the cotton branded products is not really innovative. So usually those companies are not interested in working with traditional cotton brand. They really love working with us. So, yeah, those are two facts that I think contribute to the quick growth rates?

Phoebe when you when you launch the brand you probably had certain opinions about launching a brand. Looking back, what’s something that maybe you would have changed or done differently?

Phoebe: I wish I’d had a Kat early on, I always thought. Yeah, that will, just as I said we have super complementary skills. Kat is the smartest and most strong woman. Can you believe that when we went through their accelerator, very intense accelerator in New York last year, she was pregnant, and she had her first child, also a girl, Anna, and a healthy baby. And so, she’s able to do that — doing accelerator, growing the company at a crazy quick speed, and have a beautiful healthy child.

Kat: Thank you. Yeah, it’s been definitely breakneck speed for us and what’s been amazing, I think for both of us to be at the helm of this company is, as women, this is A woman-led company, I think we bring that kind of understanding of support that’s needed for women in the company. I’m a mom and I know how difficult it is to manage a family and also grow a company, or you know, have a professional career in general. And I think that yes, it’s manageable with you know, certain support, and it’s been amazing to have Phoebe as a partner. And I think we do have a lot of not just alignment on generally on the mission of the company and how we want to run the company, but we also have a lot of complementary skill sets. I think Phoebe’s an amazing product person. She’s really an innovator. She has so much experience in textiles, and she’s great at developing new fabrics and new products and how to make our whole supply chain sustainable. That’s not my background at all, and I think it’s important for companies to have people with a vision but also skill set to make something happen, right. We’re so lucky to have Phoebe Because we have such an amazing pipeline of awesome products coming out in 2020 and 2021, and my background, I’m better at scaling things that already exist or you know, I also can come up with some stuff. But I think we make a really great couple here.

I’m a father, and it is very hard to balance life and work. I can’t even imagine what it’s like to be a mother. So, tell me, how did you do it?

Kat: You know, while you’re pregnant, it’s actually not so bad, because nothing’s really happening. Other than just maybe learning more and preparing for what’s to come. And it was interesting to also fundraise while visibly pregnant, especially in a world where most investors are men. And they are less sensitive to, you know, women, raising children and all of that and how that impacts them. So I definitely got those questions. But at the same time, we had great answers, you know, yes, I’m going to be out. couple of months. But here’s our plan, we have a very specific plan on what we’re going to execute one, I’m gone. And also there’s Phoebe, she’s there and we have each other’s back. And that’s why people want to invest in a team that is strong and can basically leave the company when one of them needs to take time off. Yeah, it’s been really challenging through that process. I was on maternity leave for three months. And you know, there were no fires, which is amazing things are going on and you know, is available for emergencies and phone calls here and there. And we made really good progress during those three months. And then after that, I needed to put in place very specific boundaries. For instance, I’m not reachable during a certain time when I’m putting to bed or bathing her, it’s on my calendar and oland can book me for that time. And also I work from home two days a week, even though that’s pretty difficult, but it does save me commute time and during breaks, I can feel good about playing with my daughter and knowing that, you know, she’s well taken care of I do have a nanny during the times that I work. And that’s super essential for of course, any parent that is working, having that childcare in place that you can trust as really important.

I read online that Anna, your daughter, Anna, helped you put an even greater emphasis on the environment? How has having a kid changes your perspective, not just on your job, but also on the environment, on the planet, and what you’re doing with Ettitude.

Kat: Yeah, I became so much more conscious about all of our impact in general on the environment that as well as you know, health, I want to make sure that the products in our household are the least impactful, the least harmful. So I want done this giant research process of how to replace pretty much everything that we used to use. And this is a very common thing that happens to young parents, because they realize, well, my kid is going to be crawling all over this floor. I don’t want to be using bleach or any harmful chemicals to wash my floors anymore. It’s true, something more natural, but still, you know, healthy and something that will kill enough bacteria that you know, good won’t get sick. So doing that kind of research for every category of products that you use at home, you know, often happens when people become parents. And then you know, other practices, you know, started thinking more about our general impact, you know, How much are we driving our car? What kind of car? Should we be composting? You know, those types of things we started to think about and actually implement.

What direct to consumer brand Are you really excited about right now?

Kat: I’m a fan of Allbirds. I actually don’t have their shoes, yet. But I really like what they’re doing. And I can’t wait to actually try it because they do say it’s super comfortable, but at the same time, it is using a sustainable material. And it’s something that we’re trying to do as well. We’re leading with comfort and the fact that it’s a better product than your conventional end at the same time. Look at this. It’s made out of something way better for the environment than what you used to wear. So I think what they’re doing is super innovative.

What was the last direct-to-consumer purchase you guys made?

Kat: I got a bra. I got a super comfy maternity bra. By Kindred Bravely.

Phoebe: I think these days I Cut consumption like unless so I can’t even remember what I buy as a product. I love those meal kits. I have tried like Purple Carrot, Blue Apron, and Hellofresh because they’re healthy. I don’t have much time to cook but still want to eat very healthy. So I’m a fan of those new subscription boxes.

Awesome. Guys, thanks so much for joining us today and taking the time.

Kat
Thank you for having us. It was really exciting to talk to you.

Phoebe and Kat have been super generous with us. If you go to Ettitude.com, you can get 20% off. That’s Ettitude, E-T-T-I-T-U-D-E.com. It’s going to be in the show notes. You’re going to get 20% off if you use the code GROWTH20. Again, it’s gonna be the show notes. Guys, thank you so much for joining us.

Thank you for listening. This is the DTC Growth show.