Retail

“Prepare for long hours”: How Aussie bedtech business Ettitude became an American success story

Matthew Elmas /

Ettitude

Ettitude founder Phoebe Yu. Source: Supplied.

They say retail is hard work, but spare a thought for Phoebe Yu, who burns the candle across two timezones to keep up with her fast-growing e-commerce business.

The entrepreneur is, ironically, the founder of Ettitude, the bedtech business behind a range of organic bamboo sheets described as the “bedding of the future”.

The Australian-founded company has been making headlines in the United States over the last 18 months, growing like a sprout on the back of a wave of brand collaborations and environmentally conscious consumption.

That’s because more than three thousand gallons of water are saved for every consumer buying bamboo lyocell sheets over typical cotton alternatives — a product claim serving the company well in a market where sustainability sells.

New path with fresh fabrics

But disrupting the humble bedsheet is a demanding job. Yu, now based in Los Angeles, is up later than most working with Ettitude’s Australian team, before rising with the sparrows to lead her company’s American expansion.

“It’s been a hectic but exciting journey,” she tells SmartCompany.

Time away from the sheets she developed hasn’t come without success. Since opening in 2014, Ettitude has bootstrapped its way across the Pacific ocean, secured new investment and grown its fledgling American business 10 times over in 18 months.

For Yu, who will later this month deliver a keynote at Sydney’s Online Retailer Event, it’s a welcome change of pace.

As an industry veteran who worked with large international brands for years, Yu has seen firsthand how retailers have historically prioritised low-cost products with little mind for the environment.

The global textile industry produced 1.2 billion tonnes of greenhouse gasses last year, which is more than twice the amount of carbon dioxide the entirety of Australia pumped into the atmosphere over the same period.

Now, as the number of consumers actively looking for environmentally friendly solutions explodes, Yu says opportunities abound for companies who are willing to do the hard yards developing new fabrics.

Go green, but not at a premium

But the economics must also work, because consumers don’t want to pay a premium for going green.

“People want more sustainable products, but I don’t think we should pay more,” Yu says.

“It’s up to entrepreneurs to find a better way with technology. It shouldn’t be a compromise.”

With sales from US customers now about two-thirds of annual revenue, Yu is preparing to expand Ettitude’s product range into other sustainable products — same formula, different application.

“It’s about having an eco-attitude to everything you do in life,” she says.

Getting a business going overseas hasn’t been easy though. Yu showed up without any outside investment, joining an accelerator in New York before finding a partner to support her vision.

Now out the other side, Yu has three tips for Australian entrepreneurs looking to follow in her footsteps.

1. Collaborate

Yu says the “key” to Ettitude’s American growth has been its collaborations with other businesses, specifically subscription businesses focusing on sustainable products.

Ettitude actively seeks out partnerships with other businesses to raise awareness of its products in the market, both overseas and in Australia.

“We’ve collaborated with brands way bigger than us — it’s been very key to our growth,” Yu says.

Notably, it struck a deal with US-based Causebox, an ethical product subscription service with a large and loyal following.

The company has dedicated an entire section of its website to collaboration opportunities, actively encouraging businesses to get in touch with them.

2. Prepare for long hours

This one is unavoidable, Yu says, particularly when also running a company in Australia at the same time.

“Prepare for long hours,” Yu says.

Alongside this, having capable and trustworthy team members is a must, particularly because founders can’t be in two places at once.

3. Boots on the ground a must

Yu operated her American arm remotely for several months before hiring local managers.

Social media is global, which helps raise a profile, but the American e-commerce market is much more sophisticated and competitive than in Australia, which necessitates a market-leading offer.

“It’s so competitive here that you absolutely need things like free shipping,” Yu says.

Ettitude works through a 3PLwarehouse in California and Yu says it’s much easier to deal with day-to-day problems and ensure the business is running smoothly if she’s based over there.

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Matthew Elmas

Matthew is the news editor at SmartCompany. You can contact him at [email protected].

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