Why Georgie Cavanagh and Carlotta Casals went all-in on their side-hustle, even as the pandemic was taking hold

Carlotta + Gee founders

Carlotta + Gee founders Georgie Cavanagah and Carlotta Casals (L to R). Source: supplied.

Georgie Cavanagh and Carlotta Casals started their french linen and homewares business Carlotta + Gee in late-2018 as a side-hustle, finding time before and after work and on the weekends to develop the sustainable brand.

The pair left their day jobs in February this year to work full-time on Carlotta + Gee, right before the coronavirus pandemic took hold across the country.

In this Q&A, SmartCompany speaks with Cavanagh about taking the leap of faith to go all-in on the business, the key value driving the business forward, and why more people are buying quality linen during the pandemic.

What’s your elevator pitch? 

Carlotta + Gee is an all-natural, sustainable Australian linen brand offering 100% French linen bedding and homewares products in a wide range of warm, earthy tones. You’ve never slept in anything comfier! It’s our mission to make your bedroom, and more specifically your bed, your favourite space in your home.

However, if we somehow get stuck in the elevator and I have a couple more minutes I would say the below.

Since our launch, we have maintained three goals: to offer a high-quality product that our customers love; to ensure that each product is eco-friendly and sustainable; and finally, that they are affordable so you can grow your collection and play with the colours, just as we do.

What did you both do before working on the business full-time? 

I was working for Jules Lund’s tech business TRIBE, being the first employee helping that business grow to where it is now. I was also in PR and communications working with large fast-moving consumer goods and travel brands.

Carlotta was in events, activations and design, bringing ideas and brands to life. She worked with marvellous and creative colleagues and a very supportive boss, working on brands such as the Australian Open.

Who makes up the Carlotta + Gee team?

We are now growing a strong team around us. Those who are involved in these early stages play the biggest part and help play a part in the success of the company, which we value so much.

I won’t mention everyone’s names, however, our creative director Virginia is incredible, and helps us so much with her creative lenses. Amye is our first intern, who is quickly becoming a pivotal part. It’s exciting to see us grow from when she first started.

James Hopkins, who has had lots of experience in paid marketing, is helping us guide that part, which is so vital to e-commerce, and our designer Laura steers the ship in making sure our communication has that clean and polished finish to each part we send out.

We are also fortunate to now have found our photographer in Max Doyle; his portfolio is incredible. Max and Virginia share the same vision and feed off each other which is fantastic.

Carlotta and I both feel if we can build the A-team, we want to grow together with them as they share the vision.

Where are you based? 

We are based in Sydney, however, as we are an e-commerce business we have clients from all around Australia and other parts of the world including America, Canada and Hong Kong.

We have also just expanded to Europe given Carlotta’s originally from Spain and our linen is from France. My sister, Victoria, is based in Berlin and also has some great contacts for us to start the C+G conversations with too.

What has the journey been like since first developing the concept for Carlotta + Gee? 

The journey has been organic and so exciting.

I don’t think Carlotta and I expected it to grow as fast as it has. We often think: ‘How did this happen?’ But then you look back at everything we have done over the last 18 months and realise that all those small things really do add up.

We love and thrive off the learning, and also the thrill of building our own brand from the start.

Carlotta + Gee linen

Carlotta + Gee linen. Source: supplied.

How did you fund the business initially? 

We both invested our own money initially. However, we were then very careful not to over-extend ourselves. This was critical to our success and making it through those early stages.

Often we hear how too many businesses invest heavily at the beginning and then can’t get through those early months or years.

Everything we have done has been in stages and prioritising what was next. We are both on the same page about this, which is fantastic.

We also worked out quickly what we could each do and then where the gaps were. We then filled these spots with people who believed in the business rather than just another job. This helped us, rather than burdening with the financial pressure, as they know we will repay them when the time is right.

You resigned from your previous job at the start of the pandemic to go all-in with the business. How did you know the time was right? 

I think once you lose your passion or are not challenged, it is time to do your own thing.

Initially, it was fine, as we would do Carlotta + Gee in the morning before work, after work and then on the weekends. However, to really scale you have to be committed and give the business the time it deserves.

There is never going to be a ‘right time to leave the safety net of a salary, however, when you do, that is when the universe rewards you and the opportunities present themselves.

Did the onset of the pandemic make you question that decision? 

I think maybe when COVID-19 emerged we panicked slightly like everyone. However, since then there has not been any question in my mind. This business brings me such joy and I am excited each morning to see what will happen on that day.

As we are small, we are also nimble and can make things happen quickly.

Have sales increased since then? 

Our sales have increased over 113% since the beginning of COVID, and are continuing, which is pleasing.

What particular challenges has COVID created for a business like yours? 

We are in the fortunate position to be in bedding and selling dreams, and with everyone at home, people are realising where they want to invest their money and that is the home. Anything that can create and add to their safe haven — the home — they will do.

If that means buying a new duvet cover to brighten up their room or fresh flax linen, which is breathable and allows them a great night’s sleep, they will do so.

And what are the opportunities? 

We have noticed that, because of COVID-19, few people are now able to dine out, but they are craving the same feelings they would have when eating at a nice restaurant.

So we are expanding in September and launching our homewares (tablecloths, napkins and placemats) to allow for the people to create a nice setting, even if they are making a pasta dish at home.

It is those simple pleasures that are important.

Let’s talk about values. What are Carlotta + Gee’s values and how do you plan to incorporate these into the everyday of your business? 

At Carlotta + Gee, one of our most important values is to ensure we are sustainable.

All our linen is derived from a natural long and strong fibre harvested from the flax plant. Flax can be grown all around the world but we source ours from Normandy, France, where optimal climatic conditions ensure the plants are grown naturally and ecologically, without the need for pesticides or dangerous chemicals. We work closely with our farmers to ensure the environment is respected from the beginning of our linen’s production until it’s delivered to your home.

Unlike other fabrics such as cotton, flax doesn’t need heavy irrigation and so its production uses little water, making it a more sustainable choice. Not one part of the plant is wasted — the biodegradable fibres are woven into bedding, the seeds are eaten, and the oil from the plant is used to varnish furniture. Our linen is carefully dyed free from harmful chemicals.

Carlotta + Gee’s linen aims to be slow fashion fabric at its best, and we match this all the way through to the packaging, using 100% compostable, zero-waste mailer bags by Hero.

Carlotta + Gee founders

Carlotta and Georgie in their office. Source: supplied.

No business exists without its community. Who’s in your community? 

Our community is so important to us. It is an ever-growing group now, however, the core would include C+G’s family, who have been such a big support to us and continue to help on a daily basis. Our clients are a great support and then they become champions and tell their friends about their great experience. We wouldn’t be anywhere without our supplier who has believed in us from the start.

The C+G team who I spoke about earlier play a vital role in our growth and the direction of our business. Recently we have expanded so much that we now have a warehouse to house all our stock.

Special thanks to Stephen, Lena, Raymond and Susan for their generosity and allowing us to grow. They have such experience in the logistics field that we are excited to learn from them and will always be thankful.

Women have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic. Do you think we’ll see more women start their own businesses because of this? 

I think we definitely will continue to see more women starting their own business, however, not necessarily because of COVID, but rather the flexibility it allows.

Also with many high-profile women entrepreneurs already we have a strong foundation of learning and advice to call on. It is an exciting time.

Can entrepreneurship be an answer to some of the problems caused by the pandemic? And if so, what do local, state and federal governments need to do to support it? 

I do think the government is already actively supporting entrepreneurs (women or men) with many grants and opportunities to shine and succeed. I also think that, because of COVID-19, we will start to see many businesses having to change to an entrepreneurial mindset if they want to continue.

 

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Working on our new packaging 🖤

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What’s the big goal for Carlotta + Gee? When you picture the business a year from now, in September 2021, what do you see? 

We have big plans.

Our number one is to ensure that every single client is sleeping well and enjoying using our product, bringing and cementing it into their lifestyle.

By growing our own community we create a really solid foundation of growth and this electrifies us. This also involves choosing key partners we want to be associated with.

We will continue to expand our range as we see the right time, continuing to ensure we do things organically and the best standard we can. We’ll continue to focus our efforts on the environment process.

Overseas expansion is on our list too and will be important to us. Carlotta and my sister allow us a great entry into the European market and I am excited to see the growth potential there.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given in your career? 

Surround yourself with good people!

Another piece of advice which sticks in my mind is not to get distracted by what your competitors are doing. It is important to know who they are and what they stand for, but at the end of the day, just concentrate on your own business.

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