Phoebe Yu realized later in her marketing career that she wanted to help the planet by developing a green business, but she’s making up for lost time by creating a successful online bamboo and organic clothing company. Find out how this green entrepreneur has overcome the challenges of starting an online business and what it took to become profitable.
Tell me a bit more about Ettitude.
Ettitude is an online store that sells products made from materials with low impact on mother earth such as bamboo and organic cotton, including organic bamboo bed linens, towels, bathrobes, baby clothing, organic cotton children’s clothing, eco laundry, and toiletries.
We’re passionate about bringing to the market original, stylish and ethical products. Our goal is to give people who care about their family and the earth the ability to easily adopt a greener, more socially responsible lifestyle. We do this by providing a range of premium and unique eco-friendly products in a quick, convenient, online shopping environment.
All our products are green and low allergenic. Affordably priced, our eco-friendly products will save you money, and the planet, at the same time. All of our products are available online directly and sold wholesale to buyers all over the world.
What inspired you to start a company like Ettitude?
“Ettitude” means “eco attitude”. Kermit the Frog once said “It’s not easy being green” but our attitude at ettitude is that nothing could be simpler! In its infancy, ettitude was founded on the simple idea that everyday products, such as clothing, bed linens, towels and stationery could be made much more responsibly, and contribute to making the world a better place and at the same time, don’t look daggy and cost you a fortune!
I used to live in Shanghai, China and was in the homeware and gifts industry exporting cheap gift products from China to the USA, Europe, Australia, etc. Five years ago, in 2006 I moved to Melourne, Australia and started to be exposed to a lot of environment issues, news, knowledge and realised how unsustainable those products I used to deal with were. I decided to make a change and make a difference, thus ettitude was born! In year 2008 I registered “ettitude” as a brand name and started to build the website.
How is Ettitude different from other bamboo vendors you can find online?
All our bamboo products are manufactured under our own brand name, ettitude. Many other online stores sell bamboo products which are not their own brand. We listen to our customers and develop products which cater to their needs, as we work directly with manufacturer so we can react to customer needs very quickly and constantly improve our products. Sometimes we even customize some special size sheets for our customers.
We use social media a lot as well: Facebook, Twitter, and through our blog. So we are in direct communication with our customers all the time. Our collection is also very extensive, ranging from bamboo bedding to all kinds of towels including bath/hand/face towels, tea towels, beauty towels and baby wipes, children and adult bathrobes, and bamboo clothing. Our bamboo bed linen series probably has the most extensive size choices on the market. More new products such as bamboo socks, bamboo quilts and pillows will soon be available on our website, too.
We are taking our eco-friendly ethos to a new level by being the first company in Australia to package our bamboo bed linen products in 100% biodegradable bamboo bags, which also features an exciting way for customers to get involved with the project.
And we don’t just sell products, we share with our customers the knowledge, trend, and tips about how to live a more sustainable and happy lifestyle through our blog, Facebook, Twitter and newsletter. And we are eager to use new technologies to enhance our customer’s online shopping experience and interact with them a lot.
We also like to give back to community and support NGOs. I just returned from a charity trek to Nepal to raise funds for Oncology Children’s Foundation for kids with cancer. Another organization we support is the 350.org which is an environmental NGO. $1 from the sale of each of our bamboo bed linen sets will be donated to them.
How do you ensure your bamboo products are from sustainable bamboo companies?
We personally source and choose manufacturers that are committed to creating a more sustainable world and all have organic accreditation from recognised authorities. We have seen where the products have been made and we stand behind their authenticity!
The bamboo fabric to make our products is from farmed bamboo and has FSC certificates to make sure it has not harmed the natural forest. It also has USDA certification. Our organic cotton clothing is IMO certified, and the dyes meet the OekoTex standard 100 standard.
We have a warehouse and ship most of our products directly. As manufacturer, we actually offer drop ship for some of our wholesale clients. We also drop ship a few other products from other vendors but not bamboo products. To drop ship other vendor’s products is not our main focus.
My tips are as follows. I only drop ship the products that I personally will use and have tested before I put them on my website. I also make it a point to talk to or even meet with the vendor face to face to see if their business values are similar to ours and that their products are truly sustainable and have proper certificates, etc.
What are your recommendations for finding the best SEO friendly ecommerce platform?
Doing a lot of research online first and ask other people for recommendations. Web designers and SEO consultants are good people to ask as they have compared many platforms for their other clients already and have good insights.
I chose our current platform (this is the second platform; I chose my first one without much knowledge about internet business so I didn’t choose wisely) from the recommendation of a web designer and am very happy about this choice so far regarding the SEO performance. A platform which is flexible and constantly upgradable is ideal so that you can adapt to the latest changes in SEO practice.
What online marketing strategies work best for you, and what drives the most traffic that converts?
I think organic ranking and social media marketing are the two major strategies that work best for us. We had tried Google Adwords before but not very successfully, due in part to our lack of knowledge or because we didn’t find a good outsourcing partner or agency. We are planning to give it another go soon. PPC with shopping comparison engines work fine as they send traffic already in the mindset to buy something. Our products are quite niched so the conversion rates are pretty good so will keep on running those.
For organic ranking I think stay relevant and up to date to your target audience is very important. Have good keyword research then create great content around those keywords.
Most (about 50%) of our traffic come from search traffic, 30% from referral traffic (our own social media channels, other website links to us, shopping comparison engines, etc.), and 20% are direct traffic from people who already know our store or returning customers. Organic traffic contributes more revenue as more traffic, but for conversion rate, the referral and direct traffic are higher.
What was your path to profitability?
It took about 2 years for us to become profitable as I am not familiar with how to do business online before, though I was very experienced in product development and sourcing. So at the beginning I relied more on traditional marketing methods such as trade shows, printed media ads (with high costs and poor results).
But along the way I learned a lot and always kept an open mind and was willing to try new technologies and strategies. Then I focused more on online marketing, especially social media marketing. The ROI improved a lot and I started to become profitable.
It is very true that the more you learn the more you will earn. But once past that stage, the next step is how to strategically outsource or delegate, as you can only learn limited knowledge by yourself. So my focus was on put right people in the right place to grow the company to another new level.
What lessons would you share with other green entrepreneurs?
One mistake I made was to choose a wrong platform at the beginning because of lack of knowledge. It wasn’t very flexible, slow to upgrade and not SEO-friendly, so I had to abandon it totally and switch to another platform last year. This wasted all the money I had invested in designing that first website not to mention all the time and effort to reload all the products.
So try to get as much knowledge as you can before you make any major decisions. Also the first marketing approach was wrong. I am using this website as a major sales channel now, but I focused on traditional marketing strategies at the beginning. Luckily I realised that mistake quickly, but only after I burned through lots of precious marketing budget money.
What advice would you have for other aspiring green and social entrepreneurs?
Three characteristics are very important: patience, persistence and the ability to adapt to any situation. Also important is the willingness to learn.