Interview: ettitude's Phoebe Yu on Turning Knowledge Into a Product
The CEO and co-founder discusses the process of ideation, creation, and execution.
Welcome to Direct-to-Conversation, a recurring interview feature from DTC Magazine. These conversations highlight insights, advice, and innovation strategies from leading thinkers in the DTC, eCommerce, and retail space. Our most recent interview was with with Hilary Fischer-Groban, who is the Vice President Of Brand Marketing at Thinx, the DTC feminine hygiene product maker.
In this Direct-to-Conversation, we catch up with Phoebe Yu, who is the co-founder and CEO of ettitude, the DTC sustainable bedding and loungewear maker.
DTC Magazine: Creating a concept for a business is not an easy feat. Can you describe the a-ha! moment you had as a founder when you realized you had an idea you truly wanted to pursue?
Phoebe Yu: I grew up in China, where I started my career in logistics and supply chain management. I had a role with a state-owned import and export company based in Shanghai, and then launched my own home textiles sourcing company helping large retailers such as Walmart, Pier 1 and Target to source products in China. These experiences gave me a great understanding of managing multiple projects, streamlined processes, and a front-row seat to just how unsustainable and environmentally damaging manufacturing could be. I grew increasingly disappointed that retailers had no interest in lowering these environmental impacts and that their main concern was minimizing the cost of the product.
When I moved to Melbourne, Australia, and began decorating my new home, I struggled to find high-quality, affordable bedding that was sustainably made. It sparked the idea to create a groundbreaking textile and start the ettitude brand. I saw an opportunity to fill the gap in the market while bringing all my expertise and experience to create something that was both good for the planet and good for consumers. I came up with the name ettitude to mean “eco-attitude,” which we define as living mindfully to sustain a more comfortable existence for all.
With my knowledge and connections in the home textile space, I started testing prototypes for the world’s first bamboo lyocell fabric. It took a few years and many fails until I finally created the perfect combination of softness and durability for this innovative and earth-friendly fabric, and am so excited that we were able to finally develop the sheets of my dreams.
DTC: And relatedly, what were the next steps in the process like?
PY: I bootstrapped the business from day one, using the money I made from my first company to develop the initial concept. Once I had gained some momentum, I used crowdfunding platforms to prelaunch and fund new product lines, which enabled us to expand our offering.
I launched the company in Australia and then started seeing sales coming from North America, so I decided to partner with my co-founder, Kat Dey, to help grow the company in the U.S. and globally.
Our commitment to our mission is what fuels our innovation and keeps us striving to do better every day.
DTC: The marriage of mission and innovation seems more important than ever, especially in the DTC and digital-first space. How does each part of the equation factor into product development?
PY: Our mission is to create sustainable comfort for people and planet, and you can’t achieve that without innovation—not just in terms of creating eco-forward textiles, but also pioneering people-forward practices and promoting conscious living. Our commitment to our mission is what fuels our innovation and keeps us striving to do better every day. We are committed to showing how sustainability can work as a fundamental pillar of business without impacting quality or growth.
Many of our new product ideas come from our customers’ suggestions.
DTC: ettitude has branched out from bedding into the whole bedroom space, including some loungewear. How did the decision to expand into bundles and new offerings come in a way that felt organic?
PY: Many of our new product ideas come from our customers’ suggestions. From day one, I have been building this brand for the eco-conscious customer, so when we hear ideas straight from them, that’s the best insight we can ask for. Coupled with our focus on creating a more comfortable world for all, it becomes really clear when our innovative and sustainable fabrics can serve the customer’s needs. There are so many opportunities to replace conventional products with more sustainable versions, so we feel we have no shortage of opportunities ahead.
It’s a strategic advantage when you have different strengths, so that you can lean on each other to divide and conquer.
DTC: Developing a company from scratch with a co-founder is a notoriously complicated process. Without giving away any trade secrets, what are some lessons you've learned from striking a good working balance with your co-founder?
PY: A co-founder relationship is like a long-term marriage! You need to build trust and understand that you have each other’s backs. Like a healthy marriage, it’s a partnership that works best when you deeply understand and leverage each other’s strengths. And as they say, opposites attract—it’s a strategic advantage when you have different strengths, so that you can lean on each other to divide and conquer.