Creative Business Spotlight Interview with June Sayali, the Founder of JuneBee Baby, Exclusive Collection of Stylish Baby Handknits.
Friends, I am thrilled to share with you an interview with accomplished and talented small business owner June Sayali, the Founder of JuneBee Baby. As a passionate admirer of quality yarns and knitting patterns, I could not resist the opportunity to connect with June as a fellow small business owner and creative entrepreneur.
While her small business is not exactly my typical fantasy or fairy tales oriented spotlight, I am pleased to offer her insightful CREATIVE BUSINESS wisdom and experience to fellow artistic colleagues. This is an important learning resource and inspiration for those artists struggling to set up a shop or business.
Many artists get completely overwhelmed and lost in the attempt to run an art business. We are so focused on our actual artistry, that marketing and business skills required to run a successful business can be a strange and foreign concept. We learn quickly how daunting and difficult the task of balancing a combination of marketing, energy, monetary investments, and actually doing what we love best, our art, can be when attempting to start up a creative shop.
Grateful for this interview with June and I hope it will serve to showcase her talent, experience and knowledge that is applicable to creatives who are attempting to successfully run a small business selling their art.
Let’s jump right in with June and take a look into her creative business world!
Hello June, Please introduce yourself and tell us about your business.
Delighted to be your blog guest here, Sondra. Thanks for giving me the opportunity to connect with your fans.
I am a work from home mom with an e-commerce business on fair trade handmade natural fiber baby clothing from newborn to 3T.
My background is marketing and business development. After graduating from college with a B.A. in Business Administration and major in marketing, I worked in several consumer products and services companies both here in the US and international. Then, I started my small business around the time I had my son back in 2006. I took several breaks from focusing on my business due to family health issues that I needed to take care of…However, I did not give up on my dream and continued to re-start from where I left off after each break or slow down.
Tell us how you have developed your shop concept and why you decided to market to a more specific audience by making your baby clothes knits only available in fair trade handmade eco-friendly yarns.
Knitting always has been one of my hobbies since young ages. Learned how to knit from a talented artisan woman from Crete Island, Greece. I was in the elementary school at that time and she taught me the armpit knitting technique that helps to craft neat and fast.
When I was studying in college, I created couple of hand knitted sweater designs for a company in Europe and enjoyed that unique experience.
Following my graduation, I jumped into corporate world and knitting stayed as a hobby for me during all those years.
During my pregnancy, I started to explore business concepts to build my own product based business and decided to follow my old passion. So, I came up with the idea of a handmade infant and toddler clothing line crafted by master knitters. It was the time when “green living” concept was gaining more awareness and there was a growing demand on 100% cotton and bamboo baby clothes. I met with couple of artisan moms in Turkey who wanted to join my journey and that’s how JuneBee Baby, Inc. was born back in 2006 around the same time I had my son.
The business started as wholesale only with a focus on brick & mortar stores across the nation. In the following years, I expanded it to retail and also dropship as well.
My business embraces the key elements of “slow fashion”, a new movement begun as an alternative to mass produced clothing of fast passing trends. It’s a unified representation of all the eco and ethical fashion. It’s about choosing quality over quantity while making conscious purchase decisions to reduce environmental footprint.
As the French writer Pascale Brevet says in praise of quality and slow fashion, “Like a recipe passed down from generation to generation, we should pass our clothes down to our grandchildren.”
Slow fashion encourages artisanship, favors natural fabrics, and supports fair trade.
So, why natural fiber clothing? There are many benefits to fall in love with it. First, combining the amazing softness of bamboo with the strong durability of cotton creates the perfect balance in infant and toddler sweaters. In addition, both cotton and bamboo are naturally breathable and gentle to skin fabrics. They help to absorb body moisture and reduce sweating which make it the right choice for baby knits.
Also, clothing made with cotton and bamboo is very flexible with a generous capacity to stretch. Therefore, babies wearing JuneBee Baby clothing can play and nap in full comfort.
What’s more, Cotton and Bamboo baby clothing is machine washable to provide easy care and less work for moms.
As a part of slow fashion community, I cherishes clothing handmade with love and friendly to earth. JuneBee Baby’s hard to find authentic patterns and motifs are created with fine craftsmanship and can be worn by many babies within the family and even passed through generations.
Our fair trade baby clothes are truly hand knitted with traditional needle work and support a small community of stay-at-home artisan moms who get paid with fair wages.
How important is laying out a business plan and taking specific steps to implement the plan in the daily / weekly routine of your work?
As a work from home mom, my business routines face many challenges on a periodic basis ☺ While I make monthly and weekly work to do lists to keep up with my plans, I also try to be flexible and adapt to changes for balancing home and family needs and accommodate unexpected situations such as sick child, home maintenance or web tech problems. I think one of the key challenges for small business owner moms is not the planning part of the business but implementing them on a timely manner while trying to be on top of their family responsibilities at the same time. In a way, this is like running a few marathons at the same time ☺
One of my top priorities at work is to stay informed with fast changing internet marketing tools and new techniques. I put an effort and allocate time to attend on online webinars and get connected with social media business groups on an ongoing basis. Every moment counts, in my opinion. For example, waiting for my sons’ school dismiss in the car line translates to “business groups catch up time” for me.
Every month, I give myself a full day break to go through my notes from the webinars and groups, monitor my progress and make decisions such as whether to purchase certain tools, or enroll in continued education courses, etc.
What is your favorite part of running your business? What is your most challenging?
Brainstorming with my circle of artisan moms on new knitwear designs, working on different combinations of yarns, colors and stitching patterns, writing product descriptions for new additions to the collections are all quite inspiring and makes the business journey sensational.
On the other hand, there is a significant need to learn the technical aspects of an ecommerce business such as managing backend admin of your website, optimizing your site’s pages with smart SEO techniques and preparing high quality product images. And, the difficulty here is whatever you learn would be replaced with something new or more up to date feature almost within a few months.
As small business owners, we have to keep up with ever changing technology while wearing many other hats at the same time, and the bad news is we don’t have an IT department to delegate complex tech tasks ☺
How has being a small business owner and entrepreneur affected your life / family life?
I feel lucky to have the freedom to work on my own hours and make shifts between business and family times as needed. It wouldn’t be easy if I stayed in corporate world. For example, if my son gets sick and needs to see a doctor, I have the flexibility to adjust my work schedule without getting permission to leave the office. Or I can work late hours to complete a project when my family is asleep at night and may take the next day off if needed, and all these are nice perks of running your own business.
How do you generate new ideas for marketing your baby clothes?
My son has been an inspiration for my business in many levels since he was a born. In addition to joy and positive energy he brought into my life in a spiritual way, he also gave me practical insights on how to design the clothing more comfortable and easy to put and take off.
And, the children’s stories we read together along with his curious mind full of questions stimulated my imagination and creativity. Kids are truly inspiring because they bring out the child in you and it’s refreshing. For example, I designed a baby cardigan with little Goldilocks motifs on pockets, called Best Friends with Goldilocks inspired by children’s classics and it’s one of JuneBee Baby best sellers.
In addition to my son’s support, I also love to brainstorm with the master artisan lady (a talented knitter grandma from Istanbul, Turkey) who is helping me with the production of the business there. Enjoy chatting with her to come up with new motifs, models or stitching techniques and combine them on new products.
Since JuneBee Baby’s style choice is timeless classics, I am not following any fast fashion trends that change pretty quickly. Instead, I put an effort to maintain the heirloom quality details of each product such as constructing the perfect shawl-collar with exquisite details stitched by hand for perfection.
What are some specific complications you experienced when you first set up your shop and how did you move past this?
My business started as a wholesale website, like an online catalogue for boutiques to review and order. At that time, my main focus for the online business was producing high quality images with clear content. Finding the right designer to build my dream website and logo was not easy. I went through some trial and errors until I met “the one” ☺
Along the road, I realized managing my business and raising a family was much harder than I thought. For example, selling wholesale meant producing more quantities to be able have a successful business because profit margins per product was much lower than retail prices. That meant, I had to grow my artisans community, expand my sales reps team and also travel more often to check on the production process abroad and these requirements did not fit well into my family-work balanced schedule. As a result, I made the decision to focus more on retail and less on wholesale.
Putting more weight on retail marketing meant a big make over for the website because I had to switch it from an online catalogue to an ecommerce business.
What were your goals when you first started and how have these goals evolved and changed?
In terms of supporting the slow fashion concept, my brand identity remained the same from the beginning to present day…that is, creating fair trade handmade baby wear constructed for perfection by master crafters with breathable and durable natural fabrics.
The change was more on the target audience…switching from boutique owners to retail customer. Still offer dropship and wholesale for online and brick & mortar stores but it’s not the core focus of the business any more.
My goal for growing retail customers is connecting with moms/grandmoms or baby gift shoppers who look for both ethically made and esthetic sustainable baby clothes in heirloom quality and this is exactly what our value proposition is.
What is the single most critical talent you possess that has helped your business continue to grow and move forward?
I am naturally multi-task oriented and it helped me a lot to move forward. In addition, I am pretty neat and well organized to the point that may come closer to obsessive compulsive levels sometimes ☺
However, it works to my advantage because operating a small business from home is not easy, and putting everything in order both physically and virtually such as online folders help to make life flow better. The only issue is I may forget where I file them on some occasions ☺
Do you have help running your business ? If so, can you take us through a step by step process from when you first started with the idea of JuneBee baby and then the actual progression and growth of your business.
I do get support with the tech aspect of my business which is writing the code to create the website and maintain it on an ongoing basis such as adding new tools, fixing issues, etc. I see many small business owners who tried to learn and do it by themselves but it was not the right direction for me. Starting from the scratch on a new technical concept and educating myself in time would not allow me to take care of any other areas of my business.
Since I knew my strengths and weaknesses pretty well right at the start of the company, I mainly focused on reaching out the artisan community, spending time on product designs and improving myself on online marketing tools.
While I have years of traditional marketing experience, today’s small business models demand a pretty strong knowledge of digital marketing. So, I attended couple of courses in our community college here to get up to speed faster.
In addition, joining business groups helped me to catch up with new technologies and trends. These groups are very dynamic and there is a lot to learn on an ongoing basis. It’s well worth to allocate sometime (such as an hour a day) to connect with your business groups.
I do believe in investing in certain areas that would help the business grow. One of them is persuasive content writing and the other is SEO. Therefore, I am currently taking courses to master these two important concepts very well.
What are your goals over the next 5 years?
I believe the slow fashion movement will gain more momentum in the coming years because people are getting more eager to use our planet’s resources in a conscious way. Therefore, we’ll start to see a stronger movement towards a new mind-set to buy less and choose quality over quantity, almost like a return to good old days.
That is a naturally growing trend to favor earth friendly fabrics, praise artisanship and support fair trade. Since my business is already built up on these values, I think it will gradually but consistently continue to grow as long as I make sure the promise of heirloom quality is kept.
Therefore, my goals over the coming years is to maintain the key elements of my business and reach out to the right target audience who make purchasing decisions with a “green” life style approach.
I’d love to connect with you on social media platforms:
Also, I’d like to invite you to visit www.junebeebaby.com and join our newsletter to receive 50% off on your first order.