First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID19 times?
Akin Onal: We are all healthy, thank you. COVID had such an impact on every aspect of life imaginable, in terms of wealth, health, habits, social interactions, and even industries at large. While it very negatively affected the most, it favoured some others. I feel very lucky and grateful for being on the good side of this new world. It could have been easily the opposite, so I don’t take anything for granted.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded or joined MORI
Akin Onal: I’m Akin Onal and I am the CEO and founder of MORI. I founded the D2C brand in 2015 in London and for the last five years we have been crafting products for babies and toddlers, always with a gentle touch from sustainable materials. Before MORI I lived, or worked, in ten countries all around the world as a management consultant. It was when I was doing my MBA in the US that I caught the entrepreneurship bug, but at the time I made the decision to pursue a career in banking and I moved to London.
Six years ago I was working at JPMorgan and I became an uncle for the very first time. As all new uncle’s do, I was looking for a gift for my niece and I realised there was a gap in the market for high-quality baby gifts at an accessible price point. I grew up in Turkey and the area where my family comes from is well known for its high-quality textiles. I knew the babywear sector was an area that I could innovate in. My close family and friends quickly became our partners and trusted manufacturers. We launched MORI, and our first small collection was in Spring 2015 – and the rest as they say is history.
How does MORI innovate?
Akin Onal: I always strive to be a maker and a creator not a follower, I believe this is key to having long-lasting success. Babywear is a very competitive market, so we had to identify a niche opportunity and then scale the business from there. Nature and sustainability are incredibly important to the MORI team and I, and are at the heart of our brand. In the very early days, this led us to focus on developing our signature fabric; something that truly sets us apart from other baby clothing brands.
Our goal was to create a fabric that was exceptionally soft, safer than frequently used materials and kind to our planet. The end result was a fabric made from a unique blend of organic cotton and bamboo, it is naturally breathable, thermoregulating, and moisture-wicking. These are all very important qualities when touching a baby’s skin. We also wanted our fabric to have a very low environmental footprint so we had to develop processes that minimised the use of chemicals and increased the fabric’s durability so that the garments can be passed on to other newborns.
Innovating as we develop our products and collections is key too. For example, our award winning Clever Sleeping Bag, which is a must-have for new parents, grows with your baby through adjustable sizing and has a travel seat-belt pocket so they can snooze undisturbed on the move. After a year’s development we are getting ready to launch a new version of our Clever Sleeping Bag later this year.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business and how are you coping?
Akin Onal: We are coping well thank you. As a digital-first brand with seasonless collections, we had the infrastructure in place to meet new online demand as customers moved online, seemingly overnight at the start of lockdown. Over the last five years at MORI, we have been investing in our sustainable practices and online services, allowing us to build a brand that customers connect with and can rely on. It is our commitment to quality products, and excellent online services that have continued to fuel and accelerate our growth during the first half of 2020.
Did you have to make difficult choices and what are the lessons learned?
Akin Onal: Like any business owner, I had to make several difficult decisions, including temporarily closing our newly opened shop, furloughing some of our team members, and cutting down on several initiatives that we have been working hard on. Especially early in the pandemic, everything was a very big unknown.
My biggest lesson learned is that transparency is key during a crisis. I made sure that every move we made as a company was transparent to the entire team, and we explained the rationale behind each one of them. My team was incredible and didn’t miss a beat in terms of working from home, continuing the projects with full motivation, and keeping the momentum despite being short-staffed. They made me very proud.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety, how do you project yourself and MORI in the future?
Akin Onal: Entrepreneurship is rather stressful and there is continuous anxiety. A lot of us are fighters, so we carry on regardless, but this makes the entrepreneurial journey less enjoyable. I have tried several positive lifestyle changes that didn’t make a dent. Last year, I picked up Transcendental Meditation (TM) and also made some dietary changes by cutting out dairy, gluten, and soya. Both of these combined made a significant improvement to my mental health.
I now have a strict morning routine and I am very adamant about following it. The first thing I do every morning is to drink a very large glass of water, wash my face, and then meditate for about half an hour. It really allows me to start my day with a clear mind. I then have my protein shake with seeds, check my emails and messages, shower and get ready. If I wake up early, I make sure to squeeze in a workout and by 9am latest, I am in front of my computer.
I read a book last year about the morning routines of successful people and made some useful improvements to mine. A good morning routine starts with a before-bed routine. For example, I prepare my breakfast and often what I am going to wear the next day from the night before. I also try not to use any alarm clocks, which means that I go to bed at 11pm at the latest.
In terms of the future, I have a very positive outlook however I don’t plan my life around the future. I have come to realise that the journey is as important as the destination, so I try to focus more on the now.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Akin Onal: There are so many brands to discover when you become a parent for the first time and it can be quite overwhelming to know where to start for each category. While they are not our direct competitors, as their proposition and position is quite different, we know that MORI customers also buy baby clothing at John Lewis (when they are buying other baby gear) and they will pick up basic essentials from the likes of H&M.
We have lots of projects in the pipeline for the next few years. Our US website has been growing really fast, so we want to continue to invest there. We are rapidly expanding our product range by adding new designs and prints. We grew the age of our pyjamas to 6 years old and are expanding our range of family pyjamas. Over the last couple of months we have launched some partnerships as well to offer complementary products from other brands.
Your final thoughts
Akin Onal: In 2020, we are living in unprecedented times which have changed consumer shopping behaviour forever. Consumers are fast-forwarding their adoption of digital platforms and services by several years and are being drawn to the brands that are truly authentic, standing by their values. There is a much stronger shift towards sustainability than ever before with consumers choosing brands that offer longevity over trend-led products.
I believe that brands that are built on conscious consumerism, offering quality products and excellent online services, while remaining agile will have longevity as the future of retail is defined.
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