Sarah Jordan, Founder & CEO of Y.O.U Underwear about soft, stylish, organic cotton underwear for men, women, and girls that lets you look good, feel good.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Y.O.U Underwear.
Sarah Jordan: I switched careers in 2016 after witnessing first-hand the problems associated with not having underwear during a trip to Uganda. In some communities, it is estimated that 1 in 10 girls miss school on their periods due to a lack of underwear and sanitary products. Without proper period protection, they’re left with no choice but to miss school – up to 12 weeks a year! Instead of getting my knickers in a twist about it, I founded Y.O.U Underwear on a buy-one-give-two model with the charity Smalls for All. So far, we’ve donated over 14,000 pairs of underwear, making a difference in the lives of thousands of women in Africa and the UK.
How does Y.O.U Underwear innovate?
Sarah Jordan: Y.O.U underwear makes soft, stylish, organic cotton underwear for men, women, and girls that lets you look good, feel good and do good.
Y.O.U Underwear’s business model developed in response to many of the pressing issues of the fast fashion industry whilst also prioritizing our customer’s needs. All Y.O.U underwear is designed primarily to be stylish, of excellent quality, comfortable, and desirable in its own right, at the same time appealing to consumers who may have broader concerns around the environmental and social impact of their purchases.
All Y.O.U underwear is Fairtrade, PETA-approved vegan, and made from 100% GOTS Certified Organic Cotton. We work with India’s leading ethical and sustainable manufacturer, which operates under SA8000 social standards. We believe in ethical marketing and the importance of promoting body positivity, so we’ve hidden inspirational messages inside our underwear, use people of all shapes and sizes as models and never airbrush our images.
How does the coronavirus pandemic affect your business finances?
Sarah Jordan: After a successful Christmas period in 2019, January 2020 was our strongest trading month, and I was able to move into the business full-time. However, the pandemic threw a spanner in the works, with sales and income dropping significantly in March and April 2020. I immediately implemented a range of hygiene measures, such as wearing medical gloves and distancing at all times when processing orders and minimizing trips to the post office; safety was our utmost priority. I moved 100% of the business online (including attending virtual markets) and shifted to take advantage of a broader industry move towards loungewear, aiming our products at this niche.
During the pandemic, I also liaised with Oxford Mutual Aid to see how we could support local homeless people who have been temporarily re-housed during the pandemic as they look for underwear and broader essential supplies.
We also focused our energy on staying creative and finding organic ways to connect with customers. We prioritized outreach, marketing, and PR work, an effort which paid off with two features in The Guardian, once alongside Stella McCartney. Our sales subsequently increased significantly and have remained at these new highs. Across 2020, the business saw a 400% growth in turnover.
Did you have to make difficult choices regarding human resources, and what are the lessons learned?
Sarah Jordan: In January 2020, I took on my first full-time employee, although due to the fall in income we experienced in March and August, I had to reduce her hours going forwards. However, since the business has sprung back over the course of 2020, I’ve begun to expand the Y.O.U Underwear team again. We hired a Social Media Manager in September, which has been a great help so far and has enabled us to drive further growth on many of our online channels.
One of the key lessons I’ve learned is the value of having a dedicated team. As a business owner, you have to wear many ‘hats’ – and without a conscious effort to tackle big tasks, it’s so easy to get distracted with work that won’t ultimately lead to business growth. My team helps me keep tackling these big tasks and being an invaluable help with the day-to-day running of the business.
How did your customer relationship management evolve? Do you use any specific tools to be efficient?
Sarah Jordan: I pride myself on the excellent customer service that Y.O.U Underwear currently offers. Every package of Y.O.U Underwear we send out contains a handwritten note from me, thanking the customer for their purchase and highlighting the underwear donation that we’ll make on their behalf. I also respond personally to all enquiries that come in, as this really allows me to connect with customers on an individual level. This year, I’m hoping to leverage tools to make this process more efficient, but without compromising the quality of service, such as by introducing web chat on our website to enable immediate responses to some of our more standard questions.
Did you benefit from any government grants, and did that help keep your business afloat?
Sarah Jordan: At the end of 2021, we received a small Kickstart grant that was designed to support businesses impacted as a result of Covid, which allowed us to optimize our online sales channels, but otherwise, we’ve been self-funded from the start.
Your final thoughts?
Sarah Jordan: Whilst COVID-19 has certainly presented Y.O.U Underwear with many challenges, there have been opportunities too. In 2020 we introduced a range of new products, including reversible face masks, that have proved very popular with our customers.
In addition to experiencing significant business growth, we also won a number of awards. We were named one of Small Business Saturday’s #SmallBiz100. I was recently recognized by Small Business Britain’s f: Entrepreneur #ialso100 2021 as one of 100 female entrepreneurs making a powerful contribution to society, the economy, and communities.
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