FREDERICTON – When Dawn Pottier sewed her first ring sling to carry her baby daughter, she never expected it would lead her to where she is today: running a global baby brand, Lulujo, now sold in thousands of stores in over 25 countries.
Pottier has kept relatively quiet about her success so far, but as the brand has grown, she and her Lulujo colleagues have found the story of how it all got started is an inspiring one.
As a single mother to two kids and project manager for a New Brunswick IT company, Pottier hadn’t planned on building a brand. But after a stream of positive feedback about the products she was making for herself, she couldn’t deny that there was a demand for what she was doing.
“I didn’t have any intention of it turning into an international company when I started,” she says. “I was just on maternity leave … I knew nothing about selling a product or manufacturing a product or retail or wholesale prices or anything like that, but I thought ‘well since so many people like it, I’ll try.’”
Pottier says that while she wasn’t actively aiming to start a business, she’s always had an entrepreneurial mind and didn’t realize how that could manifest itself until she started Lulujo.
“I can look back and I can see how ever since I was a little girl, I remember feeling like I wanted to be my own boss,” she says. “I just didn’t know what that looked like or how to do it. And you can’t really go to school to learn that. Either you are an entrepreneur or you’re not an entrepreneur.”
Pottier’s breakthrough came when she approached her first store, Room2Remember in downtown Fredericton. The owners were immediately interested in what Pottier was doing and ordered six of her slings.
“I ended up spending probably $500 on material to try to make these six slings that were only worth a couple hundred dollars. I brought them in and then two weeks later they called back and said ‘they all sold so we’ll take a dozen.’ And it just kept going and they kept ordering more and then I thought ‘if that product can sell, what else can I make?’”
With this encouragement, Pottier set out on the road with her baby daughter and a few sample products to sell to stores across Atlantic Canada. She found interest everywhere she went, with every store she approached placing orders.
Lulujo’s transition from a homegrown business with Pottier and other mothers sewing blankets and slings in her basement to one that operated on a larger scale by moving manufacturing overseas became necessary in the first couple years of business as the orders rolled in and became too much for the small business to handle.
Pottier discovered that scaling up was yet another skill she’d have to learn on the job and quickly rose to the challenge. After finding a company, called Alibaba, that connects brands with manufacturers in China, Pottier was still unsure of how things would go from there.
“That first time I didn’t even know what questions to ask so there was this one product I was interested in and they said ‘you need to order two thousand of them minimum.’ I literally maxed my credit card to get these two thousand swaddling blankets and I didn’t even have an order for them here in Canada,” Pottier says.
“They arrived months later after designing … and then I brought those to all the retailers I was working with and they just flew. Last year that was the number one selling product across Canada.”
Pottier says that though she’s had success so far, the journey has never been easy. She went from working 40 hours per week at her previous job to working 80 hours per week and finding ways to combine motherhood with entrepreneurship for the first few years of Lulujo to get the company off the ground. She says that while she’s glad her story can inspire others to follow their entrepreneurial dreams, she hopes they understand what they’re getting into.
“To be a single mom and to have this business you’re also trying to manage, it’s a lot of responsibility and it’s a lot of work. I don’t think it’s for everyone,” she says. “Although it’s fantastic where we are right now, I’ve had to sacrifice a lot to get to where I’m at with the company.”
“But what I often say to other women, other men, is if that’s something they want, to own their own business … then it’s really just about the gut feeling. It can’t be learned, it can’t be taught. If you are prepared to take the risk and you believe in what you’re doing and you have a vision, you can do whatever you want to do.”
Lulujo headquarters are still based in Fredericton and Pottier says they still design all products and packaging in New Brunswick. She adds that the designs are what make the Lulujo brand unique.
“Even though there were other companies doing similar products, I just spun each product a little,” she says. “it might be a different colour or it might be a different price point. It might be better quality and that’s what I was looking at.”
“It really became about fashion because even though it’s for the baby, they’re buying something that they like, that they’re going to put on their baby. It’s going to make a statement about themselves.”
Pottier says that Lulujo designs follow trendy and fashionable colours rather than traditional baby colours and prints. She says when they launched black and white products for babies last year, people thought they were crazy for bucking the traditional baby design trend but that those particular designs are now their number one selling product.
After building a solid base with many accounts for the company’s products, Pottier says Lulujo is now focusing on nurturing what they already have.
“It’s like we made a garden, we put all the seeds in and now it’s about cultivating that garden and taking care of it. And that’s where I feel we’re at right now … Now it’s time to really nurture and take care of this company and keep doing what we do well.”
Lulujo’s mission, Pottier says, has been the same since the beginning. They design fashionable products with mothers in mind that are affordable and of good quality. She says she continues to be inspired by all the people who have been a part of the Lulujo story.
“I’ve learned so much from so many different people around the world and they all bring something to the story. It’s really the people who have become involved with making it a success. I started it but I feel like I have this huge group of people supporting it right now and they all know what the vision is. We all share the same vision.”
“It’s very easy for it to grow because we all have the vision together and are working towards a similar goal. Anyone who’s ever been involved with Lulujo just gets it.”