Balancing Growth and Purpose with Y.O.U Underwear’s Sarah Jordan  (episode 492)

Sarah Jordan is the founder & CEO of Y.O.U Underwear sellers of beautifully designed, ethically manufactured, and eco-friendly underwear making the world a better place one pair of pants at a time. They’re also the UK’s top-scoring B Corp and the top fashion brand in the world. Founded in 2016 and launched in 2018, last year Y.O.U Underwear sold £250,000 via their Shopify store and physical store in Oxford. 

Sarah Jordan Y.O.U Underwear on eCommerce MasterPlan Podcast

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Dive in: 

[03:29] Life-changing pivot driven by underwear necessity discovery. 
[10:03] Creating a strategic fashion business with inclusivity. 
[13:05] Advantage in sustainability without greenwashing or retrofitting. 
[15:15] Anticipating future trends with unique selling proposition. 
[20:55] Transitioning from freelancing to employing full-time staff. 
[24:01] Managing business operations and customer relationships efficiently. 
[25:38] Sarah’s Top Tips! 

Transition from Charity to eCommerce 

Sarah shares her journey from working in charity and publishing to founding a sustainable underwear business after a volunteer stint in Uganda. She was struck by the significant impact that lack of underwear had on women and girls, particularly regarding their hygiene, health, and educational access. She strategically decided to address the social issues not through a charity model but through a sustainable business model. Sarah’s decision to form a limited company instead of a charity was driven by her desire for greater control and transparency in manufacturing, and the necessity to build a financially viable and sustainable business that could continuously tackle the issue of access to underwear. 

Challenges of Ethical Production 

Y.O.U Underwear’s commitment to ethical production in the fashion industry involves navigating numerous challenges. Sarah says there are complexities in ensuring their products are made ethically, without exploiting workers. There are challenges as well in maintaining high standards as the business scales. This point is crucial for businesses in the fashion industry aiming to differentiate themselves through ethical practices. 

Sustainability as a Baseline, Not a Differentiator 

Sarah acknowledges the significant advantage of building a business with sustainability embedded from the start, as demonstrated by Y.O.U Underwear’s high B Corp certification score. This is in contrast with brands that retrofit sustainability, often leading to skepticism among consumers about greenwashing. This integrity allows her business to focus on genuine sustainability practices as the brand’s foundation. Sarah says that while scaling the business, maintaining these core values is essential, and simplifying the message around sustainability is crucial. She points out that while many businesses now claim sustainability, distinguishing her brand with a unique selling proposition focused on combating period poverty helps stand out in a crowded market. 

Scaling the Business and Team Expansion 

Sarah shares that her business initially adopted a do-it-yourself approach until the scope of work outgrew their internal capabilities. They opted to use freelancers due to their flexibility, which was important as the business relied heavily on cyclical cash flow and part-time staff. Recently, recognizing the need to scale and focus her efforts more strategically, Sarah made a significant decision to hire the first full-time employee in the business. This move is intended to alleviate some of her workload, allowing her to focus on areas where she adds the most value, particularly as they shift more resources towards marketing and scaling the business effectively. 

Personalized Customer Experience 

Sarah emphasizes the importance of personal touches in customer service. Hiring a full-time employee to handle marketing tasks and support activities has allowed Sarah to retain direct involvement in critical areas such as customer service. She says she continues to write personalized cards for each order, a practice she believes significantly enhances customer experience and satisfaction. Personalizing these interactions fosters a stronger connection with her customers and boosts the perception of her brand.

eCommerce Book Top Tip

  • Read a novel that’s not related to business but that inspires you in a different way   

eCommerce Traffic Top Tip

  • Email marketing 

Tool Top Tip

  • WhatsApp

Carbon Top Tip

  • Perform a digital cleanup. Sarah suggests clearing out old files, emails, and images that accumulate in digital storage because these contribute significantly to the store’s digital sustainability. By reducing unnecessary digital clutter, eCommerce businesses can lessen their energy consumption related to server maintenance and operation, thus making a positive impact on their environmental footprint.  

Interview Links

*Thank you to Lucy Jeffrey of Bare Kind for the guest introduction! 

Related episodes

  • How Sustainability and Community are super-powering this fashion brand with Katie McCourt from Pantee (episode 373)
  • Your B Corp Questions Answered with Hannah Cox (episode 430)
  • Bare Kind’s Blueprint for B Corp Certification and Growing Sustainably (episode 481)

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