Beyond Cuddly: Sarah Lin’s Soft, Cozy Blankets Soothe Babies and Help Marginalized Women
Name: Sarah Lin
Sarah Lin was a designer, marketer and creative director in corporate America for more than a decade before stepping out on her own. She’d long wanted to start a socially-oriented enterprise but never imagined finding inspiration for a business from her beloved baby blanket. In 2013, Sarah founded EllieFunDay, an organic baby blanket and accessories company that provides a fair-wage and dignified employment to marginalized women around the globe.
Sarah will be selling EllieFunDay blankets and accessories at the Bazaar at this year's SOLD OUT QB Connect 2017 in San Jose.
Sarah, tell us the story behind your business.
I'd always dreamed of creating a product that married my love for good design with my desire to support a social need. I knew I had to come up with a product I dearly loved -- I couldn’t quit my day job for something random!
I kept coming back to my own baby blanket. Whenever my mom washed it and hung it out to dry, I would stand outside by the clothesline holding a corner of my blankie, waiting to reclaim it.
Many people have shared similar stories about their baby blanket or favorite lovey. I had the idea to design beautiful baby blankets and that could be sewn by marginalized women around the world. I spent two years traveling to identify nonprofits we could partner with. Then we developed our first line of products, which we still sell today.
How do you market EllieFunDay blankets and accessories?
We sell our products online through the EllieFunDay website. We also work with 160 U.S.- and global retailers including specialty baby stores and brands such as Nordstrom, Barney’s and Anthropologie.
I think my design background has helped us be successful in retail. Before we ever sold any products, we’d share prototypes with friends, family and retailers to get their feedback. If people didn’t like our product, we’d ask why. I’m used to iterating quickly, and we could make changes fast.
Early on, we launched an “IndieGoGo” campaign to raise money for our seed round of funding. We raised more than $20,000 and exceeded our goal within the first three days. That funding allowed us to make our first line of blankets.
After our first big marketing push, we started attending trade shows for baby stores and gift vendors. We hustled, followed leads and made a lot of cold calls. Our marketing process is about putting the product out there, often in small batch runs.
How does EllieFunDay help marginalized women?
When I started EllieFunDay, I wanted to provide marginalized women with dignified employment and a fair wage. I wanted to help women create useful products that they felt good about, not tchotchkes that gather dust on a bookshelf. I also wanted to create a company that would meet customers’ real needs and highlight the women making these beautiful products.
We currently work with three nonprofits. One is based in the United States. This organization employs women refugees from all over the world, and they help us create our candles.
Our other two nonprofit partners are based in India. When we develop a product, we work closely with our partners to make sure we’re using skills the women have already. For example, if the women are familiar with embroidery, we’ll create a blanket with hand-embroidered patterns.
If we need to teach women a new skillset, we try to make sure it’s something that will help them be job-ready in general.
What does a typical day look like for you?
During the prototyping season, I’ll set aside a day or two every week just for design. Since I still have a team to manage, I might be in meetings throughout the day and focus on design at night.
When I’m on the road or in India, I meet with our nonprofits, travel to other destinations and meet with groups of women to explain my design vision. There are cultural nuances to running this business, and in-person meetings help everyone get a clear understanding of what we’re doing.
What do you hope to gain from QuickBooks Connect?
Friends have been to QuickBooks Connect, and they’ve told me how valuable it is. I’m curious how business owners have used systems to scale and what they’ve done to run more efficiently. I love hearing stories from other small business owners. It can be lonely as an entrepreneur, so hanging out and networking with other people who work for themselves encourages me. I’m happy to share what I’ve learned from EllieFunDay, too.
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