Starting an e-commerce business

Tanya Robertson is the founder of lingerie retailer womanhood – stocking brands solely designed by women. We discuss digital tools, audience reach and using an online community to champion body confidence.

Hello Tanya, let’s jump straight in with a big question – why did you start womanhood?

Hello! Well, womanhood began for a number of reasons, but ultimately because I felt women deserved better than what the lingerie industry was currently offering. I had avidly followed a number of independent brands that were founded by women and decided that by bringing them together in a thoughtful, kind and refreshing way could provide an alternative to those looking to buy underwear that represented their needs and standards.

Did you have much experience in the lingerie world prior to launching the brand?

Zero! It was a total dive into a world I knew nothing about. From idea, to launch, there was a 7-year period, where I watched the industry like a hawk. It took me years to find the confidence to launch the business given I had no experience. It always felt like something I would do when I was “older, cooler or more experienced”. I aged, but definitely didn’t become cooler or gain experience in the industry! Self-doubt held me back for years, but ultimately that time was also a blessing as I could learn without the pressure of actually running a business. Prior to womanhood I was working in film publicity and then influencer marketing. My experience in the digital space lent itself to understanding the marketing landscape and the digitally native world we are living in. But really, it was a gigantic leap of faith into the unknown!

Woman lying on sofa in Womanhood lingerie

womanhood is a beautifully curated collection of ethical and independent brands – but how did you find the process of finding, connecting and stocking these brands?

First and foremost, all of the brands we carry are created by women. When womanhood launched there were six brands on site, with over 30 different sets. Since then, we have expanded our brand offering, as well as sizes and styles. When looking at prospective brands, I want to work with those that represent women in a positive way (similar to us) and those that are creating innovative designs. Many of the brands are designing bras based on a direct issue the founder has faced themselves such as fit, quality or style. In turn, this means the end product is incredibly well-crafted and engineered.  As we grow it’s been wonderful to have brands approach us. I’m honoured to represent the designs that the female founders have poured their love into.

You have such a solid message that champions womanhood in all its shapes and sizes. It was so brilliant working with you on the visual identity, illustrations, and e-commerce packaging. How important has the visual brand been as part of this communication?

Thank you and great question! Brands need to tell stories to capture consumer attention, and in turn loyalty. In a world where we scroll and watch content more than we read (sadly), visuals are essential. From the outset, I knew if I was launching a business in a saturated market, I needed to have a solid brand position from the beginning. Communicating an empowering message that aims to fill our community with confidence to be themselves, is how I try to position all our content and conversation.

Ecommerce mailing packaging for Womanhood lingerie with illustrated ladies

When developing the website were there any technical considerations or crucial features you’d recommend?

For me, it was all about data and being able to maximise the tools available to me. As a sole founder and one-woman band, getting an understanding of consumer journeys was essential to know how the site is used. Firstly, I would recommend Shopify as the platform to host your store on. Secondly, google analytics will become your new best friend. Other tools I would recommend exploring, heat mapping, back-in-stock or pre-sale functions and integrating your Facebook Pixel into the code on our site.

Reaching the right audience is an integral part of any brand but there are so many different targeting strategies from SEO and paid ads, to PR and marketing. What has worked best for you to help spread the womanhood word?

It’s a mixture – there is no one tactic that works best. What is important is to understand what avenues bring in the greatest revenue streams and then maximising on that. For example, our SEO and organic search have done really well for us, so I will focus time on this where necessary to continue delivering in this area. Equally, if something doesn’t work, I will pivot the strategy. From what I have experienced with womanhood, SEO, marketing and PR have been the easiest to navigate by myself. Paid ads are a skill set that if you don’t have experience in can take a while to see results from. Anyone can put money behind a post but doing so in a way that generates return takes a while to understand – and a while for the algorithms to start working in your favour.

As part of the latest SS20 campaign, you invited followers to take part in the photoshoot and gave them their very own platform to tell their story. Tell us a bit more about that…

It was such an emotional day! I had not anticipated people responding as avidly as they did, which was incredibly humbling. On the day, we shot 9 women, varying from all backgrounds, ages, shapes and sizes. There were tears, happy and emotional ones, from both those taking part and myself. For a lot of the women sharing their stories was a form of release, and I was incredibly lucky to have them share and be a part of that.

Talk us through your day-to-day running of the business, how do you split your time?

Well it’s a lot – I can’t pretend otherwise! No one day is the same. For the most part, it starts with preparing orders and shipping. From there, it could be anything between calls with my accountant (aka my hero), planning social content, emailing journalists, and customer emails, preparing for upcoming seasons and shoots, and influencer gifting – the list is endless and that’s only a snapshot.

What have been your biggest challenges in launching an online business? – and any tips for those starting out?

The biggest struggle for me has been an emotional one. Learning the ropes and discovering how to run a business have been so exciting. But as I mentioned, the self-doubt held me back for years and sometimes still does. Equally, getting used to being on the business rollercoaster every day was an adjustment. Now I just accept I am on it and have had to learn how to roll with the punches (obviously still find this hard at some points!). Nothing can really prepare you for the insane highs and lows of being a business owner but knowing that we’re all in it together is a comfort.

For those starting out, I would say, reach out to people who are in a similar boat to you. Having your own business is like nothing you will have experienced and being able to talk to people who have done it, are living it too, or have years of experience will be a huge comfort. Remember this is no right way of doing anything but finding your own way and following through will help you navigate the trickier times.

What’s next for womanhood?

Well, I’m answering this during COVID–19 and the madness of it all has an inevitable effect on where womanhood goes next. If all goes to plan (and that’s never guaranteed corona or no corona), we will be expanding our offering, launching a pop-up store and bringing international shipping into the mix. There is more planned too so stayed tuned!

Read about our brand identity and packaging for womanhood here.

Growing a brand

Growing a brand

In conversation with Fenella Smith – designer of colourful homewares and accessories.

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