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Retail Innovator: Julie Mathers of Flora & Fauna

As we enter our Q2 Theme of Innovation we caught up Julie Mathers, founder and CEO of Flora & Fauna.

2019 has been an interesting one for retail. We’ve seen stores ban single use plastic bags, fashion brands creating transparency in their supply chains and more and more brands aligning themselves with community and global charities alike.

One person in the retail landscape who has welcomed this new era of consciousness with open arms is Julie Mathers, the founder and CEO of planet-friendly eCommerce business Flora & Fauna which was founded on the values of transparency, kindness and ethical, cruelty free business just over four years ago. Julie has just been named as the winner of Inside Retail’s Top 50 People in eCommerce, the latest in a long string of accolades which the industry has awarded her during her time in eCommerce.

Surprisingly when we ask Julie about her career highlights, the moment which has stuck in her mind was winning the NSW Telstra Business Awards for “Small and Succeeding” business. Along with the humbling customer feedback and her recent warehouse move, Julie cites the Telstra Awards as a pinch me moment.

Starting in her native England as an accountant (which lasted all of seven months before she decided to travel India solo), Julie quickly realised her passion for retail and began with UK giant John Lewis which gave her a solid base for her retail career working across various departments in customer facing positions.

From here, a variety of roles in buying and merchandising ensued before Julie landed in consulting, which for six years took her across Europe and Japan, working on IT implementations from completing the due diligence for the sale of Kurt Geiger. Next up was a stint in private equity for retail which collapsed under the financial crisis and ultimately prompted the move to Australia in 2009.

“I’ve always been really passionate about customer experience and developing that experience…and finding new ways to engage customers.”

Julie Mathers

Julie began her Australian career in retail giant Coles as Head of Sales & Marketing and also held positions at Masters and APG & Co. Values which had always been at the back of her mind were ethical retailing, conscious business and being kind were becoming more and more prominent as she navigated her way through corporate business.

Attempting to integrate her own beliefs and values into an existing corporate business was the biggest challenge Julie faced as she attempted to implement CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) strategies. “Big businesses aren’t willing to be pioneers” so rather than trying to fit in with someone else’s model, Julie decided to create her own business where she could make the rules and run it the way she wanted to.

“I’ve always had an entrepreneurial spirit.”

Julie Mathers

The lightbulb moment came when Julie was shopping in well known store Boots in the UK for a lipstick. She spent the best part of half an hour trying to decipher which ingredients were in this lipstick and if it had been tested on animals. With no information available, Julie was left frustrated and lipstick-less. Surely something should exist which would give customers complete transparency over the ingredients in products? With a vision of creating a the most ethical and responsible business possible, Julie created Flora & Fauna. The core values have remained, but they have evolved to be much deeper and run throughout every part of the business. From supplier management to customer service, Julie cites “kindness” as the overarching value which dictates the way Flora & Fauna runs day-to-day.

“We want to inspire more people to be more purposeful.”

Julie Mathers

In four years, Flora & Fauna has grown from a part time passion dispatching 2 orders a day to an eco-friendly enterprise sending several thousand orders a week to customers across Australia.

Team culture has been paramount to the success of Flora & Fauna. Julie’s 35 strong dedicated team sings along to Glee, Britney Spears and a selection of 80s anthems as we chat and they pack their orders for today’s dispatch. There’s also a conversation happening about how much plastic packaging one supplier has used to send their stock and can we please make sure this doesn’t happen again? This is what motivates Julie. Seeing her team members take the same stance she does on excess waste, eco-friendly packaging and ethics is what she wants to inspire in customers and businesses alike.

“I won’t deter from them (my values) at any point.”

Julie Mathers

We talk about businesses which Julie looks to for inspiration (Patagonia for their ethical sourcing, Zappos for their company culture and Ecostore for packaging) and what Flora & Fauna wants to be the trailblazer for (ethical packaging, culture and customer experience) and we’re lead to the discussion of the retail industry as a whole.

The businesses who are really making strides in their mission to create and champion change are all being guided by a strong leadership team. Authenticity is the key to creating change, and ensuring that the reason for change and purpose is guided by ethics and an integrated business decision not a marketing and branding message is crucial. Savvy consumers are increasingly looking for brands which mirror their own personal values and are incredibly attuned to tactical brand marketing. For brands who want to capitalise on the Millennial movement and develop a greater purpose than their product, there is no shortcut to authenticity.

It’s rare to come across a business owner who speaks so truthfully and passionately about sustainability, conscious retailing and eco-friendly packaging which makes it clear that for Flora & Fauna, these things are part of the integrated culture of the business and run deeply throughout the team, the marketing and the product selection you see on the website. Julie’s message to her fellow CEOs is to lead the change towards sustainability from the top down.

So what do the next five years look like for Flora & Fauna? As with everything else, Julie has already set the bar high for herself. The fact that she delivered her newborn son less than five weeks ago hasn’t slowed her down, she was back to the office within a fortnight of her c-section and continues to run a tight ship in Flora & Fauna’s new warehouse space for half the week. On her “home” days, she’s equally as busy with her beautiful newborn Woody, the four cats and her pig Rosie.

Expansion is at the top of the list. New markets, new categories, new frontiers are all on Julie’s mind. As we chat, another lightbulb moment occurs. We ask what she’s thinking, but Julie is tight lipped. The most she’ll give away is her plan to delve more into innovation and to continue being customer focused.

“Innovative. I want to be more innovative.”

Julie Mathers

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