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Julie Mathers on ethical retailing, why #girlboss isn’t helping

Julie Mathers started Flora and Fauna (F&F) in late 2014 and it was driven by a desire to be the most ethical retailer possible with the BEST customer service. Mathers is a super proud vegan, has an adorable pet pig and is a self confessed workaholic. 

Mathers started the business four years ago after 25 years of working in retail. The business has seen major success and recently won Best Small Independent Retailer at the ORIAS.

“We were thrilled to receive this [award]. It’s huge for us, our team and most importantly ethical retailing. I talk a lot around getting responsible retailing on the map so it is fantastic to have a BCorp business winning this award. It’s great to stop and reflect and then you get back to work very quickly,” she says.

“I have always had a deep drive to improve how we treat our planet and the animals that live on it hence F&F was born and now we are BCorp Certified and have over 5000 cruelty free and vegan products,” she says.

Dynamic Business had a chat to Mathers about her business, ethical retailing and female leadership.

Mathers has a real desire to make change happen. She’s worked for many large corporates and found it slow and muted.

“To make real change I knew I had to make my own destiny and make it happen myself,” she says.

Consumers are wanting to buy ethical and environmentally friendly products but there are still people who are finding it hard to adapt to the change of single use bottles, no plastic bags and the loss of straws.

Mathers says it’s about “short term pain for long term gain.”

“We have a responsibility as businesses to shift what we do and that is getting rid of the low hanging fruit. There will always be a noisy minority but the majority understand the importance of acting and expect businesses to get onboard. Coles have recently received a lot of criticism for their Toy Shop promo and their flip flopping over the plastic bag decision. That should be enough to make businesses realise customers expect them to drive change and it really does start with them. McDonalds are getting rid of plastic straws in the UK. It’s a start so, if they can do that, any business can do anything,” she says.

Mathers’ husband has been on this journey with her from a few months in so he’s ‘as close to a co-founder as you can get’. He runs the Operations and Finance side of the business and they have a great partnership.

“I often am asked ‘How can you work with your husband?’ and it’s really easy. You can have very blunt conversations which you need to have plus that person knows you very well so knows your shortfalls and what makes you tick,” she says.

“I’m lucky in that Tom and I have an excellent balance and our values align. We are both engineers, although Tom took it further than Uni, but I am more creative and aspirational whereas Tom is very process driven and operational. It’s a great mix; I elevate him to think outside of the day to day and he brings me back down to earth. Somewhere we meet in the middle. ”

F&F has around 30 staff and that includes onsite and offsite.

“We run our own warehouse and I think that is very important in an ecommerce business. It’s the heart of the business so own it. We engage our team, share numbers, goals, ideas and ask for their ideas too. You might only work two days a week as a casual in the warehouse but your opinion is as important as anyone else’s,” says Mathers.

“We’re just about to move warehouse so we’ve asked the team what they want from the new place. It’s a big move for us all and we want to create a really happy environment. I am also a firm believer in autonomy and letting your team grow and reach their goals. We have grown many of our team within the business and it’s wonderful to see. We have an amazing little family I am very proud of.”

F&F is completely self funded so the only investor is Julie herself. “I put in funding to get us up and running with technology and stock and, since then, we’ve been working from cash generated. We haven’t needed further investment. We have a positive cashflow and have been profitable since the first year,” she says.

“My advice is to not get funding unless you absolutely need it or you are very, very clear on how it is being spent. Retaining 100% control of my business has been critical to acting quickly and making decisions that are always aligned with Flora & Fauna’s ethics and values. I never want to compromise on that. Money is never free and it either costs you in debt and interest or equity and you have to be very comfortable with that. If you do get funding ensure your values and goals are aligned.”

Having a female CEO/Founder still makes headlines and is often still seen as a novelty. Mathers believes businesses and the media really have to move past this.

“I have worked for 25 years in retail and always had a male CEO. It’s ridiculous that that is the case and inequality is so rife in 2018. I have worked with some amazing women, and men, and there is no reason women shouldn’t be CEOs and CEOs of ASX listed companies,” she says.

“A truly great CEO has vision and balance but also has a powerful team around them and there is no reason a woman can’t do that. I believe we need to lose terms like #girlboss as that does us no favours at all. I view myself as an inspirational leader and I’m good at what I do and gender is not part of the equation.

“If we really want to move forward we need to leave gender at the door and start talking about driven leaders making change. We focus so much on gender that we forget about what these women, and men, are actually achieving. Isn’t it far more interesting to have an article which is ‘CEO grows Ethical Business by 400% year on year without funding’ rather than ‘Woman runs business’?”

There is many exciting things coming up for F&F such as moving their warehouse in September to a place 10 times the size of their current warehouse. It will have an experience store there which is a first.

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Gali Blacher

Gali Blacher

Gali Blacher, editor, Dynamic Business

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