Angel Kho and Eleanor Lee admit that they have an unfair advantage over the competition.
There are 2 of them. That means no matter what challenges the twin sisters have faced, they have always had each other to lean on, learn from and laugh with along the way.
That sisterly teamwork has proven wildly successful as Kho and Lee have built Loulou Lollipop into a top lifestyle brand – one known as much for its adorable products designed for babies and kids as it is for its companywide commitment to people and the planet.
We are a brand creating products for the next generation – we owe it to them to work the way we do.
Embracing the learning process
It started with a broken necklace. When her teething daughter yanked the necklace from her neck, Lee began her journey to create something special. Existing teething necklaces were a bit much – too loud, too prone to breaking, too full of unknown ingredients. She wanted a “better, cuter and safer” alternative – but none existed.
Along with her twin sister, they began creating durable teething necklaces made from silicone beads and selling them in their Etsy shop. It was never meant to go much further than the dining room table.
“We were very grassroots. We knew it was a great idea, but it was also a passion project for us. Even on that dining room table, we were enjoying it, the whole creative process,” Kho said.
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The buzz grew. Friends and other parents soon discovered the sisters’ creations and clamoured for more. Some local boutiques did as well, when the sisters visited on cold calls. Trade shows were also spreading the word. West Coast Kids, a major regional and ecommerce outlet, showed interest early on.
Then there was social media. The company’s Instagram feed was filling up with messages from happy parents who had fallen in love with the brand.
“‘Hey,’ we thought, ‘people like our stuff!’” said Lee, the older twin by 2 minutes. “Now, we had become the brand that people desired to purchase from.”
That’s how it happens – the side hustle suddenly moves front and centre.
Today, Loulou Lollipop products are sold in 37 countries, in some of the top global retail chains like Nordstrom and Indigo. The company has around 25 people working in their head office in Richmond, B.C., along with sales reps all over North America.
Kho and Lee admit they were not exactly ready for all this success at first.
“It was a process of continual learning, researching, asking people – and some Googling,” Kho laughed. “We didn’t know how to grow our business. Neither of us has a business background. So, the whole process, the whole journey has been exhilarating.”
Lee agreed, “This is such a rewarding experience. Every day, we are learning something new. Meeting a new challenge. It’s a spirit of learning we both love.”
Forces for good
The sisters started out by coming up with their own product and design ideas, often guided by putting their own spin on what was popular in the marketplace. As their business grew, however, customer opinions became more important. Kho and Lee started mining social media comments and online product reviews for ideas, then directly asking what items customers would like to see.
“It was all very intentional,” Lee said.
She continued, “We work collectively, not in isolation, and function as shared minds striving for continual improvement. We listen to our customers’ feedback and we aim to create something that aligns with their wants, not just our own preferences. Ultimately, our purpose is to serve them.”
As the company has grown, so has the number of products it offers, from swaddles and PJs to sleep bags and kid cutlery to bandana bibs and bedding and beyond. To each, the sisters say, they bring the same joy, creativity and commitment to earth-friendly, non-toxic materials.
That last point has proven quite critical for the company, Kho explained.
Loulou Lollipop focuses on having minimal impact on the planet. That starts with the materials used, but extends deeper, into commitments towards fair wages, ethical business practices and safe working conditions. Expectations around these commitments extend beyond themselves and apply to their partners, as well.
“To us, sustainability is more than a buzzword,” Kho said.
Materials are front and centre because they are what customers see, feel and place closest to their child. That’s why Loulou Lollipop uses sustainable materials like Tencel (created with a carbon-neutral production process that captures and reuses 99.5% of its water and solvents), silicone (a BPA-free, food-grade plastic alternative derived from sand that doesn’t produce harmful by-products); and muslin (a bamboo and cotton blend produced through a highly regenerative growing process).
“Our customers care about quality, the lasting impact of the products, the value they receive, and, of course, they like pretty stuff. But high on that list is sustainability – they come to us because they understand our mission and vision for that,” Lee said.
Part of their commitment also involves supporting the community, which is why the company donates 1% of every Loulou Lollipop purchase to a non-profit of the customer’s choice.
“It is important to first take care of the planet and people. To us, profit comes last,” Lee said. “If we take care of the planet and people, people will come and buy. We know that. We have seen a huge attitude shift in people coming out of COVID. We have seen shoppers commit to making changes in their purchasing.”
Bosses, sisters, wives, moms – Kho and Lee know the inherent challenges that come with these co-existing roles. Some of the challenges are fair, some unfair, but nevertheless, the sisters face them together.
“It’s hard. It’s not easy. There is no perfect balance,” Kho said. “Being a woman, being a mom, we will always have that guilt – that feeling we’re not spending enough time with our kids. But sometimes it’s about the quality of the time, about being there 100% when we are together, about making that time count over anything else.”
Both Kho and Lee grapple with the responsibilities inherent to both entrepreneurship and motherhood. Balancing the demands of running a business while managing family obligations create formidable pressures for them.
“We have families at home. But we have a whole team at the company. We are accountable to our work family, too,” Lee said. “Yes, we need to make sure everyone is getting the attention they need. But as a female owner, we also need to take care of ourselves. If we don’t, it is impossible to move forward.”
In the end, despite the challenges and the pressure, the sisters revel in running the business.
“We had challenging moments – those kinds of moments where you felt like giving up,” Kho said. “But we didn’t dwell on it. We just stayed positive and kept pushing forward. Having that positive mindset makes you a better person, a better brand. As the owners, a lot of people look to us. So having that positive mindset, having that growth mindset is so important.”
Lee agreed, “The journey has actually been enjoyable. Without this business, we wouldn’t have faced these challenges and experienced personal growth. We’ve maintained an open-minded approach and harbour curiosity about the things that we were unfamiliar with and needed to learn. We didn’t dwell on difficulties. After all, they are not truly problems but rather stepping stones towards greater achievements.”
- Want a growth mindset? Take feedback. Learn from experience. Gain new skills. Seek to continuously improve.
- Sustainable businesses are not only focused on the environment, but include broader concern for society.
- Customer-centric product development requires actively listening and monitoring how customer needs are changing.
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