13 Q&A‘S TO LARISSA AND ULI
The making of a happy lucky handbag brand
Founders Uli and Larissa talk about their baby ZOÉ LU, which has grown quite a bit thanks to a great community. In their private lives, the two BFFs, who met at grammar school in 1994, each have a son.
You may have figured it out already: In ZOÉ LU, the L stands for Larissa, true drawing machine and our social media guru – her motto "I can do that much better myself." U for Uli, the voice of reason and wannabe nerd. Motto: "Let's think about it again!"
It’s our style mantra: Opposites attract! Larissa and Uli through thick and thin and right now off the top of their heads through 13 keywords:
Uli: In everything we do! In the beginning, of course, there was our great bag idea. Product design is our passion, and we put all our heart and soul into it, until it was perfect.
Larissa: A great topic. It's great when women make a difference. We also want to support other women, but we are not advocating for female only, TBH. We stand for diversity and have male helpers and advisors. We value the different ways of thinking....
But the fact that we are Female Founders became really obvious with the Corona epidemic though (laughs loudly). I have the household to look after, home schooling and we do everything to keep the business running and expanding. There is no time to be active in business circles.
Uli: Small talk, networking - that's honestly not my thing!
Larissa: I can’t really tell. I look at things that I like, keep my eyes wide open and think "You could use that...". There is no lack of ideas at all. On the contrary, we can't do everything.
Uli: A lot of it is just zeitgeist that you pick up from social media, magazines, or online shops.
Larissa: Not to forget: We always ask our customers and let them have their say. That way we have a direct line to those who buy. In the past, you had to do expensive surveys. If we like a colour, we ask our community.
Mint was requested a lot, lilac, and the off-white bag that we launched recently was very high on our customers’ wish list, too. Another example is leo for the coming autumn... every day someone asked and so we gave in: "Ok, then we’ll do it again!"
Uli: Not at all really. We've been self-employed together for a long time, our brand name was ZOÉ LU before – Zoé, a name we both love and Lu from our two first names. ZOÉ LU “2.0” has been around since 2017. We were so convinced of our idea that we didn't want any more design commissions from other labels...
Larissa: We had been working on a bag design that was different for ages and we came up with various ideas. They weren't bad, but they weren't revolutionary either. When we came up with the idea of changing the flap, we told ourselves, “Let’s get going NOW!”
Uli: Our bags are sustainable because you only need a new flap for a completely new style. This saves 70% leather compared to a completely new bag. But we are also actively searching for an alternative to leather. This is quite difficult. There are materials like cactus leather and mango leather – but they only come in three colours and that's it.Larissa: Yeah, there are a lot of fruit leathers like apple or grape, which are all more sustainable than any synthetic material on the market. To suggest a synthetic material as an alternative would be window dressing.
We make it an absolute priority to manufacture ethically in all our production facilities. The leather comes from Italy and is strictly controlled. We are also working on our packaging, the cardboard boxes are sustainable and made of recycled materials. We are in the process of replacing the polybags with a material that is biodegradable. We are constantly working on this.
Larissa: We are overwhelmed by the feedback on ZOÉ LU. Little by little, we have met women for whom we have solved a problem with our bags. Now it's a real hype... People are collecting, swapping, connecting with us. When customers are looking for something from old collections, they write in Facebook groups, ebay classifieds or directly to us and we try to help everyone. The messages from enthusiastic women delight us endlessly: "The only great thing during Corona is when the postman rings and a bag or 'flap' arrives." Wow!
Instagram is a blessing for us. I don't think we would be where we are without Instagram. People buy from people and just prefer to buy when they know who's behind it. Not from an anonymous, big shipper. That is the secret of our success. We actively involve people.
Uli: Oh, that's my cue. Apart from the fact that my little son wakes me up from time to time, I am the doubter in the duo. The one who keeps an eye on the budget and asks whether we can afford this or that. Sometimes that catches up with me at night. That's why it's great to be a team. I wouldn't do it alone.
Uli: I was lying on the beach in Mallorca and my mobile phone was constantly ringing because new orders were coming in nonstop. This happened after the first influencer did a great story about ZOÉ LU and Larissa arranged a discount code with her. We sold out overnight for the first time. That was 2018, at the end of August.
Larissa: The same moment! I gave this influencer a bag and said, "Sorry, we don't have any money, but you're welcome to show it off." On Shopify, the push notification sounds like an old cash register... It went all day ka-ching, ka-ching, ka-ching....
Larissa: There are eleven of us in the team, plus three freelancers. ZOÉ LU has really grown a lot in the last 18 months... People have joined us who not only have the right skills but also just feel right. The team spirit is there, even if it all happened at a time of social distancing and contact bans.
Larissa: The last time was when Uli’s boyfriend texted me that Felix was born and that Uli and the baby were doing well. I had to drink a shot after waiting and sweating for six hours.
Uli: Joy but no tears. Taking part in the show "Das Ding des Jahres" was amazing as well, of course. When we flew back from Cologne after the show, we were so inspired and proud of ourselves for having the courage to do this...
Larissa: Definitely our manufacturers! The factory in Romania is owned by a well-known bag company. They know how to work meticulously to the exact millimetre. The two in India are also manufacturers for luxury bags and for watches – they make elaborate containers for luxury watches there. Great suppliers, very friendly! We really love the Indian humour. They all really enjoy our brand and the concept.
Uli: Our suppliers are very flexible, they can deliver small series or large quantities. In the beginning, they worked for us in the sample room, because 15 or 20 pieces of a look had no business in the factory!
Larissa: When we started, we didn't think about how to manage success, what it means to be an entrepreneur. We are on the threshold of becoming a larger company. What's clear is that we don't want to be 80 and tell ourselves, "Oh dear, I wish I'd spent more time with my child or my friends." We getting coaching to guide the company in the right direction so that it thrives but still reflects who we are…
Uli: Our products – that much is clear – will always have an extra, exciting functionality in the future. The customer can always expect a well-thought-out product with an additional benefit from us.
Larissa: We may not always limit ourselves to handbags either. We are working on a very, very fun product right now. Surprise, surprise... have a little patience!
Larissa: I'm dying to finally pack my ZOÉ LU for a night out again. I can't wait to take her to a party!
Uli: I would love to stuff her in a suitcase and travel far away in the sun.... at last. South Africa, Madeira, discover new places!