We talk to the founder of Melijoe, Nathalie Genty, as the children’s online treasury steps it up with their curated high end fashion collections and boutique feel infiltrating global markets.
Every new family has the pleasure (and the tribulations) of discovering a whole new fashion world in miniature when they first start the hunt for great clothes for their children. I remember that hunt in 2006 when the first fluxling was born, and the dismay when the fashion that’s in your mind proves elusive on the high street, followed by the excitement at finding the booty online, initially via the gorgeous mix of labels stocked by the visionary Little Fashion Gallery in Paris.
It was at the same time in 2007 that Nathalie Genty, spotting the same gap in the market, launched her startup boutique, Melijoe also in Paris. The little startup has grown up over the last nine years, and now has over 100 brands presented in nine languages, and an international vision. With the concept to promote high end children’s fashion via a heady lifestyle image, we spoke to Nathalie about raising Melijoe.
Fluxlings: You have a massive warehouse in Lyon. How many pieces go through there each season?
Nathalie: Yes it’s quite big… it’s a 3,000 sq m space. It needs to be big as it receives deliveries of around 200,000 pieces each season. We have around 8,000 new references per season across 100 brands.
Fluxlings: You must have an amazing work ethic to expand Melijoe to this level at the same time as raising a family. Do you have any tips to stop getting distracted?
Nathalie: I think I’m lucky enough to be very calm and at the same time very efficient. On top of being a hard worker. Launching your own company and managing double-digit growth year on year isn’t easy… and in the end my children are my world and they ensure that my life stays balanced. They make me laugh – their questions, stories, naughtiness and even just what they watch on TV is the best antidote to a hectic work life. It takes me away from everyday office life. They are also a constant source of inspiration to me too. As their father works in London, this means that during the week, I am in 100% organised mum mode. It’s easier that way. (In fact, this set-up is harder for their father). For me it’s actually not that hard to manage because I regularly manage to make time for just the two of us on weekends.
Fluxlings: You deliver to 100 countries. Are there any countries that have taken you by surprise so far as their interest in kids fashion goes?
Nathalie: Yes. Russia for example is a country that I did not know at all, yet for a long time it was our leading international market. Never did I actually say to myself that I was going to build my business in Russia. So I hired a Russian team, we translated the site into Russian – but we never bought clothes with the Russian market in mind. Maybe that’s why it worked so well. We always stayed true to our DNA and the brands we love. Then there’s the United States, which really took off last year and surpassed Russia. And then there’s the UK. Even if my relationship means that I have one foot in London, the competition is fierce over here – and yet our business has completely taken off in the past year. We’ve just set up express delivery service which is proving to be very popular and pretty soon, we will offer London-based customer service which will mean that our customers will also be able to send returns to London.
Fluxlings: Are there any brand that you can guarantee people love season after season?
Nathalie: Yes… lucky for us, they’re all the brands we love too. Kenzo, Chloé, Stella, Marc Jacobs, Petit Bateau, Dolce & Gabbana and since last summer, Burberry and Gucci. These are all brands with a very strong style and image, and they stick to them. It’s very important – customers recognise this and stay loyal.
Fluxlings: I know the release says you came out of the Internet bubble, but did you work in fashion at all before starting Melijoe? What brought you into fashion specifically?
Nathalie: No, I never worked in fashion. And I’m not sure whether I would have liked it if I had. On the other hand, I was always passionate about that world, the fashion houses and certain designers. When I was a teenager, I would cover my bedroom wall with pages torn out of Vogue. I’d tape fashion shows and designer interviews and watch them after school. Most of all, I was interested in style and products. When Mathis, my first child, was born I discovered children’s fashion. Beyond the utilitarian things I discovered different styles and pretty little brands but the stores never tended to showcase them properly, so I wanted to create my own store and tell the stories behind the brands, their inspirations and their styles.
Fluxlings: Could Melijoe be based anywhere in the world?
Nathalie: Yes and no. Melijoe is first of all French – you could even say Parisian. Our style, image, the brands we love and even our company culture and offices are very inspired by our life here in Paris. And I think that’s what explains our success internationally; it’s what customers all over the world love, too. At the same time, the fact that we now generate more than 70% of our business in international markets means that we are always attuned to the markets we serve. Our strategy was to develop everything to be as close as possible to our customers, to address their needs and habits, whether in terms of pricing, taxes, customs, deliveries, means of payment, customer service, or returns. We also offer express delivery to international markets, which means that we’re only 24 hours from London and even New York. We also now have customer service offices in New York, Tokyo and, soon London.
Fluxlings: Describe your office space. Do you have any favourite things there?
Nathalie: We’ve recently moved around the corner from our old offices. Now we’re in the famously trendy Garage Central on the Rue des Petites Ecuries which is right in the heart of Paris. We have two floors measuring 340 sq m each. One floor is our photo studio; the other is office space.
I’d say the Melijoe office reflects our personality… It’s very Paris. We have a view of Montmartre and we can also see the Eiffel Tower and the landmark Grand Rex cinema from our 6th floor space. The offices are like an apartment with a slightly hipster ‘bo-bo’ (bourgeois bohemian) feel. I love interior décor, so I oversaw everything from the coffee machine to the mirror in the bathroom.
My favorite touch has to be my children’s drawings on the wall behind my desk. Otherwise, there are lots of designer touches, like the Under The Bell suspensions by Muuto in our two conference rooms, our fern coffee cups and the Gubi mirrors in the bathroom!
Fluxlings: You live and work in Paris. Do you have any recommendations for visitors (with or without kids!)?
Nathalie: Ah! For me, there’s the very touristy Paris with the monuments, neighbourhoods and restaurants you’ll find in any guide. That’s where I never go…. And then there’s the ‘real’ Paris, the Parisians’ Paris. I live and work in the 10th arrondissement and I love the local shops and artisans. But of course there is more to the city than just the 10th. I think this way of life is harder to get to know when you’re a visitor. I’m tempted to say that one needs to discover Paris at least twice. Avoid coming in August, because everything is closed and for a Parisian it’s just depressing. A couple of addresses I recommend; the restaurants Richer and 52 Faubourg; and The Galerie Sakura in the 3rd arrondissement.
Fluxlings: Do you have any personal favourite pieces from the SS16 kids collections?
Nathalie: Yes, absolutely. The white lace dress by Chloé, which incidentally sold out instantly on Melijoe. And the little pink satin jacket by Gucci.
Fluxlings: Who are your favourite women’s fashion designer?
Nathalie: This season, I loved the collections by Chloé, Stella McCartney and Miu Miu – all of which are brands that I’ve loved for several seasons now. I also splurged on shoes by Balenciaga and Prada.
Fluxlings: What do you do to get away from it all – if you ever do that is?
Nathalie: I try to plan regular weekends away for just Nicolas and me. Just hopping over to London for a few days is wonderful. We keep it simple: Nicolas has a place on Gloucester Road with an amazing view over the park. We lunch at Tombo, have tea at the Wolseley and walk around all weekend long – that’s enough for me to feel recharged for a month. When we’re not in London, it’s Florence… I go twice a year for the children’s fashion trade shows and Nicolas joins me for a weekend in Tuscany. We’ve also been to New York, Tokyo and – soon – Dubai. I go for work, and we tag on a weekend just for the two of us.
Fluxlings: Is there anything new coming up at Melijoe that we should look out for?
Nathalie: Of course! We’ll have something new to announce this Autumn, but I can’t say anything more just yet. And we’ve been working on a new business model for Melijoe for a month now. Melijoe is connecting with stores all over the world to create a new offer, ‘local specialties’, and even more amazing brands – all with the same express shipping and the option to receive orders by courier.
To see the Melijoe Spring Summer 2016 collections, visit www.melijoe.com.