Every breastfeeding journey is unique. Inspired by her own journey, and frustrated by the lack of stylish, functional clothing options for breastfeeding moms, Ali Cavaillé and her brother Marvin built Tajinebanane from a borrowed laptop and their garage. Today Tajinebanane is changing the way society views breastfeeding through a successful retail shop and thriving online community. In this episode of Shopify Masters, Marvin shares with us the key areas for outsourcing, content that built an engaging community, and how Tajinebanae is incorporating social impact into its operations.
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How motherhood inspired a business idea
Shuang: Tell us how Tajinebanane began?
Marvin: My sister got her first kid at 19 years old. Back then, she was not really informed about, breastfeeding topics on maternity as a young mom, I don’t know with her first son, but she did not breastfeed for very long or something. Then she got her second kid, Maali, which was completely different. She breastfed for 18 months And it worked perfectly well. And so that’s why for her third one, she knew she wanted to breastfeed even before giving birth. When she was eight months pregnant, she had, I think it’s called appendicitis. So she had to get operated on while still pregnant. I think she got like three or four operations. She stayed in the hospital for like two months after giving birth and stuff like that. And she had a lot of morphine treatments, she couldn’t breastfeed in the hospital. But she really wanted to, so when she went back home after a month, she stayed all weekend with Lou, it’s the name of her last born trying to breastfeed. And she ended up managing to breastfeed.
Breastfeeding clothing always existed, the concept exists for like 50 years or something. She was just not a client of breastfeeding clothing. She did not recognize herself, so what she was doing, she was wearing normal clothes. And just lifting a T-shirt to breastfeed. She had a lot of bandages and scars. And so lifting the T-shirt became an issue. And that’s how, with, a T-shirt of Raf, her boyfriend’s, it was an oversized T-shirt, she made two cuts and she realized it was actually pretty practical, that you did not have to lift the T-shirt And that’s how she really imagined the first concept. It was to fill the needs of what she thought was a couple of moms like her wanting to stay a bit stylish while having something practical to breastfeed with.
Shuang: So how did you get involved with the business? And how did you start working with your sister?
Marvin: That was purely random. When we tell the story sounds like a lot of crap, but that’s how it happened. We launched Tajinebane, I think, on the eighth of August, I don’t know, we were supposed to spend a couple of days. I was at the time, in an internship in Paris, my last internship to finish my studies.
And then even the day when she launched it, we were actually at the beach with my girlfriend, Raphael her boyfriend, and then my sister was launching Tajine Banane. she thought it would be a fail, felt like her product was not good enough. I think a lot of entrepreneurs have this moment when they launched the thing, they don’t even believe in their own stuff anymore. She launched it. We had our first order something 10 minutes after the launch. Nobody knew us, especially we really like started from nowhere. On Instagram, I think we reached 2000 followers. We were 200 just before the launch or something. I don’t know what happened launch date, but we got reposted by the right person. And then from then more people reposted.
We got like good visibility, not a huge one, but a good one. And we had the first day like something like five, six orders. My sister never thought of Tajinebane as a business, they did not even have a laptop at the time, they did not make any business plan, even if you don’t really need to make a business plan. Even the price of a T-shirt, she didn’t calculate it because it sounded good. Like 39 was a good price, like a good psychological price. It’s not too much, it’s under 40, but she did not even calculate all the cost of shipping and stuff like that. My sister, I still remember her 24 hours after the launch, she was crying. She was like, “Yeah, I won’t be able to do it.”
I’m not saying like I saved the day or something, but I had a little bit of business knowledge. In the first 24 hours we haven’t slept, we’re starting to start a business within 24 hours kind of, so just an Excel sheet trying to find the cost. She didn’t even know how much the T-shirt cost us, I had to add invoices to the suppliers and everything. And from this moment, we never left. But we did invest ourselves 100% from day one.
Shuang: So you are all self-funded, no external investments?
Marvin: Exactly, yeah. We do not really have the money back then, What really helped is my dad helped us with the first order of T-shirts. I think it was a couple of grand, it was not even a big investment. Like I think anybody nowadays can make an investment of $2,000, or euros in their own business, in their own ideas. But we did not even have those 2000 back then. So my dad helped with the first order. And then from this moment, we sold 100 T-shirts, we decided to pull them out of stock because we were not really happy with the first product. We launched it, we did not find it very practical, it changed a lot since. And then we did some pre-orders, so it’s not really crowdfunding. But you were buying basically your product, you were not buying a concept, buying an idea, you were buying your T-shirt, and you just had to wait 10 to 12 weeks to receive it. So we manage like that to pass the order, and no financing or production upfront, as a lot of people are doing today. We did not invent anything or something, so we didn’t really do crowdfunding. But more or less, we started that, I think a couple, three first-order were like that. We always took something like 10, 20% more in quantities in case.
Identifying the first roles you should hire to grow and scale
Shuang: And now you have a physical retail space and a bigger team. Tell us more about expanding and scaling Tajinebanane.
Marvin: Our first recruitment was at the end of 2019, I think it was for customer service. Because at some point, we realized nobody could be as applied as we were in this project because it’s your own project, you give everything you have.
The first thing we had to do to start growing and scaling was to outsource logistics. In ecommerce, I think is the first thing you should do. You should never think twice about outsourcing logistics because the first eight months we were packing ourselves, we were in the garage of my sister’s. And we literally spend from eight in the morning and we had to be at the post office by four in the afternoon because at four that’s when they stop shipping the same day. So from eight to four, we were in the garage packing order, but in this time you do nothing that will add value to your company. There’s absolutely no added value. It’s nice because you’re careful in the shipping, you can put little notes so it’s better for the customer but you put way too much effort.
From four in the afternoon, we were done with the orders, and then we had to answer emails, we had to do Instagram, we have to think of other products, think of marketing strategies. In the old days, we worked from eight in the morning to midnight every day. And we even had to stop a marketing strategy because we knew we would be behind if we got more orders. And then we met a person who knew someone who was an expert in fulfillment, logistics.
It was a bit hard in the beginning because you had your T-shirts, your stocks, and have to get rid of them and move to a new facility. But from this moment, logistics was not an issue anymore. Then at the same point in time, it was more me taking care of emails, for example. At a point when I was spending six hours answering emails per day, I realized it’s not needed that every email to be answered by me. So we did outsource. I think we’re really careful in the way we manage our business. I’m not saying it’s the best way to do it, we call it like in French which translates to we prefer “putting yourself underwater” and work a lot. Until the moment where really the added value was not there anymore. And then we did find someone to help. So that was 2019. And then 2020 is like when we really build the team. And today with 24 employees, and my sister and me.
Fostering a community before selling a single product
Shuang: That’s quite a lot of growth. Another big part of it is how Tajinebanane approaches storytelling. Can you let us know what got the first set of customers aware of your products and actually be a paying customer?
Marvin: The first thing you have to know is my sister worked in personal support in a hospital. She never studied marketing. She never read books about marketing. She was just very comfortable. She had a MySpace. It was always great. When Facebook arrived, she had a Facebook, it was great, great pictures. Instagram came, she had a great Instagram. I don’t think it’s something you can learn, how to use social media. I learned marketing in school but I will never be able to be close enough to the talent of my sister. Even if someone’s doing a master’s in communication, my sister is still going to be better. Not to say my sister is the best.
So the launch of the company was in August. She started Instagram in April or May. And when she started to do it, it was just content, like talking about maternity, talking about breastfeeding, her story too. We never sold a product, that’s the thing you have to remember. We never sell a product except on the launch day where we’re going to say like how good this new T-shirt is, but afterward, it’s more about content.
What we realized is brands never have big engagement on Instagram. People want to be interested and learn. So that’s how I think we managed to keep followers happy, or interested at least. And so, she built this little community but since then we never changed our strategy. you can’t have a strategy on communication, I’d say you have guidelines, you have values, and our guideline values haven’t changed since the beginning. We’re not selling a product, we’re selling the concept. We’re selling something to help moms in their challenges every day, But that’s why it’s hard to present Tajinebane as a breastfeeding clothing company. No, it’s not just that, it’s all this stuff around it.
Shuang: And did you reach a point where you wanted to invest in marketing, maybe put money behind ads and start having a marketing budget. Did you ever transition into that way of operating?
Marvin: Not really, that’s the other thing. Our advertising budget is close to zero, we started Google Ads a couple of months ago we did just one campaign in 2019. We spend maybe €50 on Instagram. It’s still possible to have natural growth, natural content. And it’s just you have to say interesting things. I think you have to touch subjects. You have to find the right influencer to work with.
I think moms don’t want to change the dress code just because they gave birth. But if we would have made a market study, we would have realized probably that it’s not an interesting market for us, because if you were a client of breastfeeding clothing you’re going to play like it’s a bit prettier maybe, it’s a bit more practical, but on the other hand, you’re not going get all the market of breastfeeding clothing mom, just because you’re prettier and more practical. Who we did manage to touch are all the moms, who did not buy breastfeeding clothing, because they do not recognize themselves in them, and they do not find the need for it. And that’s where most of our customers are.
Nurturing a long-term relationship with customers
Shuang: For parents that move past the stage of breastfeeding, how do you keep that relationship going as they move through different parts of their life?
Marvin: I think our first kid clothing was maybe a year after our launch. The thing we realize first is we thought too then the moms are breastfeeding a couple of months, and then it stops. And so, what are you gonna do? You’re going to have to renew always your customer base and find new customers. What we realized was not that… You have as many, breastfeeding journeys as mothers basically, What we realized is even if a mom did stop breastfeeding, she kept wearing our clothes, because it was some kind of souvenir. We’re not saying that breastfeeding is better than getting the bottle, it was never a topic. But what we realized is like when mom is breastfeeding, they’re having a moment with their child which is very, very powerful. And so basically, you’re touching a moment which is really important, a lot of emotions, hormones everything. So it’s an emotional moment.
A lot of our clients are not even breastfeeding. They just like the concept, the brands. They support the brands. We also have moms that ordered in 2018, stop breastfeeding 2019 by the second kid or third kid but as long as they bought it the first time they know the brands, they keep following us. That’s again, the most important thing about content. Because those people, if they’re not clients anymore, you still have to keep them interested. They don’t care about your new product because they don’t need it anymore. But we managed to keep them because we talked about subjects which are interesting to them, even if they don’t breastfeed anymore, you have so many topics around maternity, you can talk for hours about it. And so basically these people we keep, and then when they get pregnant again, I’m telling you, sometimes we are first to know before their husband, they send us a picture of their pregnancy test saying like, “Oh, I’m going to be able to reorder soon.”
Then there’s kids’ Clothing too. So we realized when we started making kids’ clothing, it didn’t really work. But after a year or after 18 months, it started working because we realized it’s the same, you start breastfeeding, you prefer buying stuff for yourself. Because when you know someone was going to give birth, you’re always going to buy your present for the kid. Like a little teddy bear for the kid, or clothes for the kid. But nobody really thinks about the mom. Like even if it’s still a really huge moment for her too. So they want to make themselves happy we realized you start by buying stuff for yourself, and then at some point after a year of breastfeeding, either you stop or either you start buying stuff for your kid too. I’d say now, kids, we’re not on the same volume as breastfeeding. But it’s a balance.
Shuang: Then there’s also the partner aspect, both of your partners are also in the company. Tell us more about having your respective life partners working together.
Marvin: Christina, my partner, I work still a lot with her on different aspects of our missions. You still have your moments where you’re on your own. And so, I think everybody has their own responsibility. For example, Christina, my partner, I could be technically her boss. I’m never going to tell her. She’s more like the boss of me kind of, you know what I mean? So nobody is the boss, and anybody understands my sister is not the boss of Rafael, I’m not the boss of Christina. It’s like in real life, you have to respect your partner. No one is better than the other. And at work, it’s the same. So I think it’s great. We spend a lot of time together. And I think the other thing where it’s great to be with your partner, is because I think during the first year of starting the business if she was not in Tajinebane, she would’ve left me. You work extra hard 24/7, you’re never there. And who’s best to understand that if she’s living in it herself.
Shuang: And what are their respective roles?
Marvin: So Christina, she’s German. She’s more on international development. focusing on Germany because now we have someone an English speaker as well for English speaking countries. It’s like a lot of administrative aspects, and we do it together. And Rafael was going to be in the boutique, And he helps my sister on Instagram. So that’s why Christina never really works with my sister, and I don’t really work with Raf. And so basically, Raf helps my sister to answer messages on Instagram. So even today, Instagram, if you text on Instagram, the one that’s going to answer you is gonna be my sister or her boyfriend. Even Rafael became friends with some of her clients, they talk about all the topics and stuff like that. It was always like that, like a family. Even our customers recognize themself as a big family. And we were always really, very close with our customers. And we don’t even see them as customers.
Recalibrating after a growth “crisis”
Shuang: Tell us more about the retail store and how it acts as a community hub.
Marvin: Most of our customers spend an hour in the shop, and any other shops in the world would be with the interest of kicking the customer out as quickly as possible. For us, it’s the other way around. Even if a customer spends three hours and does not buy anything at the end, it’s okay too. You have to be able to feel like this person had a good moment. For the drinks, we offer them even if you don’t order. If you want a coffee, we’re not gonna make you pay for it. We believe in don’t treat your customer like you will not like to be treated by a company kind of.
That was always the spirit, and for the loyalty program, it was the same. We built a loyalty program. We imagined this loyalty program, we did not calculate it. For example, if given that I’m gonna have that in return, and it’s gonna cost me that and stuff. We just made it how we would’ve liked to have a loyalty program. So you see our loyalty program today nobody’s doing that. We offer sometimes €40 as a voucher, no company is doing that. And it was more like to be nice, to reward actually the clients who spend like thousands, hundreds of thousands of euros in our shop.
Of course, we are a business. So you have to think about profits, If you’re not profitable, you’re not going to work out in any case. So there’s always those two dimensions, and you have to keep at least the balance may never put the business first.
Shuang: Was it ever scary to have all four of your livelihood tied to the business?
Marvin: We don’t really think about it. It’s maybe the growth of the company is how the thing turns out, but since the beginning somehow, all the signals are green, The first difficulties we had was this year. This year was the worst, I like to call it a growth crisis. It’s hard to run a business that’s not working. But it’s even harder to run a business that’s working crazy. Or maybe not harder, but more dangerous. Because the problem is your revenue is growing, expenses are growing the same way. And at some point when you start to make less revenue, the expenses don’t decrease anymore. That’s the problem with expenses. I think from 2020 we made like 400% growth or something like over the year, 300 or 400%, I can’t remember exactly. And this year we’re at 50%.
Which is still great, most company will be really happy for growth like that. But going from 300% to 50% growth, in your plans, it was not the same, because we did not plan on 300 again this year, but we did plan stocks in a way that would have a big growth compared to last year actually. It was still growing but not as big as expected.
If you have way too much stock you spend a lot of money on expenses in general. And so it was a transitional year but it’s a good thing too, because at least last year, we have this year to base ourselves on because that’s the hard thing with a growing company. When you grow too quickly, you can’t base yourself. And that’s very important to do planning to know how many units you produce, for example. And I think next year is going to be the easy one, and it’s going to be like the one where basically I’m comfortable enough to say how much revenue I’m gonna make next year.
Shuang: What were some things you did to gain financial clarity and to have a better grasp on the business again?
Marvin: I was very invested in Tajinebane, I way too much into figures, I was way too involved personally and psychologically speaking into the company. The first thing that was important to do is to take a step backward on your own business, You have to take a step backward to really understand what’s wrong today, what’s not working as well as last year?
And so that was the hardest thing to do for me this year, at least. Because when you every day into the account, every day into the sales, every day into the stock. a few years ago we had no money, now I’m gonna pay maybe within one day $100,000. I’m gonna make the transfer to suppliers. Like I’m buying a house every month.
And second, you have to know what’s not working today. It’s normal to be less profitable as much as you grow because expenses are static sometimes. And to take one step at a time, and to be optimistic.
The journey of finding the right ecommerce solution and plans for an impactful future
Shuang: What are some tools, apps that really helped you build, and are there any favorites that you can share?
Marvin: We’re on Shopify since February 2020, We were before on WooCommerce. we started on Wix. So all the steps, we had to change the solution. Wix, the problem was with the logistics, so we could not interface with our logistics software. So we went on WooCommerce, but WooCommerce was full of bugs. but for us, it was not possible. So when we had a lot of traffic on the website, for example, that people could not order or spend sometimes an hour to order because it was too many people. The website was lagging, the server was lagging. It was someone from Shopify who knew the brand or something like that, and they contacted us because we were starting to become famous for how our website was lagging, people knew. And so with Shopify partner presented us with an agency in Paris, it was really good. We built our first website. And since we never lag or something, you can do anything you want.
The first app we took I think we had one app, which is called Intercom. I don’t know if you know, it’s customer service, So you have a chat on their website, and customers can reach you through this chatbox. We have also another solution and we love it, it’s Klaviyo. So we’re fully integrated, so that’s great too. And we use Klaviyo, it’s a CRM solution. we use it for our main loyalty program stuff because they have something we call flows, automated emails. So basically, I know it’s your birthday, you receive an email with a code But Klaviyo is great to segment, it’s very user-friendly. I think Shopify understood everything, and if you don’t do the switch today, you might get in trouble at some point because, I don’t know, now every time we think about a new solution, we think about how it’s integrated into Shopify, we have also Fitle, I don’t know if you know, it’s a sizing tool, recommendation tool.
Shuang: Amazing. And then looking forward, are there any plans or news that you can share that you want to highlight?
Marvin: The first plan would be to keep things the way they are. As I told you before, profits come after keeping the spirit. We have an amazing team, we found employees which are really invested, they love the message, they love the company. They probably do feel like they are invested in us today. And to keep the company like that, to keep the employees like that. And after more business speaking, we already are like really big in France, We want to expand a bit abroad too.
Europe is a great market for us. We’re not focusing too much on the U.S. yet. We started it, but it’s pretty particular in the U.S. when you’re a European business. I mean, it’s a lot of investment, we’re focusing on Europe now. And maybe we are planning on opening a new boutique in Paris, this one’s working well. So maybe extend the concept too. also really important like a part of the company, which is in the social charity area. So since we started, basically, we always made partnerships with associations. So we, for example, created something that did exist before, but we adapted it to our company. But the concept of… In France, I don’t know if it’s the same in the U.S., but for example, you go to a bar and pay yourself for a coffee and you can leave to the barman like one extra euro. And if less fortunate people want to have a coffee, basically it’s this concept of you go the bar and it’s five extra euro there, so here, you can have your coffee or something like that. So we did put the exact same concept on the website, so people can leave a euro, €2, €5, €10, whatever. And we turn all this money into… Like we give clothes at the same time. So for example, if you buy a T-shirt, let’s say €18, we got €18, but we give €18. We’re not charging like 44, as it’s really what we paid, covered by the donation of clients. And we do that… It’s always one going out. Every three months we change the association. After we do fundraising. And my sister has always wanted, this her plan since she started Tajinebane’s to like build the Tajinebane foundation. she’s invited to the Ministry for the rights of women to breastfeed. She’s becoming a bit of a public figure. It’s funny to say it like that, but she has a plan of her own too in this area. So we take it one step at a time, It’s no big plans for the future because we realized that when you make big plans, it anyway never happens. That’s the thing.