A Quick Pivot to Masks Transformed Lotus and Luna
Similar to many other businesses, things were looking grim for Lotus and Luna when pandemic lockdowns first hit the U.S. in March.
Retailers were cancelling orders left and right, and owner Janelle Sisting had to furlough the majority of her staff. But the furloughs ended up lasting only a few days.
That’s because the young accessories and beachwear brand quickly pivoted to making masks, a move that literally saved the business.
Now the company’s biggest problem has been keeping up with sky high demand. Demand has been so high, Janelle went from furloughing her staff, to having to hire additional employees to keep up.
A convergence of several factors helped Lotus and Luna jump into selling masks early, even before masks were being recommended by the U.S. government.
After a trip to Thailand in February to visit the artisans who make the company’s products, Janelle saw first-hand how serious the virus had become, especially as she traveled through Hong Kong. On that trip, Lotus and Luna employees in Thailand sent Janelle home with masks for retail customers as a thoughtful gesture to help keep them safe.
At first, Lotus and Luna gave those away as gifts to retailers for their friends and families. But then Wholesale Director Christina Freberg had the idea to turn masks into a new product line. Janelle said Christina’s idea didn’t resonate with her until two weeks later when retailers started cancelling other orders.
“That idea really didn’t connect with me until he had to furlough people,” Janelle said. “Then it was like, ‘Masks sure sounds like a good idea now.’ We didn’t have many other options.”
Once she jumped on the mask idea, Janelle realized that they were in a good position to pivot quickly. The company already had fabric for its apparel in Thailand and lots of elastic that they typically use in pants. And because people in Asia wear masks more often, their artisans already knew how to make them.
After furloughing people on Thursday and Friday, Janelle spent all weekend doing video chats with the team in Thailand getting samples ready.
A photo shoot was out of the question, so Christina went to the local Sprouts and took selfies wearing the masks, which Janelle then turned into Facebook ads.
“And within an hour, we had 50 orders, which overnight turned into hundreds, and the next day was thousands,” Christina said. They quickly called back the staff from furloughs.
“We were in shock,” Christina said. “But we were like, ‘Ok, this will work. We will get through this pandemic.’ “
They also happened to launch masks just as the CDC changed its guidelines to recommend face coverings.
At first, the demand was exciting. But then it jumped so high, “it started to become the most stressful time of our lives,” Christina said.
Shipping became really difficult because slowdowns at UPS. And suddenly, a company that barely had an e-commerce business had to develop it overnight.
“It caused a whole other slew of operational issues that we had to figure out,” Christina said, including hiring more staff to pack and ship orders.
After seeing their own e-commerce success, Lotus and Luna began reaching out to wholesale accounts and encouraging them to sell the masks on their websites even though stores were closed.
“And that exploded for them, too,” Janelle said. “To the point that I had people texting me on a Saturday night asking for 500 masks by Monday.”
Then, when stores reopened, wholesale demand for masks skyrocketed even more.
Lotus and Luna masks have become a key product for Heritage Surf & Sport in Sea Island City, New Jersey. New Jersey was one of the worst hit states early in the pandemic and had long lockdowns.
“Janelle at Lotus and Luna reached out to me in March persuading me to order their washable cloth masks,” Jamie Heritage said. “After a slight hesitation, I agreed on 100 masks. They sold out in three days. I have since sold thousands. Because of Janelle and Lotus and Luna, our business sustained through the rough months of the pandemic. We are still selling 30 to 60 masks daily along with beautiful jewelry from her company.”
Many other wholesale accounts have jumped on Lotus and Luna masks, and the brand’s account list has boomed.
“We’ve gotten calls from stores that we’ve been trying to open for years,” Christina said. “Hopefully we come out of this with a lot more potential to grow and we keep these amazing new customers that we found during this whole thing.”
Lotus and Luna has had to great really creative to keep up with demand. With the slowdown at UPS crimping shipping schedules in the U.S., Janelle began enlisting the team in Thailand to ship directly to accounts in the states using DHL, which ends up being faster.
“We were able to maintain a quick turnaround time for our biggest customers because our Thailand team was doing the packing,” Janelle said. “At one point, we had 40 people in one of our villages just on the packing team. And these are artisans that would usually be making jewelry full time.”
All told, Lotus and Luna has produced 400,000 masks since March, and have given many to people and businesses in need. The popularity of the masks has helped propel sales of the company’s other products such as headbands, scrunchies, pants and kimonos. A lot of those products are comfortable and pandemic friendly.
When demand for masks slows down, the goal is to keep expanding the clothing line as well as the jewelry line. And of course, keep offering masks, especially as a travel accessory.
I asked Janelle if there were any big lessons she learned during this time, especially going through the whirlwind of thinking you may be going out of business to posting huge growth.
“I learned you just have to be ready to change at any time,” she said. “The other big lesson: Listen to Christina.”