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Q+A with Ying Liu

Q+A with Ying Liu

If anyone does what she loves for a living, it’s Ying. She saw a need for a better baby layette brand and brought her first loves together to make it happen: fine arts and babies. Along the way, her talents, education, hard work, and family members near and far grew Kyte BABY into the nature-inspired lifestyle brand it is today.


Read on to see where Ying got her start in the baby industry, how she balances mom life with boss life and what’s in store for her customers.


Where are you from?

I was born and raised in China in the city of Guangzhou, which is a mega city in the south of China.


What did you do as a kid living in China?

I was an athlete at the school team all throughout my school years. My specialty was trip jump and high jump. I’m very tall in Chinese standards, so I was naturally good at these sports. I was also class president for many years. I was bossy at a very young age, lol. I also did classical fine art training for many years. Becoming an artist was my dream for the longest time. I think I still have that in me. I hope to one day be painting a few hours every day, just by myself.


Why did you start a baby layette company?

Babies have always been a major part of my life. My first job was as an interpreter and tour guide for American adoption groups in China while I was a first-year English student at a university. I would accompany groups of adoptive parents to orphanages to pick up their children. Following this, I’d bring them to local authorities and consulates to complete their paperwork. Nothing is more beautiful than the outpouring of love & joy on the parents’ faces when they first see their long-awaited babies. That feeling really sticks with you.


When did you leave China and why?

I left China during my second year of college. I was majoring in English. I’d been always curious about the world outside of China. Back then, we still didn’t have a lot of access to foreign culture.


How often do you return home to visit?

I go back about once a year to see my mom and my sister, usually during the Chinese New Year.


Your children are raised here, but do they speak Chinese?

Yes they do. We speak Cantonese at home. I wish they could pick up some Mandarin too, since it’s more commonly spoken.


What does your family like doing together?

We love traveling and experiencing different places and cultures. Traveling is my ultimate splurge. My husband and I traveled a lot before we had kids. Then we had to slow down a bit when the family started to grow. Now that Tone, my youngest one, is almost 5, we can hit the road again.


When we are not traveling, we love visiting local indie coffee shops and restaurants. We are all the artsy type, who enjoy funky architecture, cool decor, and gourmet food. We also like to take a hike around local parks whenever we can. Lately, my kids are really into rock climbing, so we are trying to do that once in a while as well.


We also mix work and leisure quite a bit. Working at Kyte BABY has brought us to many cool places for trade shows, store visits, photoshoots etc. I try to bring the whole family whenever we can, so they can help and experience what’s involved in owning a business.

What is your favorite part about owning your own business?

Can I say two? My favorite is that I can have the flexibility to take care of my family. I usually leave at 1:30 to pick up Tone and spend a lot of time with all of my kids as they gradually get out of school. Of course, I am constantly working well into midnight to catch up on emails and calls, especially talking to the factory in China. But I wouldn’t trade anything for the quality time that I spend with them and the home-made dinner I do every night.


Another favorite thing about owning THIS business is that I get to be the artist that I always wanted to be. I have to constantly think about the colors and prints of our latest collection. Being a digitally native company, we have to produce content on social media and our website every day. I love the daily challenge of coming up with creative ideas and presenting it to the highest artistic standards.


Least favorite?

Haha, that I don’t ever get off work! I’m always on my phone or thinking about work. It’s not easy to turn it off!


What does your day-to-day look like in the office / warehouse?

I get to the office at round 8:30am. I do my emails, phone calls and then I talk to my team members. We have a small team in the office and another few moms working off-site on marketing, accounting, etc. I have to be constantly communicating with them over the phone. Then I like to walk around the warehouse and pull a couple of orders every day. I love seeing what our customers buy and just imagining what it feels like for the customer to open her package. That actually keeps me close to my customers.


Lately, I am addicted to interacting with our fans on Insta Stories, so I spend a lot of time coming up with the Stories for the day. This has really kept me on my toes on the narratives and visuals of our brand on a daily basis. After lunch, I leave to pick up Tone.


What would you say are your best strengths in running a business?

I’m a natural leader. Running a business is about resource allocation. I spot talent and opportunities and put them into best uses.


As an entrepreneur, what is your main focus for your business?

To a business owner, profitability is of course what drives many decisions. However, you can’t think about profit all the time. You must take good care of your customers, your staff, your suppliers (in that order) first. Then sales and profit will follow. I don’t have to force myself to do that. I think I generally care a lot about the people around me.


Do you have a favorite solid or print?

Ah, so many of them! Storm is probably my all-time favorite. Not only has it sold so much, but it’s also so classic and modern at the same time.


How do you come up with the prints and colors?

I’m very sensitive to colors. I form these color pallets in my mind all the time based on what I see in movies, in the fashion industry or on Instagram. Usually, I would have a couple of seasons of colors lined up already, and I would constantly update them as I see feedback from customers.


As for prints, my oldest son Tin, who’s an animal lover, helps me with the choice of animals all the time.


In the prints, there are usually three items, what do they mean?

Every Kyte BABY print represents a habitat where the animals live harmoniously together. For example, the Zebra, Meerkat and Baobab tree can all be found in a Savanna. This is a great way of showing kids that our animal friends share this planet with us and we should all respect each other’s living space by protecting the environment.


What has been your favorite moment in running Kyte BABY so far?

We just did a Mother’s Day photo shoot in the office. We invited 8 grandmothers with their daughters (the moms) and their grandbabies to come join us for a celebration of motherhood. I made all the backdrops and a balloon wreath. It was so much work, but it turned out so beautiful! We asked all of the grandmas and moms about their parenting experience and they poured their hearts out to us. It was so touching! It reminds me how much I love my job and being a mother.


What has been the hardest moment

Every time there is a customer complaint on quality or service. I care so much about what my customers think that I lose sleep over a broken snap or zipper. We take customer feedback very seriously, and we work with the factory to improve them all the time. One day we will achieve perfection I believe, but until then, I get a mini-heart attack when a complaint email comes through.


Speaking to other mompreneurs, what three pieces of advice do you have for them running their businesses and lives?

  1. Don’t just start a business because you want to run your business from home or because you love making baby blankets. You must identify the demand for your product or service and make sure you can do it better than what’s already on the market. Do a lot of research before you start.
  2. Starting a business takes a lot of time and capital. You may not be paid for a couple of years while continuously pumping money into it. Be prepared.
  3. Don’t give up easily. Yes, once you have gone through 1 and 2 and started your business, stick with it! It does take a while for any business to take off—unless you land on Shark Tank, we are talking years. Patience and hard work will pay off in the long run.

What is your background in retail?

After we had our first child, I found it hard to go back to work. I wanted to be with him every moment and took pictures of him while he was sleeping (and even developed those pictures, as phones didn’t take pics back then). My husband and I both quit our jobs and started a baby retail store in Ottawa. We still have it to this day! It’s a great experience where I learn so much about the baby product industry.


Did you always know you wanted to own a baby layette brand?

No


If not, what led you to it?

My daughter Kei had chronic eczema when she was little. At night, she would keep pulling her pj’s as she felt itchy. I tried many things to calm her, but nothing worked. After doing a lot of research, I found that bamboo is 3 degrees cooler than cotton and it’s super soft and breathable. After I let her wear bamboo pj’s, she stopped pulling her pj’s at night, and she started sleeping through the night. It was a miracle!


I also found out that bamboo is a highly sustainable resource. It requires much less time and water to grow bamboo compared to cotton, and it practically uses no pesticides. It fit every criteria I was looking for in a fabric. With that choice made, Kyte BABY was born.


When we visited our family for a reunion in China, we told them about our business ideas. Aunt Ling, who owns a garment factory in a small town in Southern China, suggested that I start my own line of bamboo sleepwear, sourced in China.


I never saw Aunt Ling much growing up, as she was always busy running her factory and would only return home during the New Year. Over the past 30 years, she worked her way up from a sewing girl to the owner of a factory that is certified to export clothing to top European lines. However, her factory was not getting enough work lately because of rising labor costs and tougher competition from other Asian countries. One of the biggest problems she faced was that she couldn’t afford to keep all the workers during off-peak seasons. These are the workers that she eats every meal with and sleeps in the same dorm building with. She asked, “Why don’t you design your own line of bamboo baby clothing, and I will manufacture them for you during the factory’s down times?” She added, “Babies are born year-round, right?”


Then it all came together, and I was able to start a family-owned & operated company that went all the way to sourcing. I’d get to pursue my artist’s dream, and she gets to keep the factory afloat. Just like using bamboo fabric itself, filling the factory’s downtime truly promotes the smart use of resources and sustainability. This way of thinking is evident in every aspect of Kyte BABY.


Does being family-owned and operated make it easier to run your business?

Absolutely. The unconditional love and support from your family are so important. Dealing with the factory, in particular, was made so much easier because the trust is there and I don’t have to worry about them not caring about my concerns. We always work as a team.


When was Kyte BABY born?

2014


How did you come up with the name “Kyte BABY”?

My daughter Kei was the inspiration of this business and I knew I wanted a name that started with the letter K. Playing on the whimsical activity of flying a kite, Kyte is meant to evoke a feeling of innocence, freedom and a return to nature. All of these ideas carry over into our core business values as well. Kyte BABY is a testament to timeless fun and youth, while being natural and healthy.


What was your mission when you first started Kyte BABY?

I wanted to promote a healthy, natural and sustainable lifestyle among all families. Of course, being an artist, I wanted to only make things that were beautiful.


What was the first product you sold?

1.0 tog sleep bags and footies. They are still our best-selling sleeping bodies.


When and how did you get the idea to sell sleep sacks?

Sleep bags were common in Europe when we were living there. They are the safest way to put baby to sleep. In contrast to loose blankets, sleep sacks regulate baby’s temperature and greatly reduce the risk of SIDS. A few years ago, there weren’t many choices of sleep bags in the North American market and certainly nothing was (and still to this day) as soft as a sleep bag made of bamboo.


How did you come up with your unique design for the sleep bag? What was your inspiration or motivation to improve the sleep sack which was already on the market?

I knew everything that touched the baby’s skin had to be the softest. Our bamboo fabric was able to deliver that ultra softness without compromising breathability. I also didn’t like the sleep bags on the market with the zipper in the middle. When you change baby, you have to completely unzip the bag and that could expose baby to the cold. Our zipper is a J-shaped design with a dual zipper, so it stays on the side and allows for a partial opening in the bottom.


What are some exciting things that Kyte BABY has in store for its customers?

We just introduced our linen ring sling, which is a new fabric we introduced. We are also working on a mom’s lounge/nursing wear collection with a new stronger fabric, while keeping our softness and beautiful colors.

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