Discover how focusing on quality helped Gabrielle Brown, of Princess and Pea, create a successful business.
Inspired by being unable to find exactly the kind of silk pillowcases and accessories that she was looking for, Gabrielle Brown decided to create her own.
“I wanted to purchase some silk pillowcases for a friend, she’d asked for them for her wedding present. Everywhere I looked I could get them, but they weren’t very good quality. I would wash it once and it wasn’t the same as when I’d purchased it or the ones that were of higher quality were over $100. I was sort of confused as to why. I ended up purchasing some for her from a big chain store but they didn’t even last her 3 months. At that point I thought, it can’t be that hard,” Gabrielle explains.
“So I started looking into it, and I purchased pillowcases made from mulberry silk from every store that I could find and there were a lot of different qualities and sizes. Then I started to contact suppliers, just to see what I could get and I found that I could get a pillowcase made from a 22 mulberry silk for a lot less than I thought.”
After a lot of research, Princess and Pea launched in November of last year. Based in Queensland the company sells fair trade pillowcases, sleep masks and other hair accessories made from 22 momme 6A mulberry silk.
“I basically just wanted to create a product that when people purchased it, they felt like they were spoiling themselves a little bit. It’s not really that often that you splurge and spend that sort of money on a product like that for yourself.”
All of the products on Princess and Pea are made from high quality mulberry silk, something that was incredibly important to Gabrielle.
“Mulberry silk is the highest quality silk available for purchase and has a lot of natural properties that are good for your skin. Unfortunately the mulberry silk is the most expensive out of all silks, so that created a challenge for me. When I was doing research, I knew that it had a lot of benefits that other silks don’t, it’s natural, odourless, hypoallergenic and temperature-regulating. It also has a protein called sericin in it that stops allergic reactions and calms skin. These are things I took into consideration when I was making that choice,” she says.
“Mulberry silk also causes up to 40% less friction on your hair and skin compared to regular cotton pillowcases. Because I’m a mum, I don’t have time to run around and style my hair everyday. So when I do style it I would really like it to last, but it just never happens. When I started using silk products, it really extended the life of my hairstyles. When I straighten or blow dry it, I wouldn’t have to do it again for 3 days. I don’t get that friction on my hair that makes it fluff up and knotted, it really does make a big difference when you’re getting ready for work or dropping the kids off to daycare.”
Since Gabrielle didn’t know the exact product she wanted to create, contacting suppliers was an incredibly important aspect of the process.
“With the pillowcases, I contacted my supplier in China and they told me what they could do. I then went online and searched ‘Australian pillow sizes’ and found that there were quite a few different variations of sizes in Australia. I also found that when I was purchasing from the other companies, their sizing wasn’t very generous. I actually ripped quite a few pillowcases when trying to put them on my pillows. So I decided to make mine a little bigger in size because I felt like I’d rather it be a bit generous than really tight on the pillow.”
“I also told them I wanted the zipper finish and I wanted the product to be sewn and overlocked. What I ended up doing was having to pay extra to have the product sewn so that it could be machine washed, because a lot of silks can’t be. I really wanted the product to be usable, since a lot of people don’t have the time to hand wash their pillowcases. I did pay extra to have that done, but I feel like in the long run it was worth it.”
One of the most important aspects of product creation for Gabrielle was quality, and she had to do a lot of research and sampling to find exactly what she was looking for.
“I bought samples from some suppliers and I tested them and had a look at them and tried them out on my family. They came back and said that ‘this didn’t hold up in the washing machine as I thought it would, or this colour came out really quick’. I really wanted to get a colour that was chemical free which is an Oeko-Tex certification. With that certification, a lot of colours drained really quickly, because they don’t hold the silk as well. Those are the sort of things I had to iron out before I created my final product, which is really difficult when you’re up against big businesses,” Gabrielle says.
“The suppliers created a couple of designs in the different colours and options and sent them to me. I told them to change this, change that, and we went back and forth like that for a while until we found what I was happy with in regards to all of the products I offer.”
Ethical and sustainable manufacturing is an extremely important value for Gabrielle, and has had an impact on every decision she has made for Princess and Pea.
“I researched quite a few manufacturers and I decided to go with one that offered a guarantee that was certified by a third party that their products were Oeko Tex certified. I didn’t realise how many different options were out there with factories, to make sure everyone was being paid fairly. I wanted them to guarantee that everybody was paid what they were supposed to be paid, from the farmer all the way to the people who work in the factory. By the time it gets to us buying it, we have no idea what’s happened or where it’s come from.”
“I just don’t think I would be happy selling a product that wasn’t paying people the right money, I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night. I don’t have anywhere near as a higher profit margin as a lot of bigger businesses do, but I feel like that’s okay when I’m happy with the product and it’s a better product in the long run. I think it’s important for other people to care as well that we’re sourcing ethically and we’re not just caring about ourselves.”
Starting her own company has been one of the hardest things Gabrielle has ever done, but she is extremely proud of the products she has created.
“It’s been really good but it definitely hasn’t been easy. I spent a long time researching and I know I’m not the cheapest on the market but compared to other companies I definitely have a higher quality product with a lower price tag.”
“I wanted to make sure my product was at the top of it’s game, it was the best of the best and it made the person buying it feel really good. I think creating a product that makes people feel good about themselves is special and it is a privilege to be able to do that.”
A big focus for Gabrielle was showcasing real women on Princess and Pea’s social media sites. “I felt like there was a market that was getting missed. I’m not a size 6, I don’t fit that cookie cutter shape. I felt like sometimes as a mum you look at products and go I don’t fit that mould and keep looking. So I felt like it was really important to use women of all shapes, sizes and ages in my marketing.”
“I feel like we’ve all felt that ‘I don’t fit in here feeling’, even if you’re in a store or on an online store and you sort of look at products and you know you’re not going to fit in there. I’ve definitely been in stores where I’ve walked out because I felt like I didn’t fit there. I don’t want anyone to feel that, I think it’s really important not to judge people. It’s about people feeling good about themselves.”
So, what’s next for Princess and Pea? Gabrielle would love her fair trade products to be stocked in more stores and is really excited about upcoming work with a charity.
“I would love for it to be a full time job for me. If I could reach the level of my competitors I would be over the moon. I think everything starts off small, but I’m happy to keep working at it and putting the hours in. I would like it to be a really well known brand.”
Images provided by Princess and Pea