Founded by uncles Akin Onal and Cameron Miller, MORI is a babywear startup with the philosophy of making the early days of parenthood as simple, easy and enjoyable as possible. The word Mori is Japanese for Forest and refers to the purity of nature, the materials they use in designing their products and their aims and ethos to care for the environment as well as their customers.
We catch up with the founders and hear all about how their journey into the babywear industry began, product design and development that stays ahead of the game and a business plan based on a direct-to-consumer basis:
Hi, Cam and Akin! Please, can you introduce yourselves and your brand Mori?
We are both doting uncles that around a year ago launched our direct-to-consumer babywear essentials brand, MORI (www.babymori.com)
At MORI, we help to simplify and improve parenthood by bundling ultra-high quality babywear essentials with smart and convenient services that delight parents and babies alike. Our Essentials are made from the softest and safest fabrics, which are kind to baby and the environment. Combining this with beautiful and sustainable packaging - we also create the perfect and the most practical gifts for baby, mother, and home.
What inspired the idea?
Akin: The idea came to us when we were looking for gifts for our nieces and nephews. We were surprised to discover that although babies spend 80% of their time in baby clothing essentials such as onesies, they lacked innovation and were poor quality. These essentials are the first layer against a baby’s very delicate skin, and therefore determines their level of comfort, so we decided this needed to be our priority.
What we also came to learn, was that although three-quarters of baby wear spend goes on gifting, the needed essentials are rarely gifted, creating a misalignment between what parents really need and what they receive.
How did your business partnership come about?
Cam: The idea came to us whilst working in the city in late in 2014, and we hastened together a business plan to apply for the London Business School Incubator - where I had previously studied my MBA. We were both excited by the opportunity to not only build a brand but deliver our mission to make parent’s lives simpler and better. We committed to leaving our jobs to join the incubator where we embarked on our entrepreneurial journey together.
Have you both always had entrepreneurial streaks?
Cam: Entrepreneurship is all about taking risks, and we certainly did that when we left our safe city jobs to start MORI. We’ve both always been entrepreneurially driven from a young age, and this continued to motivate us as we grew. Akin’s family history is within the textile industry, so he always wanted to start a clothing brand built on this. Previously, I had started an events business while at University, and after an early career in Engineering and Finance, I knew that it was time to return to the entrepreneurial path, but with a bold and innovative idea.
Did you ever imagine you would become such experts in the parent/baby industry?
Akin: It was our dream to become experts in the industry, but until it’s a reality, I guess there’s always an aspect of doubt. We were never about just creating a baby clothing brand; our mission is to simplify parenthood. Launching a baby brand requires intense knowledge of parenting in every shape and form, so it wasn’t just important, it was vital for us to become experts. However, we always appreciate there are individuals out there who know more than we do and probably always will, so we are constantly speaking to experts in the field as well as parents all around the world to ensure we never stop learning how to make their lives better.
How did you go about getting funding from 500 Startups?
Cam: Following on from the London Business School Incubator we moved MORI from our office at the school to the new WeWork space in Moorgate. We were very lucky to end up in the office next to the 500 Startups London Distro Dojo- a program for businesses a little more advanced than MORI was at the time, that helps them drive growth and position their businesses for Series A investment. While not suitable at the time for MORI, we got to know the 500 team there which eventually led to us being referred on to the Mountain View accelerator. It’s a good example of why it is always important to take the long-term view with relationships - and this is an ethos of the brand.
Can you tell us about some of the MORI products, the fabric and innovative designs that are revolutionising babywear?
Akin: I come from a region of Turkey that is well known for its high-quality textiles, and my close family and friends are among our trusted manufacturers. Our product team has combined experience of over 30 years in developing baby and kids wear, and we involve our customers in every stage of product development. It is important to us that each product you buy from MORI is designed to ease parents’ lives. Our Clever Sleeping Bag, for example, was the result of months of product trials combined with conversations with sleep and maternity experts, so we can ensure it creates a better sleep for baby.
The materials and fabrics we use is also the result of extensive research. We travelled far and wide to sample the very best baby clothing and learn from parents and experts about what they really needed. We craft our signature fabric from bamboo and organic cotton knowing this is truly the best layer next to baby’s skin - it is ultra soft, naturally breathable and thermoregulating, and highly durable.
As a subscription service business model, you’re onto a bit of a winner! How do you intend on keeping up with competition in this respect?
Akin: Our philosophy is to keep parenting simple, so convenience is always a key aspect of our shopping experience. This is the reason we decided to launch our subscription service, which is the most efficient way for new parents to experience all that MORI has to offer. By combining our own large portfolio of high-quality essentials with a customer experience that is effortless, flexible and fun, we think our offering will fair well against competitors that enter the space.
How are you using technology to stay on top of your product designs?
Cam: The close relationship with our customers that comes from a direct-to-consumer business model allows us to tailor our products (and services) perfectly to our customer's needs. This has been a part of the MORI brand from the beginning when we held our first focus groups. With the business now scaling rapidly, we rely heavily on technology (and our customer service team) to incorporate customer feedback into our designs. For example, introducing a gender-neutral shade of pink into our product portfolio was a popular feedback point, and we’ll be launching this early November.
What have been the greatest lessons you have learnt from setting up your own business?
Cam: The most important lesson realised how necessary it is to clearly outline our vision, mission and values right from the start, for both our customers and our team. It’s not enough to feel passionate about the products and services MORI offer, but the entire team need to consciously understand the framework that drives us. This is essential to effectively communicate MORI to our customers.
What is the most valuable piece of advice you can offer to others starting and running a business today?
Cam: Get out there and start testing your ideas with your target market any way you can.
What can we expect to see next from MORI?
Akin: From October onwards we will be launching a wide range of new products and collections, which will double our current product portfolio and provide our customers with more everyday products. We want to solve more problems for our parents, and that’s why we’ve crafted products such as an innovative swaddle bag and Peruvian Pima cotton bedding. We are also releasing a product bundle which all new parents can take with them to the hospital when they give birth, to make sure baby has everything they need for those first precious moments.