We are best known for our organic Egyptian cotton baby clothing and toys here at Under the Nile and this month we’re celebrating our twentieth anniversary!
Reflecting back on the past two decades, we wanted to give you a look at how our company came to be. Janice Masoud founded Under the Nile in 1997 and has spent the past twenty years designing and producing the wonderful products you see in our shop. We sat down and interviewed Janice last week to learn more about why she started Under the Nile, and some of the things she has learned along the way.
Here is what she had to say …
What inspired you to start Under the Nile?
I was inspired to start Under the Nile because I had two young daughters at that time with extremely sensitive skin and thought that I could start a baby clothing company using organic cotton that could help them as well as other children with the same issues.
What did you do before you started Under the Nile?
I graduated from Stephens College with a BFA in fashion design. After graduation I worked for many different clothing manufacturers in Northern California.
Each position I held with the different companies taught me something that I would later need to start my company. I learned how to cost garments, about piece production, sampling, fitting garments and the list goes on and on. It definitely helped me in the beginning because I could do everything myself to keep our overhead down. Even when I started to hire people, it was very hard for me to give my responsibilities out. I had to teach myself how to delegate and trust that the job would get done the way I wanted it to be done.
I even remember when I hired someone in the beginning to pack orders, I would repack all the orders to make sure it was presented perfectly. I guess I’m a perfectionist. I soon learned very fast that I couldn’t continue to do this.
What made you passionate about creating organic Egyptian cotton clothes for babies?
This question actually has many dimensions.
My husband is from Egypt and the first time I visited, I saw the extreme poverty. I’m a true believer that our world is all interconnected and wherever I choose to “do good” benefits everyone. SO I wanted to put people to work in Egypt where they would be paid just wages and be able to work in a clean and healthy environment. I also believe that we are stewards on this earth and that the business I conduct should benefit the earth. So by producing my baby clothes in a sustainable manner this was my way of doing my part for the earth. In addition to this, I wanted to use the best cotton possible and that is also why I chose Egyptian cotton.
How did you launch the brand in the beginning?
I launched my brand by packing up my samples in a luggage and started doing cold-call on the streets of San Francisco. A cold call is when you don’t make an appointment and you just walk into a store and hope the owner/buyer will see you. I sold my line to every store I walked into, so I knew I was onto something. To tell you the truth, I only could sell the line based on the fact that it was Egyptian cotton and not that it was organic. At that time no one even knew what organic cotton was.
Organic food was just starting to go mainstream so I thought I would use this as leverage, but it didn’t work. No one cared that there was a better way to make baby clothing. I started hiring sales representatives in different parts of the country so they could show my line in their showrooms. We had no website to sell to the end consumer so we just sold this way to wholesalers. And this is the way we launched the company.
How has Under the Nile evolved over the years?
I think the most biggest difference is the role and influence social media plays as well as the way people actually shop. I recently read a survey that is really telling. Customers between the ages of 25 and 35 purchase 90% of their goods online. When I first started my company I didn’t have a website and did not sell to the end consumer. I solely survived on selling our products in retail shops. In today’s environment I could never survive without the ability to sell directly to customers online.
What is one of your favorite memories from the early days of running Under the Nile?
I remember a mother calling me saying that her child had lost her favorite toy and that she could not find another one anywhere to purchase. So the next time I went to my factory I found a small piece of the fabric and made her daughter a the toy she had lost. The little girl sent me a thank you note that said “ thank you lady for bringing my friend home.”
Can you quickly discuss how Under the Nile has grown over the years?
I started this business as a one-woman shop, and today our products are currently sold to over 1,000 retailers internationally. I launch new products generally every 6 months, which are based on the feedback we get from parents.
We have had so many parents ask us to go up to bigger sizes so we are going to start testing bigger sizes next month. We will be going up to 4T. Parents are also asking to bring back our girls and boys briefs so I’m probably also going to test these on my website in a few months. It’s important to keep up with trends in color, fabrics, and styling. Anything can inspire me. A trip to the ocean, a drive home, a memory, or even a news article.
We start with a brainstorming session and then we probably go through 20 versions before we end up with the collection we want. This is true also for fabric designs. I could be set on a design and then axe it and start all over again. And even when I receive my strike offs or fit samples, things always need to be changed. It’s a process that takes time but is so much fun.
You have had the opportunity to see how moms make purchasing decisions over the past two decades. How has motherhood and the way they choose products for their babies changed over the years?
Back in the old days most parents took at face value what their parents, doctors, and the media told them about baby products. Whereas today’s parents want to come to their own conclusions by doing their own research and then decide what products they want to purchase.
There are also the parents who rely on resources like “Baby Center” who do the vetting for them. Then they can take this information and do the rest of the research themselves.
Today’s parents are also demanding transparency in regards to who we are as a company and how we conduct our business. They don’t want to spend their money with companies who don’t share their value, which I think is the way it should be.
With technology and social media readily available at a fingertip, educating our consumers are one of the reasons we are so transparent about how our clothes are produced here at Under the Nile. We want the parents to know that we are fully invested in creating quality products that are good for the environment and socially responsible.
We hope you enjoyed this little sneak peek into the upbringing and journey of Under the Nile over the past two decades. Here’s to 20 more!