#57 Sherry Poon – Focusing on what matters: your baby, your environment, your community
After working on various low-cost housing and sustainable design projects in Australia, Canada and Thailand, Sherry, a first generation Canadian Chinese, settled in Shanghai with her husband in 2001. After the birth of her first daughter, Sherry started Wobabybasics using her experiences as an architect, environmentalist and parent to guide her designs, and now her high quality garments are stocked in over eight countries! Sherry is also the founder and an advisory board member of the Eco Design Fair in Shanghai. Through her work with this project, Sherry is a winner of the Rotary Club of Shanghai’s Rotary Leadership Award.
In China, I have learned to rely a lot on my instincts and take risks.
How she got to China
In 2001, Sherry had just returned to Canada from a 2-year posting in Bangkok, reunited with her then-boyfriend (now husband), and was about to start with an architecture firm in Montreal when a call came from a classmate. Her uncle’s best friend was in need of an architect to help him with his new Shanghai office. Without hesitation, adventurous Sherry said “yes” and was in Shanghai within 2 weeks. Like many other, what was supposed to be a 3 month post has turned into a 14 year adventure!
Her current project – Wobabybasics
Sherry puts it simply: “Necessity is the mother of all invention.” For both Wobabybasics and Eco Design Fair, when Sherry was not able to find what she was looking for, she decided to just do it myself.
With Wobabybasics, she was looking for simple, high-quality organic baby clothing that she could feel safe putting against her daughter’s delicate skin. And at an affordable price, of course! She was also working part-time as an architect which still meant more than 8 hours of work – 8 hours a day where she was missing out on her daughter’s life. So it didn’t take her long to realize she wanted to work for herself for the flexibility and design freedom. Very early on, she received encouragement from family, friends and strangers on the street so she figured she had nothing to lose and went for it!
She believes in family, living sustainably, simplicity and helping those in need. These core values still stand and are what give direction and meaning to everything we do at Wobabybasics. All products are designed with what Sherry thinks really matters – your baby, your environment and your community.
All the clothes celebrate the body of the child and do not inhibit them during play, and allow kids to concentrate on being kids. Sherry professes obsession with functional and comfort details like flat-seam stitches, printed care labels, thumb holes, and reversible multi-functional items that appeal to both kids and parents. Wobabybasics only uses certified organic cotton and safe, metal-free, low impact dyes. All items are made in a Fair Wear Foundation factory in Qingdao which pays workers fairly, values them for their contribution, and encourages them to develop their life skills for career and personal growth. How cool!
Wobabybasics is also committed to give part of their profits to a variety of proactive charities, especially those that on children and families in need. For example, the What Really Matters Project is an annual limited edition print designed by designers and a portion of the proceeds from the sale of these items support various local charities, like the Hui Xin Disabled Children’s Center. Sounds like an organization that is doing right by their customers, their employees and the global community!
Sherry’s initial business plan envisioned that Wobabybasics was solely for the local market – to be sold to foreign and Chinese clientele in Chinese retailers all across China. Even though she had done some marketing research between the difference of China as a whole, Sherry continued to focus the branding on foreign brand messaging, somewhat missing the China boat! Secondly, what she did not realize in the beginning was that the concept of “organic” and “eco” is seen very differently in China. Lastly, (and super applicable no matter what industry you’re in…) what works in Shanghai will not work in Beijing! Sherry learned that each local market within China is different and you need to tailor your strategy to each one in order to be successful.
Balancing family and work
As a mom to three children and a business owner, life can get crazy. I asked Sherry how to balances it all. She shares how every month or so, she starts feeling depressed because she doesn’t seem to get anything done, everything is driving her crazy, and she, in turn, is driving everyone else crazy. That’s her trigger to stop everything and head to the pool for an hour. It’s an hour of alone time where she can clear her head. For Sherry, exercise is also the best stress reliever and she comes home a more energized entrepreneur and designer, and loving patient mother.
Advice for budding entrepreneurs
Outsource some of your work to professionals. Acknowledge that your time as the “boss” is extremely valuable. Like most entrepreneurs, Sherry wears many hats at work. She is a designer, photographer, graphic designer, book-keeper, the “boss”, salesperson, marketing manager, and at times, light bulb changer. It took her a year and a half into the business to hire an assistant. It really saved her to have someone else she could hand off some of the tasks to so that she could focus on what was really important to keep the business going.
Make sure you have a clear purpose, vision and goal.
Whichever way works for you – write them down in your business plan, make a vision chart, draw a diagram, mark down deadline dates, etc. Anything that’s written down is more likely to be achieved than visions kept only in the head. When you make your purpose visual, you make it real.
And then go back to that vision or goal periodically to remind yourself.
How to Connect
Follow Sherry and Wobabybasics on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and Twitter @wobabybasics. Emails are also welcomed to firstname.lastname@example.org.