The Dadon sisters might be living every Millennial’s dream, but don’t be fooled…there’s a whole lot of hustle and hard work going on behind the scenes.
Jess and Stef Dadon are co-founders of digital fashion and lifestyle platform How Two Live. They are also sisters (not twins, as is often thought) and founders of footwear label TWOOBS. Power Retail spoke to the influencers turned entrepreneurs about their evolution.
How Two Live (HTL) started as a ‘daily diary’ when Stef was moving to Paris into 2012. Being incredibly close and having always lived together (and shared a wardrobe!) up until that point, the sisters started HTL as a way to keep in touch and share outfits with each other. “Quite quickly we started to gain a readership, and then we started to get approached by brands to work with them on everything from styling campaigns to being in them, and promoting their products,” Jess explains.
While the blog and insta-following sky-rocketed, the sisters decided it was time to approach other avenues. TWOOBS launched three years ago in early 2016. “At that point we’d been digital influencers through HTL for a few years, working with various fashion and lifestyle brands to promote their products. While we were making money and having so much fun doing it, we recognised that the following we’d built was an opportunity to launch something even bigger and with longer term prospects,” Stef tells us.
“We decided on shoes because this was around the time that the activewear trend was growing, and we realised that people were looking for fashion that they could also feel like themselves in,” explains Stef. “There was a real gap for footwear that was really cool but also super comfortable.”
Through the HTL meet ups and events, the TWOOBS founders had really grown to understand their community and what they wanted. “It was no longer enough to just sell a product, people were looking for a brand they could connect with,” Jess says. It was these values that the duo took with them when establishing their brand, including elements like being animal-friendly and transparent across the production cycle.
While their induction to the influencer world may have been a case of being in the right place (or platform) at the right time (pre- the over-saturation of the influencer / insta market) the evolution of their brand (both personal and professional) has been strategic. “We grew a little tired of being in front of the camera, but creating content has always been something that we’ve loved doing. Earlier this year we launched How Two Live: The Podcast, designed to inspire and empower other people through chatting to inspiring, mainly female, mentors,” says Jess. “Being able to create content that’s positive and uplifting, and centres around our conversations rather than our looks, has reignited our passion around content creation, and we think podcasting will be a massive player in the content and social media space going forward.”
“It’s also an incredible way to communicate our messaging with our audience; we keep them up to date with what’s going on with our brand, and we get to showcase the things that as a brand we care about,” Stef adds.
So in the current market, can you launch a successful business without success on socials? “Launching off the back of How Two Live definitely helped us to launch TWOOBS,” Jess explains. “But you don’t have to be an influencer or have an Instagram account for years the way we did before launching. Having an existing audience to launch your business to, even if it’s 500 or 1000 people, means you’re not just building it and expecting people to come, and it also gives you a direct line to the customer to ask for feedback and pivot the product or service before you’ve even launched.”
From fashion shows to travel to openings, it all looks pretty glitz and glam. A quick scroll of HTL’s insta shows an array of glamorous outfits and Uber Eats orders. And Jess and Stef would be the first to admit that what they get to do for their business often doesn’t feel like work. “We feel like that’s the millennial dream: to be able to do something you’re passionate about and make enough money off it that you can call it a job!” Stef says.
But the reality is that Instagram is truly the highlight reel and the entrepreneurs like to remind people that it is just that. “At the end of the day, anyone building a business is doing it with some major hustling, late nights in front of their laptop, and a lot of takeaway. It’s so much fun that going to events and travelling overseas gets to be part of what we do, and doing it together is even better, but it is just one small part of it,” Jess tells us.
Given that the Dadons have essentially been part of the Instagram journey since its infancy, they’ve seen how the landscape has evolved and how best to leverage the shift in consumer behaviour. “Social media marketing has been a really powerful tool to grow TWOOBS, so Instagram and Facebook are where the majority of our customers find us,” Stef explains. “We have a lot of web traffic and high conversion rates, but now we’re working to up those conversion rates even further through things like email flows, excellent customer service, and a broader product offering. We’ve also recently shifted from being direct to consumer only, to partnering with some key retailers in order to grow the brand and expand our offering.”
When it comes to starting out, Jess and Stef know how hard it can be, especially elements like manufacturing overseas. “Finding international manufacturers can be tough as it’s not like other things where you can just Google and find what you’re looking for. That being said, we’re finding that more suppliers in China are creating English websites and it is easier to connect with them than it once was,” Jess says. “Places like Alibaba and international trade fairs can be a good place to start, but often the minimums are too high for a small brand; some suppliers won’t work with you unless you’re looking to place an order for 5,000 or 10,000 units, which is a lot for a small brand.”
The Dadon sisters found that their best bet was simply to ask around. “We thought about everyone we could chat to who worked in shoes, whether it was a friend or friend of a friend, and we found people were super generous with their time and in sharing information,” Stef tells us. “Someone from the US we’d worked with a couple of times but never met in person, Ty McBride (who now has the shoe label, Intentionally Blank), invited us to come to China with him and meet his suppliers. They’re still our suppliers today!”
“You’ll never know if you don’t ask the question, so just asking around in your industry is the best way to find the right people,” Jess adds.
Their advice to other young entrepreneurs looking to start their own label “Run! Haha just kidding. Enter into it knowing it will be a whole lot of hard work, but also completely rewarding and heaps of fun. One of the most important things is building up your network and finding mentors who can guide you,” Stef says.
This is one of the reason the duo started How Two Live: The Podcast, where they have chatted to the likes of Kristina Karlsson, Founder of kikki.K, Mamamia’s Mia Freedman and PR mogul Roxy Jacenko. “We gather heaps of great advice from these mentors with the idea that listeners can benefit from the advice we get too,” Jess says. “Also, hustle to make connections with the right people in your industry. We landed a collaboration with Gorman through going to their customer events and hanging out with the founder and marketing team; we weren’t doing it expecting something in return, but slowly building those right connections will pay off in the long term.”
One of the greatest learnings they want to share is about making strategic decisions for big-picture growth. “Most importantly, play a long game!” Stef tells us. “Don’t expect that you’re going to be an overnight success, and in fact, if you take off too quickly it might lead to failing quickly. We think with social media everyone is so keen to be the next overnight success, but by building something with longevity in mind means you’ll make smarter decisions rather than just going for the quick wins. It’s something we’ve definitely been guilty of, but a really powerful learning we’ve picked up along the way.”
What’s next for the power couple? (If sisters can be called a power couple!?) “We’ve just announced the launch of the TWOOBS Sneaky, our sneaker that’s debuting with a pop up at David Jones Chadstone on June 27. We’re going to continue to expand the range with further shoe styles, as well as other products to compliment the shoes. Opening physical stores is something we’re really interested in, particularly as people love to be able to try shoes on in person. We’ll be expanding into some new and exciting retailers in Australia this summer, and then next year we’ll launch in the US with a few key partnerships,” Jess says.
The Dadon sisters may not have started HTL with the plan to launch a podcast and a global shoe business but they have taken every opportunity that’s come their way. Sure, there may have been some mistakes and steep learning curves, but there’s also been a lot of hustle and hard-work to get where they are today. And that may not be the place where they are tomorrow. Because if their trajectory shows anything it’s that the digital landscape changes, and changes fast (and you have to be nimble enough to change with it).