Eleanor Lee and Angel Kho Grew LOULOU LOLLIPOP From a Side Hustle to an International Brand. Here’s how.
With help from Export Development Canada, they took their sustainable brand from local to global.
By Sarah Kelsey
What’s in a name? If you’re a small business owner—a lot. But its importance goes beyond the moniker of the company as Eleanor Lee and Angel Kho, co-founders of LOULOU LOLLIPOP, found out.
When it came time to expand their sustainable baby accessories company beyond Vancouver, BC, they ran into issues because of their intellectual property (IP)—or lack thereof.
“When we were coming up with the company name, we liked lollipop because it was like a soother, or a candy as a sucker. It was sweet and very fitting,” says Angel. “But it was too generic. We liked French style, and anything related to France, so we started looking for extra inspiration.”
The duo landed on the word LouLou, a common French term of affection for children. “The name kind of rolled off the tongue.”
The only problem was, despite the uniqueness, various individuals owned the rights to use the name in Europe and China, meaning the sisters had to “buy the branding” so they could sell internationally. What ensued was a three-year legal battle, a whopping price tag, and a key takeaway for fellow entrepreneurs: “Make sure you register your IP and the trademark early,” says Eleanor. “Do the research and dig deep. Sometimes a name can be taken in other markets. Make sure the name is protected.”
Before the sisters dealt with branding, exporting, and the legalities of intellectual property, LOULOU LOLLIPOP began as many other businesses do—with an entrepreneur trying to solve their own problem. It was in 2015, when as a first-time mother, Eleanor noticed her teething daughter enjoyed tugging and chewing on her necklaces.
“I started to realize I didn’t know what they were made of,” Eleanor explains. She began searching for teething products that were silicone and free of harmful chemicals and couldn’t find any. “Out of necessity, I started to look into creating something for myself.”
“We knew we could make an impact; we could respond to a need for all parents. So, we bought $100 worth of supplies and began beading.”
Realizing she had stumbled onto a unique business idea, she brought it to her twin sister, who immediately saw the potential in the concept. “Even though my kids were older at the time, I found the idea intriguing. When my kids were young, there was nothing like that on the market,” says Angel. “We knew we could make an impact; we could respond to a need for all parents. So, we bought $100 worth of supplies and began beading.”
The duo made their first product, a pastel-coloured doughnut teething necklace, as a sort of side hustle. Eleanor worked on LOULOU full-time, and on her days off from her part-time job, Angel worked on the business. While both women were busy juggling mom duties, they’d start their “shift” with a “Tim Hortons coffee and a doughnut” until they had enough product to start selling on Etsy and at local pop-up shops.
“It was so much fun in the beginning because we were working so hard together on traditional things, like cold calling. It all came naturally,” says Angel. And then the pair received their first big purchase from West Coast Kids. “It was unreal. We were so excited. We worked all night to fill seven large boxes for the company. Our husbands were happily forced to join in the building of everything,” laughs Eleanor.
Interest and demand for their products grew and today, LOULOU LOLLIPOP can be found in 37 countries and thousands of stores, including major retailers like Nordstrom, Anthropologie, and Crate and Barrel. Traffic on their online store has also exploded, prompting the sisters to expand their product lines with sustainable Tencel Lyocell kids apparel and eco-friendly silicone tableware.
Impressively, every item LOULOU LOLLIPOP sells is made of earth-friendly, non-toxic materials. A big part of the twin’s mission is to make sure their business has minimal impact on the planet, especially for the children who use their. They also ensure the factories that supply their items are Business Social Compliance Initiative (BSCI) compliant, ensuring fair wages, ethical business practices, and healthy and safe working conditions.
“We’ve heard from others that ‘it’s so easy and all you did was string some beads and sell products at a pop-up,’ but starting a business is more than that,” says Angel. “We may have made it seem simple, but what we achieved was not an overnight success. There were many late nights and heartaches and challenges.”
“There will be challenges and mistakes along the road, there were for us. They’re stepping-stones. Don’t dwell on them.”
Eleanor adds, as entrepreneurs, failing is a part of the process. “There will be challenges and mistakes along the road, there were for us. They’re stepping-stones. Don’t dwell on them.” The sisters maintain this mindset: “Learn from what sucks.”
They also advise entrepreneurs to tap into organizations and networks that offer resources, webinars and coaching on how to build a business from scratch. For them, that meant leaning on Small Business BC and WeBC when they were first starting, and then Export Development Canada (EDC) when they were ready to branch out into global markets.
EDC offers knowledge and financial solutions and partners with the Trade Accelerator Program (TAP), which provides a series of online workshops with trade and industry experts to help enterprises unleash their export potential. This support was essential for Eleanor and Angel to build relationships in key markets. Even today, the sisters rely on EDC for financial and knowledge support, as well as its resources such as webinars
“LOULOU LOLLIPOP is a great example of the creativity and innovation driven by Canadian women-owned and -led businesses in the retail sector,” said Catherine Beach, National Lead, Women in Trade, EDC. “To support its rapid growth, the company turned to RBC, who in turn tapped into the Trade Expansion Lending Program (TELP). This program, offered in collaboration by EDC and the company’s financial institution, helps exporters access additional working capital so they can take advantage of international opportunities. EDC is proud to partner with financial institutions including RBC, to enable high-growth companies to maintain their momentum, and to help develop Canada’s export trade.”
Their ultimate goal is to build LOULOU LOLLIPOP into a world leading baby accessories brand. They want to strengthen their position in markets by expanding their sustainable product collection even further, and they want to be a Canadian brand people recognize globally.
“Whether in the United States or Australia, we want people to recognize our children’s products as trusted, safe and sustainable,” says Eleanor. “We want to be a global children’s brand. We want our brand and name to stand out.”