The best companies originate when someone identifies a need within a specific market based on their personal experience. This was certainly the case when Nathalie Christen-Genty, founder of Melijoe.com, an e-commerce that specializes in designer children’s wear. Paris-based Christen-Genty discovered after having her first and second of five children how difficult it was to shop for her kids – so armed with her experience in business and web development, she created (and coded) her first online shop. In 2007, she launched Melijoe.com and it has become one of the most successful online shopping destinations for children’s wear. The site has over 120 brands including Stella McCartney, Kenzo Kids, Little Marc Jacobs, Rykiel Enfant.
It seems you have always had a mind for web development and entrepreneurship – did you ever imagine running an internationally known company like Melijoe?
Oh, no — not at all. I had a good idea at the right time. I consider myself more creative and entrepreneurial then ambitious.
Every day, I arrive at the office with a new ideal, so I’d have trouble picturing myself in a company that’s already established and well-known.
What’s an average day like for you?
I’m up at 6 :45 a.m., I get ready in 15 minutes flat, then all 6 of us have breakfast while talking with Nicolas on Skype (their father works in London during the week).
The older two boys go to school on their own.
I accompany my daughters Mélie and Néva to school. Now that the weather’s nice, we take along my youngest daughter, Mahaut, who does her best to put on her own shoes right as we’re ready to walk out the door (even though she’s still in diapers, she wants to come along).
My office is right between home and school. I bring Mahaut home to the nanny and then rush to the office. I’m lucky to live and work in the heart of Paris, within a 500 meter radius of everything — I can even go home to kiss the children in the afternoon if I want. When I come home in the evenings, depending on the time, either everything needs to be done or it’s all taken care of. Either way, when I’m at home, I’m in 100% mom mode — no smartphone and no TV.
No two evenings are exactly alike, except for when everyone brushes their teeth and goes to bed. The children are easy, so I never have any trouble getting them to sleep. Once they’re down, I work, or I surf home décor sites or hunt for a house in the Vexin region (we’re hoping to buy a weekend home), or sometimes I just go to bed at the same time as the children.
After eight years in business, what has changed? Or streamlined? Become easier?
The company has more means and the team is also more solid. At the same time, retail is in upheaval, both in brick and mortar stores and e-commerce. The marketplace is growing (for Melijoe as well), and consumer habits are evolving rapidly.
Children’s fashion has also changed a lot with the arrival of new brands and brands that have grown stronger and stronger, making them ever more important to the mother brands: these include houses such as Stella McCartney, Chloé, Marc Jacobs, Burberry, Dolce & Gabbana, Gucci and Moncler.
The site has also changed a lot. In four years we went from offering 10 brands and being a 100% French business to 100 brands and generate 70% of business internationally.
The US market is really exploding…
How do you approach collaborations?
Brands tend to come to us; otherwise it’s a matter of opportunity, but above all, it’s who we meet, for example for the worldwide exclusive launch of the Karl Lagerfeld Kids collection, which premiered on Melijoe last November.
Has your team grown as the site has expanded?
We’ve gone from 0 to 60 employees in just a few years! That’s not counting all those who have since moved on (we’ve seen staffers follow a spouse to Dubai or the south of France). We must have hired more than 80 people in all.
Are you still involved in the daily operations? Buying?
Yes. I still approve all the content, the writing, the style, and the buying of course, even though my teams are becoming ever more independent.
Like every founder I try to keep an eye on everything as much as possible…
I will never lose the start-up mentality, with Melijoe I did it all, from the first lines of code to customer service, photo shoots, retouching and shipping.
I know my company by heart and my door is always open to anything!
Is the children’s market schedule different than what I’m used to in women’s wear?
Kids’ fashion has the same calendar as women’s wear; there are new collections every season and some brands do capsule collections throughout the year. The buying and selling calendars are the same, as is seasonality for certain kinds of products like bathing suits and coats.
I have a son as well, and shopping for him is always tough (well, before I was introduced to Melijoe!) – why is cool boys clothing so much harder to find?
There’s less choice in the sense that a girl can choose between a dress, a skirt, shorts or pants… while a boy has fewer alternatives. But there are also brands that are making stronger statements for boys: Scotch has always done so; Kenzo has been strong for the past few seasons, Little Eleven, Molo. Tommy has done some really nice capsules. For younger boys, there’s Stella McCartney, Marc Jacobs and Billybandit.
With boys, it’s important to mix things up. We should showcase looks for boys more on Melijoe.
Melijoe ships internationally – in your opinion what country has the most stylish little ones?
France, I think, because French moms love mixing things up, and style matters more to her than a brand or a logo. She’ll even mix together (as I do) a designer brand with a cheaper one. And I put our international success down to that… in any case, that’s the feedback we get from our customers.
With five kids I’m sure something is always going on – what are your favorite family activities in Paris?
The children are really imaginative and, with 5, every week there’s a new activity.
We bought a new sofa recently. The children turned the box into a marionette stand and they stage shows all weekend long. The packaging organic fruit and vegetables are delivered in has been transformed into a car for my youngest….
Sometimes they spend hours making a fort, or writing stories…The younger girls tell the story and the older ones put it down on paper.
For outings, I don’t really like Paris parks so if we need some fresh air and countryside we go to my parents’ because they have a house with a large garden in the Vexin region, or we visit friends. Otherwise, we go to London (their father lives in London during the week, so it’s not like we’re going on a whim!)
It’s very Parisian to head for the countryside on the weekend. We’ve been hunting for our own weekend home for the past year — here’s hoping we’ll find one soon!