It has not even been two years since Julie Mathers sold her Australian-curated online retail platform focused on vegan, ethical and sustainable products Flora & Fauna to BWX (ASX: BWX) for around $30 million, but the brand’s future is now up in the air after the local operations of the current owner went into voluntary administration overnight.
However, ‘the writing has been on the wall for a while’ according to Mathers - the current owner of babywear brand Snuggle Hunny Kids - who said she felt for the Flora & Fauna team, many of whom she worked with prior to the BWX acquisition.
“They’ve been through the mill anyway for the past year as the business has slowly deteriorated,” Mathers told Business News Australia.
“I really feel for the team on what they’re going through now and what they’re about to go through. In this economic environment, it’s not fun for anyone.
“I really want Flora & Fauna to come out of the other side and thrive as it once was thriving, because it’s a phenomenal business with huge values.”
Though the future of Flora & Fauna is now in the hands of administrators FTI Consulting, Mathers said this hit to the brand cuts particularly deep for her, considering the ‘blood, sweat and tears’ poured into the Sydney-based company she founded in 2014.
“I think with any founder who started a business, it is part of you - it is an extension of you - and certainly for me I always want the best for it; I want to see it thrive,” Mathers said.
“I’ve had customers reach out to me as recently as yesterday - before the voluntary administration - saying they missed what Flora & Fauna was.
“It’s a really sad situation and it was completely avoidable.”
What direction BWX might take in terms of the future of brands like Sukin and Nourished Life is anyone's guess, but there remains the possibility someone might swoop in and save Flora & Fauna from liquidation.
Asked whether that person could be herself, Mathers did not explicitly rule out buying her company back but noted she was preoccupied with Snuggle Hunny Kids.
“It’s such a big question,” she said.
“I have my hands very full, but I’m certainly interested in terms of what’s going to happen to it, and it’s something I want to keep across.
“I suspect there’s a lot of work that needs to be done.”
Though she sold Flora & Fauna to BWX in May 2021, Mathers told Business News Australia she only really stepped away from the company just over a year ago.
The founder said the brand was ‘thriving’ when she departed, so the demise of Flora & Fauna was unexpected.
That being said, she believes BWX’s woes with Flora & Fauna were pretty simple and easily fixed.
“If you don’t put stock into the business then you have nothing to sell,” Mathers said.
“It’s Retail: 101 right? If you don’t get that right then you’re going to struggle.
“And then with BWX…there’s a lot of debt in that business and that’s ultimately what’s caused some issues. If you can’t service that debt then this is what happens.”
While Mathers said the demise of the Flora & Fauna parent did hurt, she does not regret selling the business to BWX.
“I’m someone who says you can’t have regrets - because you can’t change the past,” she said.
“I’ve seen too many people being eaten up by regret. From a personal perspective, there’s no point in having those regrets because you can’t change it - you can only deal with what is now and hope to change the future.”
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