In this interview series, we are talking to founders, CEOs, and ecommerce business leaders about how to use social media to grow your ecommerce business. As a part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Juanita Nataly Carballeira.
Juanita Nataly Carballeira is a 21-year-old entrepreneur and founder of the rapidly growing online fashion brand Unordinary which recently went viral on social media with its iconic “Empress Dress.”
The startup has amassed over 8 million views on social media and is attracting young Gen Z as well as millennials all across the world with its high-quality, innovative, edgy garments. The company has many plans for 2023 and is on a mission to empower people to embrace their uniqueness and make a difference in the fashion industry.
Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Of course, thank you for having me. Ever since I was around 10 years old, I knew that I wanted to have my own business. I remember walking on the street and dreaming of having my very own clothing store, it’s always been something that I’ve been attracted to. I actually started a clothing brand when I was 15, making handmade garments out of my bedroom while I was still in high school, but that only lasted a couple of months. After that, I worked on a couple of different businesses, but I’ve always known creating a clothing brand was my ultimate calling.
Fashion has been a massive part of my life because it’s got me through some dark times in my life, has always helped me feel more confident, and has allowed me to express who I truly am. Wearing a good outfit on a bad day always makes my day better. Without clothes on, we all look the same, and fashion is, in my opinion, a beautiful way to embody our unique selves, which is also why I called the company “Unordinary.”
I realized that what I wanted was never actually out there. For years, I have been walking into designer stores and dreaming of buying their garments, not because of the status but because of how much more high quality and intricate the garments were compared to fast fashion brands. My goal today is to bring the essence of designer brands to people around the world who want to buy more consciously and wear pieces that make them feel and look their absolute best.
Can you share the most exciting story that has happened to you since you began at your company?
I think since starting around seven months ago, many exciting things have happened. Every little achievement has felt quite special.
I would say that the excitement of designing a garment and seeing the finished result, as well as seeing people wear our designs, are some of the most fulfilling ones, but having our video go viral in the past couple of weeks and having millions of people come across our brand has also felt very special and exciting.
Most people know social media is a powerful tool, but once you have a video that reaches millions of people, your perspective shifts, and you realize you can do anything. Any business nowadays truly can become successful with the power of social media.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I think we have made many mistakes and keep making mistakes along the way because it is the best way for us to learn.
I will say one of the mistakes we made in the very beginning was for our first drop, we started out with a brand new manufacturer by making one of the most complex things one could probably make: a corset top. The idea was to make a comfortable yet flattering corset top, and as the perfectionist that I am, I wanted it to be the best it could be. Not only was it my first time dealing with a manufacturer, but I had chosen the most complicated piece of clothing one could make.
I wanted a challenge, and I got it. It was a disaster, every single time we got a new sample, there was an issue. I must still have over 10 different samples of it in my closet. Eventually, we got a good sample that looked great, but the process wasn’t efficient and cost us a lot of time and money.
However, after this, I decided to yet again go with a special design: The Empress Dress, which is a maxi dress with slits that can be adjusted with zippers on the sides. It could have been a complete flop, but it turned out to be a beautiful yet functional dress and has led to our recent success.
Many smaller fashion companies create very simple, easy designs and just add their logo to them. I like to always add something special to a garment, find unique, high-quality fabrics, and find ways to innovate and make it as functional as possible. The corset top failure, followed by the success of the Empress Dress made me realize that taking risks and trying out intricate designs, as complex as they might be, is the key to success. Take risks, it eventually pays off.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?
We are actually working on a lot of very exciting projects right now. Besides obviously, designing and creating high-quality clothing, our mission is to bring individuals together and empower them to become the best version of themselves.
We aim to be much more than just a clothing brand. We are planning pop-ups and events to bring people together and create a space where people can come to meet new people, learn new things, and just have unforgettable experiences. I have been big on self-development, self-mastery, and, more than anything, finding your true self—these are things that have a lot of meaning to me and that I want to communicate through our company because I believe a company shouldn’t just be there to sell, it should be there to inspire and make a real impact.
I think although we sell something physical, the impact we want to have on our customers is emotional. We are currently thinking of and exploring new ways to connect with our customers and help them grow and feel like their best selves as much as we possibly can.
What are three traits about yourself that you feel helped fuel your success?
I do believe there are a few specific traits that help me to keep going and allow me to achieve whatever I set my mind to.
First, I would say endless curiosity, always feeling like I have more to learn, always being a student, and realizing there are people who can do many things better than I can. It is important to know how to leverage other people’s skills. Natalia Plaza Thomsen, our head graphic designer, who’s been on the journey since the very beginning and saw the vision I had since Day One, has truly helped create the visual identity of the company and has helped me to do countless things I could never have done by myself.
In September of last year, we also welcomed our new head of marketing, Janina Numminen, who has truly been a key piece in our business and thanks to whom we have been able to move the business forward the way we have the past couple of months.
From the very beginning, she treated the company like it was her own. As soon as we started working together, I was and am still stunned at how excited she always is about everything and how much love she puts into the work that she does. She is a very driven, ambitious entrepreneur and was exactly who I needed. I have learned that by putting together individuals who are all equipped with a specific set of skills and seeing the vision just as clearly as you can, you can create a powerhouse.
In addition, a trait that I believe is important as a business owner is to have laser focus. I have found that when I focus on too many things at once, I do not produce the quality of work that I do when I am concentrated on a singular vision and goal. I have learned the hard way that saying yes to everything leads to distraction. You must learn to distinguish between diversion and real opportunity.
Finally, a trait that most people are scared to have, I would say, is to be a big, ambitious thinker. I think the importance of thinking big is underestimated. I believe that if you have a vision for something big, no matter how crazy it might seem, you can set yourself up to take the necessary actions and steps to go in that direction and then do everything in your power to reach the goal. I think most people are scared to dream big because they feel like if they set big expectations and don't achieve them, they have failed, and they would rather feel like they are successful by achieving small goals.
I have come to the conclusion that having a big, clear vision that you can perspicuously communicate to your team is one of the most important traits a leader should have. Whenever I have practiced thinking big, set ambitious goals, and believed that I could achieve them, my projects have usually led to outstanding results.
Ultimately, as Henry Ford once stated, I believe, “Whether you think you can, or think you can't, you're right.”
What was your original vision for your ecommerce business? What pain point(s) were you trying to solve for your customers?
I find that whenever I try to shop for clothing or renew my wardrobe, I never truly find what I am looking for, whether it’s in-store or online. The only brands that I have always been very attracted to are designer brands, not for the status but for the quality and design of their garments and the experience you receive as a customer.
As a product-based business, the most challenging thing is to find materials and suppliers that are of very high quality at a low price. Most businesses pursue either mediocre value at a low cost or high value at a higher cost and charge the customer a luxury price. Our goal is to provide affordability and high value to our customers.
Our products might be priced slightly higher than cheap fast fashion brands, but we offer a significantly higher value product and experience. Not only does slightly higher pricing allow us to ensure that the people involved in the entirety of the supply chain get paid a fair wage, but we are also, by making each piece of clothing feel like a special purchase, encouraging people to buy less product and instead focus on buying high-quality clothing that can last forever.
It is our mission to advocate conscious buying, which is also why we almost never do sales or discounts (not even on Black Friday). We want every purchase a customer makes from Unordinary to be a special one.
How did social media help you grow your business? What were your strategic objectives, and how did you implement your social media plan?
We wouldn’t have a business if it weren’t for social media. Instagram and TikTok have been essential in our growth. The Empress Dress was first launched in July, with no real marketing plan or strategy in place. As a result, we didn't get a single sale.
Later, in September, we started working with Janina and relaunched the dress with a clear strategy in mind. When Janina first saw the dress and tried it on, she knew that we could sell thousands, and despite the previous failed launch, we were determined to make it work, because we really believed in the product.
Our strategy was simple and straightforward: produce as much content as we possibly could for both Instagram and TikTok. I was creating content myself as well and posting on TikTok every single day for over a month. The idea behind this was to just try everything out and see what worked best for us and what we also enjoyed creating and sharing as a brand. We went into this creating a lot of different types of content. We were just playing around and having fun with it. Slowly, some videos started picking up steam, and some of them hit over 10,000 views which made us really excited.
A couple weeks in, I posted one of the videos that I had filmed in my bedroom. I knew this specific video was fun, and the story it told was entertaining and amusing, but I had no idea that it would get to 1M on TikTok and a whopping 6M views on Instagram.
Before starting, we did have numbers that we aimed to reach (followers, sales). Still, at the end of the day, the algorithms are so unpredictable that the only goal you should have is to be consistently, religiously posting daily across all social media platforms. It is easier said than done: Most people struggle to consistently do something, especially if it is something they have never done before.
However, once you start posting consistently, the numbers will follow, and you could hit 1M as well as 10M views within the first couple of weeks.
Which social media platforms have you found most beneficial for ecommerce specifically?
TikTok and Instagram are, without a doubt, the most beneficial platforms to use since most of the attention of Gen-Z and millennials is currently on those apps. I think vertical videos, in general, are what businesses should be focusing on, as well as now picture carousels on TikTok.
It is important to, however, be aware of and understand the differences between both of these platforms. Although some of the content from TikTok may be repurposed for Instagram and vice versa, it is important to give the customer different types of value on both of the platforms.
On TikTok, videos are usually much more “raw” and usually less edited than on Instagram reels. We, for instance, recently posted a “Day in my life” video and posted it with a voiceover on TikTok and with just some background music on Instagram. TikTok is more personal, and Instagram is the equivalent of your storefront. TikTok also offers the possibility to upload videos up to 10 minutes long, which is a lot more than the 60 seconds Instagram reels offer, and this allows you to create some longer, personal videos.
For us, the goal is to ultimately redirect TikTok followers to our Instagram, which is where they can truly see the “aesthetic” essence of our brand in a way that they can't see on TikTok. I believe it can be extremely beneficial for ecommerce businesses to be consistent on both platforms and offer slightly different content to attract their followers to keep up with them on both.
What social commerce trends are you most closely paying attention to, and how are you preparing to leverage them for growth?
I believe Instagram and TikTok are going to remain the most important platforms in 2023, and I think consumers on these platforms are becoming smarter and want companies to not only be transparent but also authentic. They want to feel like they are a part of the journey.
It is no longer about just showing how great your products are or working with influencers to sell your product. Consumers nowadays like to see the behind-the-scenes of how products are being made, they want to see not only the end product but the story and process of how and why it was made.
Most importantly, users on these platforms don't want to feel like they are being sold to. Integrating products into videos and showing them as a part of a story is what works. We made many simple TikToks in which we explained that we had created an innovative dress that has slits that can be opened up with zippers without telling a story and didn't get much traction.
However, once we made a video that told a story and had the dress be a part of it, our video went viral. It is important to become good at storytelling to make social media users, who today have a very short attention span, pay attention.
What are the most common mistakes you have seen when companies try to use social media to promote ecommerce? What can be done to avoid those mistakes?
As an ecommerce company, we have made countless mistakes, and I believe this is what makes Unordinary a great company. We encourage creativity and thinking outside the box, and I believe all companies should be practicing this if they want to create more unique, viral-worthy content on social media.
I think the problem for most businesses, though, is that they simply do not post enough, especially on TikTok. It is not enough to post once a week. To go viral, you want to be pushing out as much content as possible and make sure that you are posting quality content. It is good to be scrolling on both TikTok and Instagram yourself for a bit in the beginning, to better understand what type of content people (especially your target customers) are consuming on these platforms.
I think it is also extremely important to have a cohesive brand image and essence across social media platforms and your website. When people come across your viral reel or TikTok, you want to make sure that when they visit your page, they like what they see and are tempted to follow your brand because they want to stay in the loop and know more about you and what you will be doing in the future.
Based on your experience and success, what are your top 5 ways to use social media to grow your ecommerce business?
1. Create new vertical video content for TikTok and Instagram consistently to attract and expose yourself to new potential followers. Post daily, at least in the beginning and don’t be scared to be creative and try out different types of videos in the beginning. Repurpose content you use on TikTok on Instagram Reels. Our video that went viral on Instagram was a video we had originally posted on TikTok.
2. Have your followers be a part of your journey on social media and keep the content interactive to keep them engaged. Invite them to be a part of your decision-making, and create polls and Q&As to be transparent with them. Customers will tell you exactly what they want, and by allowing them to be a part of the process, you will be more connected to your customers and will always keep them coming back for more.
3. Retarget people who interacted with your Instagram posts through paid ads. With Facebook ads, you can retarget anyone who engages with your organic posts on Instagram. This is a great way to convert existing followers who have already been warmed up and shown interest in your organic content.
4. Do more than just sell. Provide value. Consumers no longer want to be sold to, they want to hear a story, be entertained, or learn something new. Make an effort to make quality content, it will pay off in the future.
5. In addition to your in-house videos, leverage UGC (user-generated content) creators to generate content that helps build trust with the customer. When users are exposed to multiple real people sharing their experience with a product on video, they are more likely to trust your company and be willing to buy your products rather than if they just see corporate videos that don’t feel personal on your social media channels.
If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
What a great question! We actually just started a movement on TikTok for people to celebrate their uniqueness. There are a lot of trends right now that carry a lot of negative energy, and that can make people feel insecure.
There is, for instance, this one trend where people show what feature “ruins” their face. This makes me very sad to see and has, at times, even made me feel insecure. I think it is important to celebrate ourselves as we are (not to say we cannot change and improve parts of ourselves if we would like) and celebrate our differences.
I am, myself, always fascinated by the fact that we are all so similar, yet all so different. We have started a TikTok movement with the concept of “What makes me unordinary,” you can join the movement on our TikTok @unrdnry. We cannot wait to see people take part in it and hope we can make people see themselves for what they truly are: beautifully unordinary.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
On my Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/juanitanataly/
UNRDNRY’s Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/unrdnry/
Shop UNORDINARY: unrdnry.com
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