It works best with the family. According to this motto, the sisters Imke of Johnston (35) and Janka Oeljeschlager (32) founded the Hamburg startup Hey Honey in 2015 for colorful printed yoga clothing. The brand is known mainly in German city dwellers, most customers come from Hamburg until today. For the first time last year, the founders generated low-million-dollar sales with Hey Honey and brought their third sister, Tomma Oeljeschlager (25), into their team. Her bestsellers are yoga pants printed with colorful block stripes or bright blue pineapple motif, for 79 euros each.
Packing packages in the mother’s barn
The founding story of Imke von Johnston and Janka Oeljeschlager began in a classic way: in 2015 the sisters were looking for an idea for their own company. Both had studied at the Academy Fashion & Design (AMD) in Hamburg and were dissatisfied with their jobs. In yoga classes that they visited regularly, they noticed that most participants wore sports pants and tops in black or gray. “At the time, there was hardly any functional yoga clothing with a fashion approach,” says co-founder Oeljeschlager in an interview with Gründerszene in Hamburg.
150,000 euros put the sisters to start in their idea. Part of the funding went to Sebastian from Johnston, husband of Imke. He is officially co-founder of Hey Honey, but does not appear publicly as such. He still participates in the family business and, above all, takes care of the strategy, legal issues and finances.
From the pooled money, the family has motives developed by a designer
Through a friend, she gets in contact with a producer in Istanbul who makes samples and then the first order with a few hundred trousers. Several months after its foundation, in January 2016, the sisters send out their first packages. “The biggest hurdles were right at the beginning: to find the producer that produces a low volume and the logistics,” says Imke of Johnston in retrospect. In the first few months she spent hours standing in a barn on her mother’s farm in the Lüneburg Heath, packing the yoga pants and tops and then taking them to the post office.
Zalando and KaDeWe as partners
But the founders are successful with their idea, because their timing is good: In early 2015, the so-called Athleisure trend spills from the United States to Germany. Sportswear is now cut and designed so that it is no longer worn only in the gym, but also in the office and in the evening in the restaurant – and customers spend more money on it.
“We were quickly taken by surprise by the high demand” remembers Janka Oeljeschlager to the first months. In the same year, online retailer Zalando lists the products of Hey Honey in its range, which increases the startup of its target group. At first, the siblings sew the barcodes that Zalando needs to ship their pants into their yoga clothes. This is followed by KaDeWe, Breuninger, Peek & Cloppenburg and About You as distribution partners.
Hey Honey’s business has been profitable since 2017
One third of the turnover earned the startup through its own online shop, one third through Zalando, one third through the other partners. The founders have handed over the logistics to the Berlin-based company Moodja, which is headed by former Zalando employees and takes over shipping for several startups.
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To date, however, the sisters keep their startup small, three employees work part-time for them. They finance the growth from the cash flow, they have not yet received money from investors. The founders are open for discussions with donors, but do not want to go into constraints: “We can freely dispose of our time and realize the way,” says Janka Oeljeschlager. “For us, that’s far greater luxury than having a company with rapid growth and a large team”.
“We do not want to get bogged down”
Nevertheless, the sisters see the competition grow around them. In addition to major sporting goods manufacturers such as Nike, Adidas and Reebok, which are increasingly turning to colorful yoga, competitors in the US and Canada are now well known in Germany: companies such as Lulu Lemon, Alo or Onzie. “The competition does not sleep,” says Janka Oeljeschlager. “But that motivates us.” In addition, it is becoming increasingly difficult to keep a brand known without a large budget; Even marketing channels like Instagram work without pay only limited for companies.
The Hey Honey creators continue to rely on recommendations from their customers and do not want to be crazy. Instead of chasing growth fantasies, they want to stay true to their previous line and continue the startup with calmness and their intuition. Currently they are planning a men’s collection. Expansion into the US is also an option. For both there is no concrete deadline. “It should be fun, and we do not want to get bogged down,” says Imke of Johnston. “Because we know: our entrepreneurial freedom makes us happier than a high salary”.