February 21, 2019
Meet the Makers: Carly Watterson, founder of MU.
Way back in 2002, well before “Girlbosses” were a thing, Carly Watterson saw a gap in the market for bringing hard-to-find cult beauty brands into the Australian market… and the seed for MU Australia was planted. This month, to celebrate MU Australia’s 16th birthday we speak to the mother and female entrepreneur about living in China, listening to your gut, and making the move from metal to beauty.
Tell us a little about the MU Australia journey
MU started in 2002. I wish I could say that I had a big plan to launch a beauty business but the reality was I was retrenched from my job as a futures trader in HK as a result of September 11, and was looking for work. Shortly after I was having a conversation with a friend who was a beauty buyer who was looking for some hard to find products that weren’t being distributed in Australia, and the rest is history. I read somewhere that MU was a Tibetan goddess, so I just picked it and ran with it.
What brands did you launch with?
The first brand was Eshave. It was a men's shaving brand that was featured on Queer Eye For The Straight Guy. I spent many a night trawling the internet trying to find one that wasn’t represented in Australia. Eshave decided to give me a chance and we started from there.
How did you get your start in the industry?
I didn’t have a typical female career path when I graduated. I studied Business and International Trade both in Australia and in Tianjin China and I was in China for Tianjin’s first KFC restaurant. After graduation I was employed by Itochu, a large Japanese trading house and was assigned to the non ferrous metals department where I specialised in Aluminium and Copper. After working there for a few years I was approached to work on the metals desk for Prudential Bache – Hamburg Metals in Hong Kong. As you can imagine this was (and still is) a very male dominated field and it wasn’t unusual for me to attend dinners with hundreds of men and only a few women. After September 11 many of us were retrenched and were unable to find employment back in trading, and I returned to Australia only able to get work as a bartender and a cleaner! A conversation with a friend prompted me to start the business.
How does a product make the cut for MU?
It has to have a little story behind the brand, be of exceptional quality, have great packaging and a great price point. I’ve always gone for products that are a little bit different, and that you won't find in every store. I still get a little rush when I find something amazing.
How has the business evolved over the last 16 years?
The business has evolved more so in the past two years with the launch of online. I get great joy in seeing what people order and the feedback we receive from customers. We pride ourselves on customer service and that’s something that has definitely not changed. Our company culture is very customer service focused and we try to always go the extra mile for our customers (where possible) - that’s what hopefully sets us apart.
Have you come across any challenges being a woman in this industry?
I’ve found being a woman in this industry to be much easier than in my previous career. The women I’ve met have all been incredibly supportive, and as part of the femeconomy network we all work together from non competing industries to increase our profitability.
What has been your proudest moment or achievement in the last decade?
That we are still here and still going strong! And the ability to be able to juggle a fulfilling career with raising my son.
What is your all-time favourite MU product?
Is there a surprise seller?
Some of the Demeter scents that people buy are surprising. Who would've thought that Petrichor (the smell of the first rain after a long period of dryness) would end up being one of our best sellers?
If you could go back to 2003 and give yourself one piece of advice what would it be?
Listen to your gut instinct. Every time I’ve gone against my gut instinct on the advice of others it's been a disaster.
What would you tell women out there wanting to start their own business?
It won't be easy but it will be worth it.
Fast Five… With Carly Watterson
If we peeked inside your handbag we’d find…
My hairbrush, my bullet journal, basalt blood orange lip balm and my phone.
This might surprise you about me but…
I majored in Mandarin at University and have an interest in Asian history.
My biggest indulgence is…
Cookies and Cream ice cream straight out of the tub.
The most predictable thing about me is…
If you tell me it can’t be done I'll find a way to make it happen.
One of life’s greatest joys is...
Apart from raising my son I love nothing more than spending some time browsing in a good book shop.