Tina Luu, Fable
The home décor market is currently dominated by big players like Inter IKEA Systems, Kimball International Inc., Herman Miller, Inc. And home24. The home furnishings market is expected to explode to $1 trillion in 2025, growing at a CAGR of 6%. The influence of growing urbanization, increased workforce growth coupled with the rise in purchasing power has increased the demand for home décor.
It’s rare to find founders with the mettle to start a business post Covid when supply chain issues have widely constrained an already established market but the founders of Fable, Tina Luu and her Cofounders, Joe Parenteau and Max Tims, have successfully been able to carve out a niche for themselves in this thriving market, offering direct-to-consumer tableware.
In 2022, Fable raised $8.4 million CAD in Series A funding. Founded in 2019, the Vancouver startup that designs its own tableware and sources the craftmanship places like Japan, Portugal and Belgium, is now expanding its offerings.
I met with Tina Luu, the Cofounder and CTO of Fable to uncover her path to entrepreneurship and discuss the core values that underpin her brand’s commitment to ethical craftsmanship and sustainability.
Luu’s entrepreneurial journey began during her maternity leave. At the time, she was a web developer, primarily specializing in front-end development. While moving to a new home, Luu found a desire to upgrade her living space. She wanted to find the perfect designs for her home, but she couldn’t quite find what she was looking for at a price point that made sense. This experience highlighted a gap in the market, which got her thinking.
“I couldn’t find the designs that I wanted at the price point that I wanted as well as supporting a brand or company that resonated with me,” Luu explained. She was also facing the end of her maternity leave, which presented the prospect of returning to work. However, she didn’t want to spend her time away from her family on something that didn’t align with her passions.
For Luu, the core motivation behind her venture towards entrepreneurship was the desire for autonomy. She explained, “I wanted to control my own destiny. If I’m going to work long hours and sacrifice my time, I’d rather do that for something of value to me and not for somebody else. When my maternity leave ended, I made the choice not to return to my previous job. Instead, I shifted my focus gradually towards building Fable.”
The early days of entrepreneurship often involve a steep learning curve. Like many entrepreneurs, Luu encountered unexpected challenges in this path. She recalled, “What struck me initially was the sheer hands-on, scrappy nature of a startup, especially during the first year. My two co-founders and I, all came from tech backgrounds; we were navigating uncharted waters in e-commerce. We grappled with inefficient systems and processes from figuring out the logistics of storing and fulfilling products to marketing and selling them. It was quite a learning experience.”
The choice of co-founders played a significant role in Fable’s success. Luu revealed that their team came together naturally after meeting through mutual friends in Vancouver. Coincidentally, they all were exploring the dinnerware industry at the same time, with a shared passion for the finer details of tableware.
The fundamental drive behind Fable’s creation was a deep-seated commitment to sustainability and ethical craftsmanship. These values served as the cornerstone of the cofounders’ vision. In 2022, Fable successfully attained B Corp certification. As per Luu, “The motivation behind Fable was the realization that we didn’t observe these values and practices in other companies. We aspired to create a company that didn’t prioritize profit at the expense of sustainability. Our goal was to place both profit and sustainability on equal footing. It’s a challenging endeavor, especially for a small business, but we continually strive to become more sustainable and better ourselves.”
Luu explained the challenges in trying to source ethically. The quest for partners who share their values and ethical standards is painstaking and time-consuming. Their commitment to B Corp certification imposes strict adherence to rigorous standards. Fable cannot opt for partners who engage in shortcuts or unfair treatment of their employees. The meticulous due diligence and exhaustive vetting process to identify partners who embrace a zero-waste philosophy or, at the very least, are actively progressing toward a zero-waste approach is crucial to upholding their mission.
Fable’s base of customers is evolving but Luu emphasized that from extensive consumer research and fine tuning of ads, they have learned who their customers are:
“Generally, they are people, often couples, who have just moved into their first home together or made their first home purchase. They typically fall between the age range of early 30s to 50s. What sets them apart is their emphasis on sustainability practices and the charities they support. So, it’s more about brand alignment, like how Patagonia aligns with the values of outdoor enthusiasts.”
Fable strives to embrace the human element. Luu highlights, “It’s not just about the product; it’s about what else you’re doing. How are you supporting your local communities? One thing about Fable is that we aim to pay a living wage to everyone. We ensure that all our retail and warehouse employees earn a living wage in accordance with the cities they reside in.”
When Fable launched their brand in November 2019, within six months the pandemic hit. Despite their initial concerns, the response from customers has been overwhelmingly positive. During the pandemic, people embraced Fable’s products, and their demand has remained strong. The company achieved an impressive 60% return rate, with customers returning within the same year. Luu added,
“Each of our products has a unique value proposition. For our ceramics, they have a hand-finished feel but without the steep price tag you’d find at an artisanal market. All our items have an organic touch, with each piece being slightly unique, featuring an unglazed bottom for a more natural feel. As for our glassware, which is becoming our top product, we are taking extra steps to strengthen it. So, although our glass is incredibly thin, and because of this toughening process, they end up being 1.6 times stronger than regular glass. If you accidentally drop one of our glasses from the table, it’s not completely unbreakable, but it’s incredibly resistant.”
With growing awareness and demand for alternative and more sustainable materials for consumer goods, Luu see’s Fable as offering products that last,
“I think the durability of products is of utmost importance. There’s a lot of fast fashion where you buy things and then toss them out. You may buy something for Christmas one year, and by the next year, it’s out of style. We aim to design products that are timeless and durable, lasting for many years of use.”
The company’s journey began with ceramics as their primary product line, including items like dinner plates, salad plates, flatware, and breakfast bowls. In recent years, their objective has evolved to the overall tabletop experience, leading to the addition of glassware and flatware for a complete dining set. Looking forward, Fable aims to broaden their product range, moving beyond the tabletop to explore opportunities in the dining room, living room, and other areas, all with a focus on creating products that are timeless.
Fable partners with Magic Breakfast in the UK, directing a share of proceeds towards providing meals to underprivileged children. They are currently in search of new charitable partners in Canada and North America. Locally, in Abbotsford, Fable works closely with local groups like Insasmuch Community to assist refugee families and those in need when they are beginning to establish themselves in Canada. “We are committed to repurposing return items rather than resorting to disposal.”
How has Fable’s story evolved? Luu shared, “Since we launched in 2019, we’re now in over 100,000 homes across Canada, United States, and United Kingdom. We operate two of our own fulfillment centers and opened two brick and mortar locations in Canada. It’s been a journey of rapid growth, but it also involved learning from mistakes along the way. We prefer to push things out quickly to learn and iterate, which has contributed to our progress.”
Over the next five years, Fable aspires to expand their presence in the home goods market. “We aim to compete with traditional brands like Williams-Sonoma, West Elm and Crate and Barrel, and broaden our offerings,” expressed Luu.
Has Fable’s mission led to the outcomes they have expected? Luu explains, “Our mission has evolved. Initially, it was about bringing joy to every meal, as we believe sharing a meal is crucial for creating emotional connections and bonds. Now, our focus is to expand into home goods, our mission is to make people feel right at home and inspire memorable moments and connections.”
For this company, Fable is not a tale or a parable, but rather a success story. Fable demonstrates that ethical values and sustainability can coexist with business growth and innovation and serves as an example of the significant impact of company values that align with and drive consumer purchase behavior.
Beyond Tableware: Fable's Sustainable Journey – Forbes
Tina Luu, Fable