What's the difference between all the modern online bedding brands?

Buffy, Brooklinen, Parachute - are they all that different? We asked bedding brands to explain what really sets their products apart.

Online bedding brands are promising better quality bed sheets at better prices. But how can consumers choose between them? (Photo: Undercover)
CATEGORY DIVE

The business of getting a good night’s sleep is booming, with brands peddling everything from CBD relaxation remedies to meditation headbands – all with the promise of helping us to get some proper shut-eye.

But before turning to some of the more unconventional sleep aids that are out there, the first thing most consumers will consider when shopping for a better night's sleep is, of course, their bed.

Today, there is no shortage of online direct-to-consumer bedding brands to choose from. Boll & Branch, which launched in January 2014, and Brooklinen, which arrived several months later with a Kickstarter campaign, are considered among the first movers in this space. They have since been joined by bedding brands including Parachute, Buffy, Undercover and plenty of others. Each of these digital-first brands is riffing on the idea that by selling online and – yawn – cutting out the middleman, customers can get hold of higher quality bedding at better prices. But now this proposition is no longer unique. How are they convincing customers that their bedding is a cut above their competitors?

Trying to differentiate between photos of casually crumpled linens to add to your cart isn’t easy. So we asked the bedding brands themselves to explain what really sets their products apart and how customers should go about finding the bedding that’s right for them.

What sets your products apart from other online bedding companies, really?

Matt Breuer, chief marketing officer, Buffy: We make soft goods that are better for our customers and better for the earth. To do that, we start our work in a different place than a lot of DTC brands: developing fabrics and techniques from materials we believe can outperform customers' expectations, be sold at a competitive price, and do all of that at a fraction of the environmental footprint of conventional bedding.

Miriam Tyrangiel, founder, Undercover: We want you to feel great with Undercover. Our fabrics feel wonderful on the skin and you can feel good knowing the products have been made with love and care for the planet. We currently have a Tencel range and a high quality Organic Cotton (GOTS) range. Design is also a differentiating factor: we want to inspire through our contemporary, yet pared back aesthetic.

Elle Liu, founder, Eucalypso: Our sheets are silky smooth, and they’re super gentle on the skin (in fact, all our eucalyptus bedding products are antibacterial and hypoallergenic). We create our products in small batches to prevent over-harvesting and environmental degradation, [and] we use a closed loop process to make our bedding. This means that we reuse and recycle 99% of material, water and solvents. This helps prevent wastefulness and harmful runoff from waste.

Sarah Abitbol, CEO, Riley: Riley’s bedding is made in fourth generation family-owned textile mills in Portugal. Our focus is on luxury and providing products across categories that help our customers fulfill their needs in all aspects of their lives, but especially their bedding.

Scott Tannen, cofounder, Boll & Branch: Boll & Branch is rare among soft goods and textiles companies [because of] the approach we take in creating a true link between maker and consumer. While our product makes our customers’ lives better every night, we are also proud that it does the very same thing for every cotton farmer, factory worker and Boll & Branch employee, too.

Rana Argenio, founder, 10 Grove: Unlike other DTC linen [brands] that originate from the typical story of “I went looking for bedding, but I could not find it at a reasonable price,” 10 Grove’s origin is the exact opposite. My family has been in the textile industry for five generations, and within luxury bedding specifically for over 35 years, so linens are far from new to me. [A lot of DTC bedding] brands use stylish advertising and catchy marketing gimmicks to seduce consumers into buying mediocre products. While we’ve launched with products that target a similar price point, we spend much more on the product itself, rather than [having a] huge marketing budget.

Why has bedding become a popular product category for brands to reinvent?

Breuer, Buffy: Bedding is a great category for new brands because incumbents haven’t built loyalty. There’s a real lack of product innovation, and customers aren’t locked in to a purchasing experience they love.

Liu, Eucalypso: The reason amazing bedding resonates with people is because it’s so deeply personal. We’ve come such a long way in terms of technology – from self-driving cars to smartphones. Yet the majority of the world is still sleeping on cotton; fibers that were used thousands of years ago.

Argenio, 10 Grove: If you ask most of our peers, [they’d say it’s] a mix of high average order values in an industry that had fragmented incumbents, with product that was confusing to the average consumer. Most will also say they went shopping for sheets and couldn’t find nice quality at a transparent price.

What problems exist in the traditional bed linen shopping experience?

Liu, Eucalypso: The traditional bed linen shopping experience is largely owned by big box retailers – it’s boring and there’s a lack of transparency. Most people don’t care about – and often don’t even remember – where their sheets come from. They’ll go to stores like Macy’s, Target, Ikea, or Bed, Bath, and Beyond, and simply choose a color they like. Almost everything is made from cotton, and the only variation is in thread color and colorways.

Abitbol, Riley Home: Before DTC brands, customers were not able to get the full story behind the product they were buying. There was a significant lack of transparency from where the materials were sourced to how the product was manufactured. Because of this, customers weren't able to make informed decisions, both in terms of quality and ethics.

Missy Tannen, cofounder, Boll & Branch: The experience I had buying bedding for my first apartment in 1999 wasn’t all that different from the one I had in 2012. When you think about how much changed in the world over that 13-year period, it is actually quite amazing that the bedding industry has gone unchecked and unchanged. The department stores still had the same plastic shelving with big signs touting thread count at a time when Google could tell anyone in 30 seconds that thread count was mere marketing.

Argenio, 10 Grove: In the world of luxury linens, boutique stores typically have one to three beds on display, showcasing product, with shelves around the store with extra sheets folded in plastic bags, and swatches which you can browse for other design options. On the other hand, when you’re shopping for sheets online, you’ll find that the sheets all look the same; they all market themselves using industry-specific vernacular (thread count, Egyptian cotton) which doesn’t mean much to the average consumer.

How should customers approach choosing bed linen?

Jeanie Kirk, cofounder, Madre Linen: Customers should feel that a brand is transparent and trustworthy, not selling an "idea." We also believe it matters where bedding fibers come from, and who harvest, processes, spins, weaves, and sews them. There is a whole chain of humans involved in the making of a pillowcase or a duvet. Brands should be providing information about the humans along the way whenever possible.

Breuer, Buffy: So much of finding the right bedding is about understanding what type of fabric works for you. Do you want the cool, silky experience of slipping into bed? A sateen lyocell fabric is going to meet that expectation in a way the softest cotton just cannot. But it’s not going to be the right fit for someone who is looking for the crisp, textured [feel] of a linen. 

Once you understand what you are looking for, then you can start asking questions of brands.

Tyrangiel, Undercover: It’s a myth that a higher thread count automatically means better quality. The yarn length and quality of weave is key. The textile industry is a huge burden on the environment, so it’s worth scrutinizing the ecological and ethical impact when buying bedding – conventional cotton requires vast amounts of water and pesticides to grow.

Abitbol, Riley Home: Beyond the questions that help you find the best [fabrics] for you, ask a brand questions about their materials and sustainability. Do they use long staple cotton? Where and how was it made? Is it OEKO-TEX or Responsible Down Standard certified?

Argenio, 10 Grove: Some top level questions will help you break through the jargon and get down to the real answers. What are the sheets made from? You want to make sure they’re made using 100% natural fibers such as cotton or linen, as artificial fibers and blended fibers result in sheets that sleep hot and pill at an accelerated rate. What certifications do the sheets have? You’ll want to make sure your sheets are free from harmful toxins, including formaldehyde, which many mills use to coat sheets to make them feel artificially softer and more wrinkle free. Scary, right?

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