After identifying that bedding was a category (desperately) in need of innovation, my partner,
Andy, and I began to grapple with the idea of revolutionising the way consumers shop for their sheets. We envisioned a label in which shoppers could ‘see’ what they were buying properly, rather than touring packets of folded linen in department stores. We also wanted to ensure the bedding was created like garments for the modern man or women, with trends and textures and pop-cultural cues woven throughout. That’s where my decade of experience in the fashion design (industry) was put to good use, leading to an experimental design approach that borrows from the world of clothes.
IR: What have the past 12 months been like for Sheet Society?
HW: In the throes of 2020’s Melbourne lockdown, we unveiled our inaugural store in Abbotsford, as well as that expansive wonderland-meets-warehouse in Brunswick. But everything comes back down to the experiential act of shopping for Sheet Society, especially when navigating online stores in the middle of a pandemic; in other words, when you’re already on edge and don’t need lagging mechanics or shipping delays to get you down. There were not many brands addressing the 20- to 30-year-old Instagram demographic – the ones who eat pizza and watch Netflix in bed. We wanted to capture that audience more than ever during a time when simple comforts played such an important role in finding day-to-day joy.
We’ve been humbled and overwhelmed – in the best possible way – by the continual growth
and demand for our product during the pandemic. We saw a shift in customers really caring about their environment and a yearning to make their home a haven. Although a difficult time for many, we’re glad we could help in a small way.
We’ve developed our product offering and team significantly. We’ve gone from a team of five to 40+ and have proudly launched various new product ranges this year, from a new lightweight ‘gauze’ quilt cover antidote to heavy, stuffy summer bedding, to GOTS [Global Organic Textile Standard]-certified organic cotton sheets that address our brand’s broader environmental impact.
We’ve also renovated and styled up our 3000-square-metre Brunswick dual office and warehouse space in all its gargantuan glory. This home base is where our 40-strong dream team (and a lot of product) can be found, all under one soaring roof. I couldn’t be prouder of how far Sheet Society has become, and the people who’ve helped us get here.
IR: What is the traditional shopping experience for sheets and bedding like and where are its weaknesses and challenges for customers?
HW: Traditionally, we shopped for sheets in department stores. Everything was in sweaty plastic and you couldn’t actually see what you were purchasing until you got it home. It all came tight-sealed and packed away in bundle sets that inhibited creativity and fashion-like intermixing; even if you didn’t want a flat sheet, you had to get it. So we ensure every design of ours can be purchased individually.
With a fashion background, I couldn’t understand how the experience of shopping for sheets was so different to shopping for a new outfit. With clothes, you’re able to take the item you’re thinking of buying into the change room, take off your clothes and see what it looks and feels like before deciding to buy it or not. Yet with sheets, most of them are wrapped so tightly you can’t even touch the fabric before you get home and unfold it, when it’s far past the point of being able to fold it back up to return it if it isn’t your style. The two experiences just didn’t add up to me, and I knew I wanted to change that.
With a focus on mixing and matching, Sheet Society has since introduced innovative textures, colours and beautiful hallmarks that heed the small details. You’ll see these signature features in our 22cm-deep pillowcase flap that stops your pillows escaping out of their cases during the night, because a deep pillow equals deeper sleep. There’s even 8mm piping, taking your slumber (and aesthetics) up a notch. We’ve also used a 3cm-wide elastic and up to 55cm depth on our fitted sheets, to hug your mattress and keep corners pinned down tight, for whatever you’re up to in bed! A fitted sheet that actually fits? Revolutionary.
IR: Tell me about how the AR bed builder works. Since it launched a year ago, how has it performed and how has it been developed since its first iteration?
HW: Last year marked the launch of our Augmented Reality BedBuilder. The AR Bed Builder was a global first-to-market online shopping experience Sheet Society developed to bridge the gap between traditional bricks-and-mortar stores and the online shopping ecosystem. The AR Bed Builder gives users the ability to mix and match all items from our range on screen, with more than 572 quintillion different combinations available in mere seconds. It allows customers to see their colour, style and fabric choices on their own bed at home before they commit to purchase.
The tool uses the inbuilt ‘Quick Looks’ functionality of Apple and Android devices, removing the need to download any additional apps. Built on Shopify Plus, the AR tech attaches itself to the four points of a user’s bed in front of their smartphone camera, and then launches the product straight onto the bed via the screen. We’ve had a positive response to the technology and will continue to build on its capabilities.
IR: How would you describe the bedding/manchester landscape right now? I feel like some new DTC brands are coming into the market.
HW: There’s no doubt that lockdowns, by forcing us to spend more time in our homes, have resulted in an uptake in consumers spending their holiday money on items that make them feel better about being in their homes. We’ve benefited from being a brand with the right product, in the right place (e-commerce) at the right time but how we’ll continue to ride this wave is by making the customer experience second to none.
We adore DTC brands that encourage shoppers to buy directly from them, rather than through larger department stores. The e-commerce boom has certainly made it easier for those who dreamt of starting their own business to go after it. Instagram brands are popping up every day in our category, which encourages us to double down on the quality of our product, our brand experience, and customer satisfaction and engagement, so we can be certain that once we acquire a customer, they’re sure to come back. And we are doing this really well, with around 30 per cent of our orders each day coming from returning customers.
IR: In recent years, brands have started exploring new textiles and fabrics, particularly those that are more sustainable. What is Sheet Society doing in that space?
HW: We have a strong brand focus on using only natural materials for our core range, which means we’re also able to utilise a lot of natural processing treatments.
This year, we proudly launched our Organic Cotton range that has been certified by the GOTS. This means our products are harvested, processed, woven and sewn under accredited organic suppliers.
Our Eden range is crafted from 100 per cent cotton using a long-staple yarn and remains free from any harsh chemical intervention throughout the manufacturing process, from farm to home. Eschewing chemicals also means the natural characteristics of the cotton yarns reign, giving you that extra-soft Sheet Society tactility.
We use OEKO-Tex certified reactive dyes. Compared with standard dyes, they have a really high absorption rate, demanding less water usage through the rinsing process. These dyes also adhere to the fabric at a relatively low temperature (around 30 degrees) compared with more conventional methods of colouring, saving energy expenditure in a way that really adds up. We also get a much brighter, richer and more colourfast fabric, prolonging the life of the sheets later on.
Sustainability is really important to us as a brand, both externally with our customers and internally with the products we produce, and also in supporting our team by being a sustainable workplace. We’ve committed to becoming carbon neutral for our Australian operations in FY22.
IR: Do you see Sheet Society returning to a bricks-and-mortar presence in the future?
HW: Absolutely. We can’t wait to have our Abbotsford store properly open again with doors swinging, new collections festooning the shelves and customers trying on bed outfits in real time. We also have exciting plans for new store openingS, but you’ll have to stay tuned for more on that one.
IR: What are your plans for Sheet Society in the coming 12-18 months?
HW: Pre-Covid, we had plans to grow internationally, perhaps a bit too ambitiously, so in hindsight, it’s been great to have no choice but to bunker down and focus on domestic growth. With restrictions easing, we’re excited to have some face-to-face interactions with our customers throughout our store expansion projects.
We’ve also just rebranded to ‘Sheet Society’ from ‘The Sheet Society’ and feel like we’ve kind of grown up, as far as graduating from the start-up business hustle to become a medium-sized operation. We are working on a new website, which we hope to launch by the end of the year, and further products launching both in terms of fun new fashion-inspired fabrics and colours. We’re also launching more sustainable product categories, like collections in recycled linen and botanical dye.
People are absolutely key to the success of our business, so without a doubt we’ll continue to support our team as we grow and focus on building a world-class company culture. It’s kind of crazy to think that almost our entire team started with the business working remotely, so we’re really excited to spend some quality time together in the office.