This article originally appeared in the 12/13 edition of FoundersWire by Shelagh Braley.
The children are nestled, all snug in their beds … while Mom unpacks the dirty laundry from the first semester of college. Come to find out, the sheets were never washed.
It’s a horrifying scenario that involves hundreds of thousands of live germs—and it happens more often than not, according to Kirsten Lambert and Joan Ripple, creators of Beantown Bedding, the disposable bed sheets that are showing up in Airbnbs and universities across the country. They want to make laundering linens a thing of the past.
“Back in the ’50s when disposable diapers first came out, no one knew that someday they were going to be called the most significant consumer product development of the 20th century,” says Ripple “That’s the kind of vision we have for our product as well, that someday people will say, ‘What? You wash your sheets? Why would you do that when there’s an easier way?’”
These 2013 MassChallenge alums and 2016 Babson Breakaway competitors may have dreamy designs on the future market, but today they’re focusing on executing the market they’re in, from hospitality to a trendy delivery method: subscription.
“We talk about college kids, but we know they’re going to graduate, and we talk about Millennials, who have everything served up to them by subscription, they don’t go out for anything, it all comes to them. So we’re timing it quite nicely with that trend,” Lambert says. The duo has firsthand knowledge of their customers, with four just-out-of-college children of their own.
“If (our kids) can cut corners on time, on what they have to spend time on, they will do it in a second,” Ripple says. “My daughter lives in the city, there is no laundry facility in that apartment building. They can use that time for something more productive. It comes down to priorities. Would she rather take that hour and go to the health club or go for a run or sit there in a Laundromat and do the wash?”
DISPELLING THE DISPOSABLE MYTH
The founders make comparisons to disposable diapers, but there is one major difference: These sheets are USDA-certified, 100 percent bio-based and compostable.
“In a commercial compost, (these sheets) will break down in two weeks. To be compostable, it has to be chemical-free, there can’t be any toxicity. Being compostable is the absolute best it can be,” Ripple says. “You could put it in a backyard compost and it will even break down in five weeks.”
“Some of our university customers do some very creative things with that,” Lambert adds.
“We did a lot of research, because we knew if we were going to have a disposable product, it absolutely had to be eco-friendly, not a teeny bit eco-friendly—a complete life cycle of being eco-friendly,” says Ripple. “Because you can’t throw anything away anymore that’s going to have any kind of negative impact.”
Another eco-footprint reduction comes by way of not needing water or chemicals emitted through the process of laundering.
The sheets have a soft feel, along the lines of light flannel, and are made of Tencel, a eucalyptus-based fiber used in apparel and high-end woven sheets. The difference, they say, is in the way the fabric is produced—as a non-woven with zero chemicals. The lack of toxic substances not only make the sheets better for bedroom air quality and skin contact, it also makes the sheets compostable, a process that goes beyond mere biodegradability. (Compare that against typical sheets that absorb more than 3 pounds of chemicals during the production process.) A twin-size set costs $19.99 and a monthly subscription ranges from $14.99 to $19.99, depending on bed size.
“This generation is more focused than any before them on all-natural, chemical-free, earth-friendly. And that’s really what this product is, from beginning to end,” Ripple says.
GREEN INITIATIVES GROWING
Hospitality customers say using Beantown Bedding creates significant reduction in cost, operations and loss mitigation. “Lost, damaged and stolen linens are a very common problem in hospitality, so we save a lot of those factors,” Ripple says. “Then those employees can be redeployed to do other tasks that are more value-add than just a manual task like that.”
LIVING THE DREAM
With two full-time sales professionals hired this quarter, more than 100 b2b customers from universities to hotels and Airbnb hosts, plus online sales through Target, Amazon and Bed Bath & Beyond, the founders are zeroing in on subscription distribution to the consumer market in the new year.
“How many times have people come to us from healthcare saying they want us to develop this market? But it’s just been the two of us, and we have no outside funding,” Lambert says. “For the past few years, it’s just been about serving the b2b market, because that’s what fell in our lap.”
“There are a lot of opportunities, so we’re taking a very focused approach to building this consumer brand—that was the inspiration. I see us making plans much more quickly than we did in the beginning. As you grow, it’s about making quicker, smarter decisions: yes or no, in or out,” Ripple adds. “We have the confidence to do that now.”
Where Lambert is a night owl and Ripple a morning glory, they complement each other’s skills, and agree that startup life comes with its sleepless times—even for founders of a bedding company.
“I have started to sleep a little better, almost out of desperation,” Ripple says with a laugh. “I convince myself that sleeping at night will make me better in the morning. That’s the only way you can be efficient.”