Two department store execs have launched a mission-driven brand, suggesting that even the biggest players in retail are waking up to a new model of business. Threaded, a New York-based home linens company, is getting into the growing space of thoughtfully sourced bedding.
Despite several other brands — Boll & Branch, Coyuchi, and most recently, Alterra Pure — having established a luxury market for cotton bedding, Patti Bernstein and Margaret Wakeland felt there was still room in the market for one more.
“We are going for a modern casual look inspired by brands like Restoration Hardware, but at a more affordable price,” Bernstein says.
Aside from price, there are some differences: Bernstein and Wakeland, unlike many of their counterparts, source their cotton from Egypt, not India. To date, they’ve not been using organic cotton though they have plans to do so in 2019, Bernstein says. The focus is more so on transparency in manufacturing, which takes place in India in facilities that are women-forward and transitioning to be solar-powered, Bernstein adds.
Having worked at Macy’s previously, both women knew how global supply chains work and were involved in manufacturing textiles with contacts of suppliers. This enabled them to create the foundation of their company. Bernstein who served as Senior Vice President of Home at Macy’s, and had been at the company since 2002, says that she had seen the retail industry shift, moving away from brick-and-mortar to online and now to more purpose-driven brands. Wakeland, a Vice President at Macy’s, saw, and shaped, this evolution in retail, managing the department store’s omnichannel strategy in textiles.
“We knew how to make a beautiful product,” Wakeland says, “and knew what resonated with customers.” Couple that with the trips the duo had made to visit manufacturers in India; they felt they could add a new voice to the bedding and home linens market — not just about social impact, but also smart, modern designs.
Threaded, though not a solely organic cotton bedding brand, wants to have an impact on as many elements of their supply chain as possible: from training women with skillsets in manufacturing to supporting proper waste disposal and encouraging suppliers to invest in solar power.
“Water conservation and water recycling is a non-negotiable, for example,” Bernstein adds. The duo have a list of criteria for their suppliers and are unwilling to compromise on these fronts.
For instance, the products are made only with natural materials, including the buttons that are composed of coconut shells. No plastic packaging is used to deliver the bedding either, Wakeland adds. The sheets, instead, are packaged in waste from the production line, which has been converted into a cloth bag. Even the packing that’s done by the supplier is maximized to utilize space and reduce the number of packing materials used.
Being a female-led team, women are a key part of the company, she says, and hence, the co-founders have sought out suppliers who also want to push women to the forefront. The approach is working, Wakeland says: “Since encouraging women to take on leadership roles, more female tailors have been promoted to line supervisors and checkers. There are even entirely female-run lines, and one day, there will be an all-female floor, perhaps even a factory. It’s a work in progress, with an emphasis on ‘progress’ and growth.”
Part of their criteria for suppliers includes transitioning to cleaner sources of power: “One of our factory partners, where many of our fashion duvet covers are made, is also generating their own solar power,” Wakeland says. “They have an inspiring goal: increasing their solar power capacity from 30 to 35 percent to 80 to 90 percent in the next 6 months, and are well on their way to meeting it.”
Since neither Wakeland or Bernstein are based in India or have full-time team members who are, they’re relying on suppliers who will carry out their vision on the ground. In full transparency, the duo admits that they have had no engagement with the farmers who supply their cotton; instead, their focus has been on manufacturing. That may be because the company is funded by a New York-based investor with ties in textiles; this silent investor approached Bernstein about building a digital brand. (Bernstein refrained from providing further details about the investor.)
Thus, while these changes in the industry may be positive steps for a handful of manufacturers—to employ solar power, support women in the factories, or be committed to water conservation, they are indeed baby steps.
“We’re proud to be a part of this change, and to support a move towards a healthier, greener textile industry and planet. I, for one, look forward to the time in the not-too-distant future when more and more of our products not only say “Made in India,” but “Made in India with Solar Power,” Wakeland says.
With so many brands disclosing their supply chains and thinking through each element of manufacturing, the question remains for those who are staunch supporters of sustainable brands: does Threaded go far enough in the supply chain to make a dent in the way textiles are manufactured and how the raw materials are sourced? Or is this simply scratching the surface–albeit a welcomed change from industry veterans?