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Green Sheets for Red Flag Beds

If you are in life stage: Contemplating Reinvention Posted September 25th, 2012
By Kathryn Sollmann

It has often been said that necessity is the mother of invention.  Especially when two smart mothers identify a need.

One day Kirsten Lambert and Joan Ripple of Hingham, Massachusetts were walking their dogs and talking about their college freshmen.  That morning’s topic?  Sheets that never seemed to leave the bed and enter the washing machine.  The two mothers joked that their kids needed the rolls of paper sheets that doctor offices use.

Then the lightbulb went off.  Why not create laundry-free linens?

Sounds like one of the ideas that pops into my entrepreneurial head now and then.  But I always stop the brainstorming when I realize I’m completely out of my knowledge base and comfort zone.

That didn’t stop Kirsten and Joan.  They both had no knowledge of textiles or manufacturing.  Joan’s background is in human resources and management.  Kirsten’s domain is marketing and market research.  But CVs aside, these women aren’t afraid of a challenge and in both professional and volunteer roles they’ve always been known as risk takers, creative problem solvers and innovative thinkers.

In short, they forged ahead, drawing first on Kirsten’s market research expertise.  The duo did extensive internet research on environmentally friendly fibers, read piles of white papers and became very familiar with organizations of the textile trade.

First they found some suppliers for recycled water bottles, but that fabric did not meet the comfort test.  Then they got fabric samples from all over the world and held focus groups at Stanford University.  They zeroed in on an Austrian company’s compostable material made of cellulose (wood pulp).  Product testing then followed at 22 universities:  students slept on the fabric for an average of 12 nights and gave a huge number more thumbs ups than thumbs downs.

Kirsten and Joan then had a mountain of positive data and the confidence to start the manufacturing process.  While their children were studying in college, the two mothers became students of supply chain management.  About 18 months after the brainstorming walk, they launched their new company in earnest–Beantown Bedding—with “Bedsox” (sheets and pillowcases) now available via their web site and amazon.com.

Though the sheets are white, Kirsten and Joan are thinking green.  Their wholesale business supports environmental initiatives at schools that host summer programs and need sheets for guests.  Retail sales are directed primarily at college students, who, like their own kids, think the laundry room is an off limits place.

Saving kids from dreaded domestic duties is only one major benefit.  Every time the Bedsox are discarded, 40 gallons of washing machine water is saved.  (That’s the energy equivalent of a lightbulb that burns for 2-1/2 days.)  The Bedsox are also hundreds of times more resistant to the bacteria, mold and dust mites many college beds accumulate—making it possible for kids to sleep hygienically and comfortably on the same sheets for about 30 days.

To see, on my own, if the comfort factor is really there, I decided to conduct my own one-person focus group with my daughter—a senior at Bates College.  Her report:  “different texture, but comfortable”—substantiating the company’s claim that Bedsox have the “look and feel of conventional sheets”.   My daughter was most impressed with the green factor—which would drive her to use the sheets again on her environmentally focused college campus.

How do you measure Kirsten and Joan’s success?  They’ve found a way to save the earth and more and more people are noticing.  The idea that began on a quiet suburban street just made its way to the front page of USA Today.  Kirsten and Joan say tenacity and resourcefulness got them to this exciting point—along with the never-ending maternal desire for a clean and well-made bed.  —KAS

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