I'm so happy to be finally writing this post, sheets are officially here! Whooo!
Sheeting is something I've dreamed of doing since beginning Mr. Draper just over a year and half ago. While it doesn't seem that long ago, I have learned so much already, mostly through a bunch of trial and error but also through getting out there and talking to folks about what makes good bedding. My vision for Mr. Draper is continuing to evolve and i'm inching ever closer to what I think the label should be, beautiful honest hardwearing bedding . These sheets and my new linen form the basis of my second collection and raise the bar again for what I'm doing. Apart from new linen and colours expect refreshed graphic design, new packaging, much better photography and eventually a much prettier website.
But back to sheets...
Getting started in sheeting is something that is much trickier than you would think. To begin with, you need really wide linen, at least 260-280cms wide. Regular fabrics are only 140 - 150cms wide. Finding a linen, from a supplier who is willing to deal with someone as tiny as me, at a price that people can actually afford to pay has been tough. There are suppliers out there who can do it on the cheap but that's exactly what you get, cheap crappy linen, from a questionable supply chain.
I would love to buy my linen from a local mill however they just do not exist in Australia. Once upon time you could get linen milled in New Zealand but that is also gone. You now have two choices. Europe or Asia. A lot of brands market themselves as French Flax and European Flax, this to me is a bit of rubbish statement. It usually means the flax is grown in Europe and then packed into containers and shipped to China or India to be milled into linen and then off to another factory to be cut and sewn. I'm sure there are a bunch of good mills in these regions, but unless you can take a tour of them I don't think there is a lot of confidence that the folks who work there will have the safeguards in place to protect them. After much searching I’ve opted for Europe and a mill in Lithuania.
So why Lithuania? Well this area has traditionally been a linen producing region. The flax is grown relatively near by and then harvested and milled cutting down on some of the freight. Lithuania as a member of the EU have safeguards in place regarding environmental and labour standards. FairWear.org rate the country as low risk, and while I'm not in the garment industry, there is some similarities and the country report is valid (in my opinion). You can check it out here and make up your own mind . It is also important to note there is not a lot of labour involved in the milling of my linen, rather a lot of specialised machinery.
The key points from the country report were:
1. Employment is Freely Chosen
2. No Child Labour
3. Payment of a living wage
From Lithuania I've decided to work with a mill called Siulas, they aren't the biggest, but they are the oldest mill in the country. You can see more about them here. Apart from making stunning linen I went with Siulas because:
1. They make extra wide width linen. Surprisingly only a handful of mills have this capability.
2. They were willing to deal with me and my volumes. Again not a lot of folks are interested.
3. They could offer the linen at a viable price. Not cheap enough for me to be able wholesale, but enough that I can cover my costs and grow.
4. They could produce the linen to a finish, colour and standard I wanted.
5. They were proactive in answering my questions and were genuinely interested in working with me.
Siulas mill circa 1930
Without actually visiting the mill there is little proof I can get as to what their working conditions are. The best I've been able to do is look at the local laws, things like the FairWear.org country report and speak to some of the folks that work there. I'm hoping to get over there and actually check out the mill in 2017. Stay tuned. If you have any particular questions let me know and I'll try and ask them.
Siulas mill today
So what makes my sheets special?
The Colour. It has been specially woven for me. This is not a stocked colour as most other folks get. This is yarn dyed. I have specified the individual colours for the warp and the weft threads in each of the colours of the new collection. It is totally unique. Each batch will have some variation. This first lot of Number One Grey will be slightly darker than normal. This is due to the season and the way the flax has grown. Sometimes it is darker, sometimes it is lighter. No two products will be the same. I love this.
The Weight. I'm using a 200gsm linen (gsm = grams per square meter). This is heavier than my previous collection (180gsm) and much heavier than what most other brands use for sheeting (usually 130 - 150 gsm). I like heavy sheets. The weight, coupled with the natural texture of linen just creates something very very special.
Milled in Europe and Made in Melbourne. The flax for my linen is grown in Europe and then milled in Lithuania at Siulas. Once milled, the massive rolls of fabric are airfreighted to Melbourne. The team and I cut and sew the sheets. Once sewn the sheets will be packaged into what's looking like handmade boxes. I hate plastic packaging and particularly hate the Auspost prepaid satchels, which I have been reluctantly using in a limited capacity, but that's a topic for another blog post... I'm also looking at ways to offset the carbon from my airfreight...
Transparent. I think I'm one of the few bedding businesses out there that actually tells folks who my suppliers are. The Commercial in Confidence excuse is rubbish. No one is going to steal your supplier. If they do, then make your product better. Passion will always beat imitation. If your competitor uses your supplier it’s a win, your supplier gets more business and can grow and make better product for everyone, particularly important in Australia where many manufacturers are struggling.
All the branding and marketing is still in your hands, differentiate yourself and beat your competition there. Bedding shouldn't be treated as a commodity. Its up to you to build a unique and awesome brand, not your supplier.
So when is it happening?
I signed the contract with Siulas a few weeks back and the linen will be completed in about a week. Shipping will take approximately a fortnight and then manufacturing in another two to four weeks. I'm really pushing to ship the finished product before the end of June.
What colours are available?
I will progressively release my new collection of five colours over the next six months, hopefully a lil quicker to ensure everything is out and finished before Christmas. I'm doing this because commissioning and producing your own fabric is expensive. The minimum quantity in one colour is about $6,000. I don't have a spare $30,000 so I will incrementally release the new range, phasing out colours in my existing range as new ones arrive. While this isn't perfect it has its benefits. I buy each colour in the minimum and I can iron out bugs. If a colour doesn't work out I can always cut it early without committing to kilometres of fabric. As I buy all of my fabric in rolls and don't actually manufacture anything until it gets here I don't have dead stock in particular colours.
How can I help?
You can pre-order your sheets. By pre-ordering and paying upfront I know exactly what to make. It guarantees you will have your linen first.
As I'm only ordering the minimum I expect this will sell out quickly. Most importantly it helps me with cash flow and allows me grow and order the next colour sooner.
What is available to pre-oder?
Just sheets first up. Doona covers, pillowcases and everything else will follow shortly.