How These Four Founders Built a Premium Bedding Brand From Scratch

Morrow Soft Goods | Shopify Retail blog

Sometimes the most magical ideas are hatched while casually chatting with friends — which is exactly what happened when two California-based married couples, from four different professional backgrounds, were out at a dinner party.

It almost sounds like the premise of a joke or a movie: what happens when a fashion designer, an architect, a designer/illustrator, and a marketing/strategy executive walk into a bar?

The punchline: They knew they had what it takes to create products that they themselves would be proud to own.

Morrow president and cofounder Michelle Paul Toney explains: “We were having dinner together and were talking about business ideas and/or new products we wanted to see on the market, and the home textile space emerged as a mutual passion. This was casual chatter. There was no intent behind the conversation, but it sparked a realization that we all had complementary skill sets and similar aesthetics and would make a great team.”

“It took a few weeks of ideating for us to really make a choice to pursue starting something. We began having weekly meetings and before you know it, we were creating a brand and a business together. We don’t take for granted that the timing and the people were right! The four of us are pretty committed, diligent, and practical humans and we truly work well together as a group.”

And so, Morrow launched in October of 2016 with this mission in mind: A premium interior home textiles company that features a collection of linen bedding and Alpaca throws.

A Perfect Pairing: Morrow’s Founding Members

Michelle Paul Toney was teaching architecture and interiors, but was ready to branch out into a new venture in the design world that wasn’t a traditional architecture practice; Michelle’s husband, James Toney III, was the founder of a successful digital creative agency. Scott Cleary’s background was in illustration and graphic design, so it was a natural fit to manage art direction of the whole brand; Scott’s wife Stephanie Cleary is an experienced fashion designer, so she was familiar with the process of designing and manufacturing textiles.

Each of the founders has a global perspective, and the team embraces this diversity in their aesthetic inspiration, design process, and manufacturing — which is why their complementary skillsets have combined well to create this successful soft goods brand.

More About Morrow

Morrow soft goods, media attention | Shopify Retail blogWhen asked to describe its mission statement, the answer you’ll receive is definitive: “Morrow’s only focus is creating the world's most stylish, comfortable, and durable soft goods.”

Takeaway #1: Be clear and concise with your “why.” It should be focused and serve to guide you in all marketing and branding decisions.

So what does “Morrow” mean? Michelle explains:

“The phrase ‘Soft Goods’ came first as a way we started referring to our idea of making interior home textiles. We liked the look, sound and feel of the word ‘Morrow’ as an abstract word. We also really like the meaning: ‘morrow’ is an old English word for tomorrow. This notion of looking forward to the next day categorically tied nicely into our launch with bedding and sleep, etc.”

The Morrow team also honed in on their target customer: the “design progressive” consumer, older than 25, and thoughtful about the purchases they make in all categories and the things they bring into their home. They have the income to value quality and design. (To give you an idea of pricing, the Alpaca blankets range from $299 to $319, while classic French linen sheet sets are priced at $275.)

Equipped with a tight mission statement and clearly identified buyer persona, the Morrow team was ready to take on its tomorrows with its new brand and website.

As a matter of fact, it was while Michelle was working on the website that she experienced the entrepreneurial “a-ha” moment of “this is really happening!”

“I had traveled to Vermont for a close friend’s wedding but really ended up working at the hotel most of the weekend trying to perfect our Shopify store and get us ready to launch by our target date. I was incredibly excited because we were so close and I couldn’t wait to launch!”

They were greeted by some exciting media mentions right out the gate: Their launch was featured in MyDomaine and they received coverage in Lonny, Rue, PopSugar, Sunset Magazine, Interiors California, and Angeleno Magazine. They also have an upcoming mention in Gwyneth Paltrow’s online lifestyle destination, Goop, which is slated for the end of May.

The Morrow team decided to work with a PR agency (an expensive feat for a small business), which has paid off in terms of credibility and awareness.

Michelle explains: “When launching a brand, we have found that press really helps lay the foundation for ‘legitimacy’ and helps the long-term potential of the brand.”

Defining Morrow’s Curated Collection

Morrow blankets | Shopify Retail blogThe truth is, Morrow’s timing couldn’t have been more perfect. We’re currently living in an era where “staying in is the new going out.” Whether it’s being cozy at home and indulging in some self care, enjoying a Netflix binge, or having friends over for dinner or game night, staying at home is among the top wellness trends of the year according to lifestyle pub Well + Good.

It’s also a time where the Danish term “hygge” is becoming mainstream: “hygge” is defined as “a quality of coziness and comfortable conviviality that engenders a feeling of contentment or well-being.”

And speaking of self care, quality sleep is right up there as a key wellness trend, as is the notion of creating proper sleep rituals and making your bed a sanctuary (media mogul Arianna Huffington focuses on this in her book, The Sleep Revolution).

With competition in the bedding and home industry, especially from more commercial, mass brands, Morrow’s clear vision and focus has served as a key to success. Their collection started out with a focus on linen bedding and Alpaca throws; they have since expanded to include more colors and patterns of bedding and throws.

The linen sheets and throws seemed like a viable minimum combination to begin. We wanted to use our resources wisely and not start with too many items, but at the same time we felt we needed more than either just linens or throw blankets to put together a photoshoot, an aesthetic and a brand.

“For the bedding, we tested everything: cotton percale, cotton sateen, bamboo/cotton blends, silk/cotton blends, linens, etc. with several factories in several countries. Of all of these, through multiple washes and nights of use, the linen was a clear favorite for the combination of softness, performance, and durability. The look of the fabric is also just right; it’s not too shiny, not too dull, but beautifully captures light. For the throw blankets, we loved the idea of something that is valued in the home as a special piece for years and years — not just this season’s trendy object. We really got lucky when we found the fair-trade collective in Peru that we work with.”

Takeaway #2: Start with a curated collection and test, test, test every option when it comes to materials and final product. Look at every detail.

Morrow also pays special attention to the packaging of its goods and the team is admittedly “obsessed” with every little detail. For example, each linen set comes “wrapped in love,” in a reusable drawstring linen bag.

One of the partners, Scott (whose background includes illustration and graphic design), designed all the packaging. As a design-driven brand, it was important that the packaging was custom, looked good and was “a good experience” to receive.

Michelle continues: “We really wanted customers to have a positive feeling about the brand when their order arrives. Since we don’t have any brick and mortar retail stores, we consider this “unboxing” the only tangible point of customer service interaction; as a result, we created custom boxes, thank you cards, linen bags, etc. Just because the person has already purchased, doesn’t mean we take that sale for granted. We really want to spark a long-term affinity for the brand and make a good impression.”

On display. . . 📷 @taiyo_watanabe

A post shared by Morrow Soft Goods (@morrowsoftgoods) on

There is more to bedding and blankets than we think!

Michelle clarifies: “You might think a duvet is a duvet or a sheet is a sheet, but seam placement, what kind of stitching they are constructed with, whether there are zippers or buttons, how the pillow closure is designed, where the labels are placed... all of this is specified by us. The design gets more complicated for woven products with patterns or designs and distinct weaves. All of this is dictated by us in the design process. It takes a lot of shipping samples back and forth for us to make sure the manufacturer understands our ‘directions’ correctly. Nothing replaces this physical back and forth to make sure the product is correct.”

Morrow’s Footprint

Morrow linen collection | Shopify Retail blogMorrow can currently be found online, along with a handful of select retail stores on the West Coast.

“Our sales are primarily direct-to-consumer, digital sales,” Michelle explains. “At this moment it’s about 80% online, 20% wholesale. We view wholesale opportunities as a way to help get our name out there and our product seen by the target market. We have some amazing wholesale partners, but have been highly selective about these choices.”

As for marketing, Morrow does a combination of things: online advertising (primarily Facebook/Instagram and remarketing, wholesale placement with other stores, and events.

Advice To Aspiring Entrepreneurs

Morrow linens | Shopify Retail blogEven with exciting media mentions at the time of Morrow’s launch, owning a new business in a high-end industry isn’t always a bed of roses.

“Launching new products is important to us, but because we are custom designing everything and we are quite picky with the final products, our products really take a lot of back and forth with the manufacturer and a long time to develop,” Michelle notes. “This can be frustrating in a fast-moving, competitive landscape. But in the end, making sure each product is amazing is the most important thing and has served us well thus far.”

Takeaway #3: Quality is key to Morrow’s raison d’etre — and that’s an important business value to adhere to.

As for advice to other aspiring entrepreneurs?

Trust your instincts and just keep going. It’s an uphill climb and it’s not going to fall in your lap.

"Keep climbing and if anything is making you feel unsettled along the way, pay attention to those gut feelings because they can teach you a lot about how to make the right decisions for you and your business. Don’t be afraid to change course if you need to."

Takeaway #4: Agility and the ability to pivot is key in any industry!

What Tomorrow Has In Store For Morrow

Although Morrow has only been around for less than a year, it’s clearly moving in the right direction, with exciting plans in the works.

“We are developing several new items that really explore texture and design, and expanding the range of the brand. We also have some new retail partnerships on the horizon that we are very excited about, so stay tuned!”

The Morrow team has clearly created a collection that sweet dreams are made of. And we can’t wait to see what’s next.