Founder of Bed Threads, Genevieve Rosen-Biller, dishes on all things linen, and why you should absolutely forget the term "thread count".
I'd heard a lot of about the life-changing effect of switching to linen sheets. I was curious to try them out but I guess I always associated linen with being scratchy and not exactly a comfortable fabric to sleep on.
In the course of doing research for this piece I noticed something else. One of the most highly searched terms was "why are linen sheets so expensive?" And I'll admit, this was the other piece of the puzzle holding me back. A linen sheet set seemed to cost a lot. I have a double bed and most of the sets I saw were priced at $400 or more – not including a doona cover. And in some instances you had to buy all the pieces separately which sent the price to more like $800.
Recently I got the chance to chat to Genevieve Rosen-Biller, founder of Bed Threads. A relatively new company, Bed Threads sells 100% flax linen sheet sets with a twist. When Genevieve herself was shopping for linen sheets some years ago she noticed the same thing as me – the products available weren't great, they were way too expensive and you couldn't buy them conveniently. So she set out to disrupt the market. Why couldn't high-quality linens be affordable, easy to buy and beautifully styled?
Now an expert in all things linen, and certainly one of the most style-savvy women in Australia, we asked her exactly what is so good about linen bedding.
She explains that linen is "more breathable, it keeps you cool in summer and warm in winter." Especially when compared to cotton. "Plus linen ages really well," she says. "With linen, it becomes more durable and softer over time."
"Linen is one of those products that is worth investing in and keeping and using. It's something that you shouldn't have to replace every few years."
So naturally my next question was about the thread count of linen sheets. What is considered a high thread count when it comes to linen? But, as it turns out measuring the quality of your sheets by thread count isn't the best indicator of the quality Genevieve says. "Because there's no industry standard for measuring thread count, some brands can "cheat" to gain a higher thread count. Some companies measure by inches, some by centimetres and some use multiple yarns twisted together to inflate their thread count."
"The truth is, thread count is now more about how brands market their products," she says. So when you're shelling out $500 for a 1,200 thread count set of cotton sheets, you might not actually be getting what you paid for.
Instead, of labels or marketing gimmicks, Genevieve focused on style and comfort. "I wanted to create something that actually does what it says," she says. "Plus linen is beautiful to look at - you don't have to iron it, and it actually looks better when it's crumpled."
Of course we had to know, what are the best selling and hottest colours in Bed Threads sheets? And the answer was surprising. "Our top selling colours are Olive and Rust - the really bold colours. You automatically think that white is going to be your top seller."
"I think this is because a lot of our customers - who are generally milennial women - are renters, and while they might not be allowed to hang a piece of art on their wall, they can choose a striking set of sheets and style it in a way that it becomes the central focal point of their bedroom."
But the main point of difference for Genevieve and for Bed Threads was price. "At Bed Threads, our goal has always been to make beautiful, natural homewares accessible to everyone. Linen by nature is an expensive product, but we have halved the cost by cutting out middle-men. Because why should it be reserved for some people and not for the rest?"
Read the full Q&A with Genevieve Rosen-Biller below or head to Bed Threads to see more.
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Finder: Straight up. Is linen bedding better than cotton?
For a number of reasons, yes! Legend has it that cotton or Egyptian cotton reign supreme, but this isn't necessarily true. Linen measures up against cotton as a stiff competitor: it is all natural; it is more breathable; it keeps the body cool in summer and warm in the winter; and it is less taxing on the environment to produce.
Unlike cotton, linen actively adjusts to your body temperature—insulating and cooling accordingly—making it an ideal bedfellow for optimal sleep and for hot climates like ours in Australia. Linen is also an especially hardworking material—it absorbs up to 20 times its weight in water, meaning we won't lose sleep even if our bodies sweat overnight.
I think having something that is transeasonal is really appealing. And something that actually does what it says. Plus it's beautiful, you don't have to iron it, it looks better when it's crumpled. It adds a relaxed and refined finish to any space. It looks beautiful, its easy to live with and maintain. And it feels amazing.
Linen is one of those products that is worth investing in and keeping and using. It's something that you shouldn't have to replace every few years.
Finder: Isn't linen a bit scratchy? What's it like to sleep on?
Genevieve: Certainly—linen can be quite terse and rough at first. That's why at Bed Threads, any linen that is purchased comes pre-washed, meaning it's ultra-soft and ready to spread onto your bed upon arrival.
Unlike other manchesters that might feel soft on arrival but soon wear and tear, linen actually becomes softer and more durable the longer you use it; it ages really well.
Finder: Why did you decide to start Bed Threads?
Genevieve: When I was looking for linen bedding for myself a few years ago, I found I was priced out of that option. Besides the astronomical price points—with linen averaging between $500-$800—no set that came complete with two pillowcases, a duvet cover and a fitted sheet existed. Instead, any set that was available on the market included only a flat sheet—even if one had no use for it! I thought to myself, "why does nothing exist for the average customer?" A set that delivered Australia-wide and came in a range of modern colours at an acceptable price point was surely in demand—and so the idea for Bed Threads came about.
It took me two years to find pure linen bedding at an acceptable price point that was created ethically and sustainable. I realised I could keep the price down with a direct-to-consumer brand. Plus this allowed me to deliver the product I wanted, pure linen bedding that's sustainable, environmentally friendly that are made in an ethical way. I wanted no plastic packaging, two pillow cases with a fitted sheet and duvet cover, delivered for free anywhere in Australia. And of course, available in a range of stylish colours.
At Bed Threads, we didn't want to ever price anyone out of enjoying beautiful natural material. Because why should it be reserved for some people and not for the rest?
Finder: Can you measure linen by threadcount? Should we be looking at threadcount at all?
Genevieve: What we've come to learn about high-quality thread count is that it is artificially engineered. In order to market a product as superior, a lot of brands up the numbers of their thread counts in inorganic ways.
In truth, thread count is measured according to GSM (grams per square metre), relating to a product's weight. Without an industry standard for measuring thread count, existent brands can "cheat" to gain a higher thread count by measuring by inches, centimetres, or by twisting multiple yarns together to inflate their thread count. In short, what this means for consumers is that thread count is not the best nor the most accurate indicator of the quality of a sheet.
Finder: What are your top picks in terms of colour?
Genevieve: My top two picks are our brand new colours that we just launched for summer, Rust and Terracotta. What we're seeing at the moment is a swing back to warmer hues. While cooler tones such as blues, greens and greys have dominated the past few seasons,we're recognising that consumers are drawn back to mid-century modern styles and warmer tones. Pantone announced 2019's Colour of the Year, Living Coral, fits squarely into this trend, too. These hues add warmth to any space and complement wooden bed frames or mid-century accents throughout the room in perfect symbiosis.
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But our bestselling colours are Olive and Rust—our boldest shades. It's been really surprising to be honest. This has been especially surprising; one automatically assumes that White or Oatmeal—quieter, muted shades—would be bestsellers. I quickly realised that a lot of our customers are millennial women who might be renting. What this means is that while these women might be unable to hang a piece of art on their wall or outfit an already furnished apartment, they can choose a striking sheet set to style the room and inject their personal taste into their homes.
Previously, the bedding category bisected across two kinds of retailers: the high end that stocked very neutral colours (whites, greys) and the accessible, lower end (where prints and bright tones dominated). At Bed Threads, we wanted to disrupt this division with our wide range of available colour-ways, catering to a universal audience while simultaneously offering colours that were trendy yet trans-seasonal.
Finder: There is a little bit of sway towards smaller direct-to-consumer brands right now. Why do you think that is?
Genevieve: People aren't going in-store or to beauty counters for recommendations. They're scrolling Instagram; they're looking for the best product they can find with the money they've got. They're tired of being overcharged for things. But they are also flexible in the knowledge that they will find an appropriate alternative elsewhere. Customers are more savvy now, so you have to do the right thing by them. People want transparency, they want sustainability. They care about how and where their product is made. And that's what we've always been a huge advocate of – transparency. That's how I felt as a consumer, I was tired of being overcharged. Just because it's always been done a certain way, doesn't mean it has to continue like that. Luxurious products don't have to break the bank.
What smaller direct-to-customer brands can offer is a luxury product at a digestible price point; our whole proposition is affordable luxury. We've cut out the middle man. Whereas consumers may get lost in the transactions made in other bigger brands that engage indirectly with their audiences, all of our linen is quality controlled, we heed customer feedback and we oversee the full customer journey from perusal to purchase to delivery. We are seeing a surge towards direct-to-customer brands across fashion beauty and home. People want brands that talk directly to their customers and listen to their feedback.