When planning for how we would recognize 2023 International Women’s Day, we thought it would be interesting to interview a woman with whom we felt embodied the very foundation of the IWD. We immediately knew Angela Owen, President of Suite Sleep was the perfect person. Angela is one of our favorite vendors, and has graciously shared a few personal details, as well as how she feels about this year’s theme, #EmbraceEquity.
The Organic Mattress (TOM): Thank you for making the time to have this talk with us. We would love to start off by learning about where you grew up and where you call home now?
Angela Owen (AO): I grew up mostly in The South. I was born in New Orleans, but we moved around a lot from Louisiana, to Texas, to Florida and then finally California. It wasn’t until the turn of the millennium that I moved to Colorado to raise my family and establish real roots. Moving around and changing schools as a kid, really taught me how to make new friends quickly and become a people person.
TOM: Learning the skill of adaptability early on is probably something which has helped you become the trailblazer you are. Do you feel growing up in California also had an influence on the lifestyle you’ve chosen to live by now?
AO: I consider myself a trailblazer when it comes to environmental wellness and natural wellness.
When I was pregnant with my daughter in 1994, I started shopping at the natural foods stores and picking up the natural living magazines. It opened me up to a whole world of conscientious living practices. I bought my first organic mattress for her crib from the Natural Baby catalog, and that is where my journey began.
TOM: Your 1st foray with a “natural living” business was in 2000. In 2009 Suite Sleep was born when you transitioned that business to focus on sustainable bedding. Back in 2009, organic suppliers were not readily accessible. Neither were organic or sustainable raw materials. Guidelines and protocols were not yet established, and the consumer base for sustainable/ organic product was considerably smaller than it is today. Can you talk to us about inspiration for your initial product offering; how did you find suppliers; did your background in marketing help with establishing your brand and are any of your initial product offerings still in your line?
AO: Yes, when I moved to Colorado in 2000, initially I was going to open a store with 2 other women who had a furniture line. When that collaboration didn’t work out, I moved forward with my own concept of a natural home store. I had to quickly find vendors for all the products I wanted to carry. During college I worked in the marketing department at Wells Fargo Bank. My manager, the VP of Marketing at the time was an amazing woman who taught me so much in those 5 years. She taught me how to be strong and confident in business and how to get creative on a tight budget. I think it’s important for women to help each other succeed and she was one of those amazing mentors for me.
Initially, I modeled my store after a store I shopped at back in California, Earthsake. The original owner had 7 locations and a beautiful assortment of products for the home including mattresses from The Natural Bedroom. I brought in the Sleeptek line from Canada. It had one innerspring mattress and one 8-inch latex mattress, a wool topper and a latex topper. This was before GOTS and before GOLS, the only certification was the Control Union certificate for the organic cotton. It was also before the latest FR 1633 fire retardancy laws went into place in (2007). We offered those 2 mattresses and then later the Green Sleep system. These companies were all about quality and customization. It was great to be able to learn from them and grow my knowledge base.
With 2 young children the day-to-day retail business was very demanding and financially difficult after the dot-com crash. I decided to close my retail store and moved into a sales/ distribution role with Sleeptek from 2003 – 2008 and hence Suite Sleep was born.
In 2009 we started making our own products. Most of our current line is the same as the original products with a fresh modern look. We’ve built on all the knowledge acquired during the early years. What worked well 20 years ago is still working today. Good simple clean bedding that lasts a long time is what sustainability is all about.
TOM: Aside from style changes and expanded material options, from where your business began have you seen a shift in the demographic seeking organic home textiles.
AO: Absolutely, in the beginning our customer was the “crunchy Birkenstock” crowd as we used to say. They were passionate about natural living and the early adopters. It was a more price sensitive market and we struggled to keep the products affordable. Our current market is more affluent and other brands have helped fill the gaps for broader price points. The luxury market has greater buying power and sustainable living has become quite fashionable. We also have more vendors willing to get GOTS certified at various levels of the price spectrum. I used to only have one supplier in each raw material category that could make our textiles, latex and fiber. Now we have 2 or 3 vendors for each category. We have more patterns and colors and textures today than ever before. We also have new types of materials like Tencel™, Recycled Fibers, Wool blends. I think it is an exciting time to be able to offer more variety and truly shift the larger market.
TOM: The insight we’ve gained during this talk has given us a clear understanding of where your tenacity stems from. This is the perfect time to ask you about the theme “Embrace Equity” for 2023’s “International Women’s Day” campaign. This year’s campaign strives to create an inclusive world because equal opportunities alone simply aren't enough. How does your company "Embrace Equity" and do you feel “natural living” and sustainable awareness are inherently “inclusive”?
AO: I started my business in an industry completely dominated by white men. It was not inclusive at all and quite stuck in its ways. When I attended my first bedding conference the keynote speaker was Bridget Brennan, the author of “Why She Buys.”
The conference was well attended but I saw so many of the male executives dumbfounded by her analysis of where the market was going. The smart CEOs took her advice to heart and hired more women in top level positions, had smarter marketing directed toward women shoppers, and slowly the industry started to change. I think being a woman-owned company, equity is part of our DNA. Women tend to be better listeners, be more empathetic, and have more patience. These are invaluable tools in the mattress and bedding industry whether we are working with our customers, our vendors or our employees. Sustainability is not just a buzzword for me, if we don’t adopt more equity at every level of our lives then no one wins. The people who have been a part of the sustainable movement over the years are also the ones promoting equity and inclusion. These are the leaders who have paved the way for the myriad of companies that are now jumping in to join us.
TOM: Running a business is all-encompassing. Often women find it difficult to maintain a healthy work/life balance. Have you had success finding that balance?
AO: It has definitely been a challenge, but I think generally I have done that. When I started, I had 2 small children and I wanted to be there for their class trips, teacher conferences, summer vacations, and special events. I chose to grow slowly and maintain a boutique business that gave me the flexibility to be there for my family. Managing the growth of my company has been a benefit to both my family and my business. My husband Jim jumped in to help me when we started doing our own manufacturing. He is an excellent production manager, and I couldn’t have done it without him. Now my daughter works here in our sewing department and my son manages some of our digital marketing on the side. I love that they understand how our little family business works and why it’s important.
TOM: If there is one thing you feel each person could do, which collectively could make a positive impact on the environment what would it be?
AO: Reduce their use of plastic and Styrofoam. It is a scourge on the planet. We should just stop using it period. New plastic should be banned, and we should have laws that require all plastic to be recycled and all new plastic to made with 100% recycled content. This is 100% possible and it needs to happen.
TOM: Your passion for sustainable living has certainly been conveyed and your messages are inspiring. How about if we set business aside so we can have a little bit of fun and pick your brain about some of your favorite “go-to’s”… any favorites in terms of organic / natural skin care product?
It isn’t organic, but it is vegan, and they use glass bottles so no plastic to jam up the landfill. The ingredients are clean and fresh. It’s my favorite.
TOM: What about organic food items… are there any staples you cannot live without?
AO: All the berries! I love them all but the pesticide load on conventional berries is high. I shop at the Boulder Farmer’s Market in the summers and at Whole Foods year-round. I love to cook, so buying organic has been a way of life for me for a long time. I’ve supported so many brands that have since been bought by the bigger brands. Justin’s Nut Butters have been a staple in my house and he is a local here in Boulder. Amy’s Organics was just a tiny mac and cheese brand in the beginning and my kids love it to this day.
TOM: And lastly, in an ideal world you have 2 weeks of vacation without business calls, agendas or scheduling conflicts. You can be anywhere in the world, where would it be?
AO: Italy! I’m going in May and can’t wait. Just for pleasure, no business. I have been so lucky to be able to travel to so many wonderful places around the world for my business. Taking a trip without an agenda is rare and I’m so looking forward to this trip with my partner in crime, Jim.
TOM: Jim is a lucky guy to get uninterrupted time with you in May. And we are lucky to have had this opportunity to get to know a different side of you. Thank you again for taking the time to speak with us… Viaggi sicuri in Italia! (safe travels to Italy)
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