Co-founder of luxury bed-in-a-box brand herdysleep, Darren Marcangelo, discusses the business, why ethical design is so important, and the Lake District’s iconic Herdwick sheep.
As the UK’s bed-in-a-box industry continues to boom, you would expect any newcomer to struggle to make waves in the condensed market. However, the opposite is true for British brand herdysleep – which is certainly giving its competitors a run for their money. Founded by Lake District brand herdy, in collaboration with Harrison Spinks (one of the UK’s leading luxury bed manufacturers), herdysleep is a start-up that is celebrating its second anniversary this month.
herdy is a delightful homeware and accessories brand that takes its inspiration from the grandeur of the Lake District, and more specifically, the iconic Herdwick sheep. By collaborating with master bed makers Harrison Spinks, herdy has taken its love of the Herdwicks one step further: using the sheep’s wool as the foundation for luxury mattresses. To coincide with the company’s second anniversary, we spoke to herdysleep’s co-founder Darren Marcangelo, discovering why this brand may yet outrun its bed-in-a-box counterparts.
Marcangelo begins by explaining how herdysleep began. It was, he says, “pure chance… Simon [Spinks, of Harrison Spinks] stumbled across one of herdy’s stores on a family trip to the Lake District. He managed to get speaking to one of the owners and said ‘maybe we could do something together?’ That’s how it was born – a collaboration was started.”
Though the brand derives its name from the Herdwick sheep, before the collaboration most of herdy’s products didn’t use any Herdwick wool, because of its coarse nature and dark colour. However, this changed when the team discovered that Herdwick wool is perfect for mattresses. “The coarser the wool, the better it is for a mattress,” Marcangelo explains. “The coarser it is, the springier the wool becomes.”
Another reason Herdwick wool is ideal for mattresses is due to the environment the sheep live in. “The Lake District can get very cold,” Marcangelo says. “It can be down at -15C when the sheep have their nice thick winter coats on. They’re often at the top of the fells, and they’ll keep their fleece sometimes right through until June; Herdwick sheep can go from -20C to +30C sometimes before they’re sheered.”
“Their ability to regulate their temperature because of their wool is ideal to put into a mattress,” he continues. “We found the Herdwick sheep wool is the best for that temperature regulating property. It’s not just that they’re a cute and lovable breed!” After all, as studies show and Marcangelo mentions, getting a good night’s sleep is “all about your body temperature, and maintaining the constant rather than being too cold or too warm.”
“I don’t think people always fully understand that wool has that ability to regulate your body temperature,” Marcangelo muses. It’s one of the reasons why herdysleep’s team focuses on educating their customers and sharing the information. “We certainly do try and get that information out, and our customer service team will try and educate people as much as possible of the benefits of sleeping on a natural product.”
Education is also key when it comes to highlighting the Herdwick sheep, which are ingenious to the Lake District. Interestingly, Marcangelo explains that prior to herdysleep creating a demand for Herdwick wool, “there wasn’t a lot of usage for it. Some farmers were actually burning it. It’s also dark grey whereas most people want light, white wool. The farmers had to take it to be weighed, and it was costing them to sheer the sheep and transport it, so lots of them were burning it.”
“We’re now in a position where the farmers we’re working with are absolutely delighted; they’ve got an additional income stream that they didn’t have previously,” he continues. More than this, the Herdwick sheep can remain an integral part of the Lake District’s eco-system. “They do keep the Lake District looking what they look like,” Marcangelo says. “If you didn’t have the Herdwicks, there would be a lot more bushes and shrubs – the landscape would change if the sheep weren’t there.”
herdysleep’s co-founder explains that when the brand began, it was only working with one farmer. Two years on, he says that the company have “a few farmers that we’re working with, and it’s putting that infrastructure in place. We are dealing with a natural product, and it’s the supply chain that has to be worked and thought through as best as possible. We pay the farmers quite a bit above the market rate to try and give something back to the local farming community.”
So how exactly does this dark grey wool get used within a herdysleep mattress? The explanation begins with why the company chose to go with a bed-in-a-box: it was what the residential market demanded. All Herdysleep mattresses can be folded and rolled so that they can go into a box for quick and easy delivery. “People are been fed up with waiting six to eight weeks to order a mattress and have it delivered,” Marcangelo says. “They want to be able to get it online and know that it will be delivered in the next few days.”
“Because of that folding, rolling and putting it in the box, we need a small amount of foam in the bottom [of the mattress],” he elaborates. “[Then there are] three layers of pocket springs, and the Herdwick wool right at the top of the mattress, just under the fabric that you sleep on. That way you’re getting the benefit of the temperature regulation as close to the sleeper as possible. It’s predominantly Herdwick wool, but we do blend it with a bit of cotton and cashmere to soften it up.”
The process of creating a mattress begins when the farmers sheer the sheep, between late May and late June. “Once they’re sheered, we take the wool to be cleaned,” Marcangelo explains. “We take [the wool] back to the factory in Leeds and process it into a nice fluffy pad that we can use within the mattress. Every element of the mattress – from the foam to pocket springs, the outer fabric and wool – is sourced from the UK. The only thing we get from outside the UK is cotton and cashmere, because we don’t have the climate to have the animals and plants within the UK.”
One of the things that herdysleep prides itself on is that the company has “always tried to vertically integrate our manufacturing as much as possible,” Marcangelo says. “We’re one of the only manufacturers that is weaving our own fabric. We’re also one of a handful of mattress manufacturers in the UK that make their own pocket springs; we don’t make our own foam but it is from the UK.”
Another point of pride for herdysleep is its' mattresses ethical design. Marcangelo sees this as one of the biggest points that separates his company from other bed-in-a-box brands. “We’re probably the only [company] that is predominately [using] springs and natural materials,” he says. “When we started herdysleep we wanted to make it easy and convenient, but also be as ethical as we [could be] and pay the farmers the fair market rate.”
herdysleep also maintains its sustainability aim is by removing customers’ old mattresses and responsibly recycling them. “I think it’s an important aspect of the purchase process,” Marcangelo states. “We’re constantly thinking about end of life, and the design and the development of the next product. [Currently] there are four elements: foam, pocket springs, fabrics and natural materials. If we can take foam out, we’re down to three elements. The springs can be recycled, the natural materials go back onto the land to become fertiliser, and the fabric can be recycled. Foam is the one item that can’t be recycled.”
In the two years it has been operating, herdysleep has expanded from creating luxury mattresses, and started designing other bedroom products. “We launched pillows first, then divans, headboards, mattress protectors, [and] duvets are following very soon,” says Marcangelo. “It’s all about following through with that same philosophy, of trying to use the Herdwick wool as much as possible where it comes into contact with the user.”
By disrupting conventions in the bed-in-a-box market, herdysleep has a lot of potential to move forward – so what does the future hold for this ethical, luxury mattress company? “We’re working on the next generation of mattresses, which we’re trying to remove the foam from so it becomes as natural a product as possible,” Marcangelo reveals. “We’ve got a couple of ideas we’re working on [and] I’m hoping that in the next couple of months, version two will be launched. We’re certainly in it for the long term. I want to grow the business steadily year by year – we’re doing it bit by bit.”