More than just a brand creating bedding, sleepwear, and other essentials, Sleep Project Indonesia sets out to embrace e-commerce, fair employment, and environmental responsibility
The last time we talked to Rory Asyari, about half a year ago, we mentioned a bit about his jump into entrepreneurship. Today, we take a closer look at the brand he co-founded: Sleep Project Indonesia. As a producer of bedding, sleepwear, and other essential sleep-related products, Sleep Project has grown markedly. “As more people stay at home, they become more concerned with comfort, so they put more money into it – they invest into the comfort of living at home,” the ex-news anchor commented.
So far, Sleep Project has made quite a name for itself for quality at affordable prices, and its strong presence in various e-commerce platforms. In fact, the brand doesn’t have a brick-and-mortar store, nor is it available in malls, retailers, and so forth. No less interesting – and perhaps even more so – is the brand’s focus on being what it calls “a force for good” in terms of its environmental and societal impact. To learn more about Sleep Project Indonesia, we caught up again with Rory for a conversation about the ideas behind this venture of his.
Can you tell us about the origin story of Sleep Project?
I think like many beginning entrepreneurs who are still learning, we wanted something that would yield results. But we made a note that it can’t be a business that would be dictated by trends, that would change according to trends, and instead be something that people needed. We thought: why not bedding? All this time, when we think about bedding, we think either about the upper end sold at department stores at really high prices, or the bottom tier sold at Tanah Abang, Mangga Dua, or even those offered by street peddlers. So, we created a middle-ground alternative: The same quality as what you’ll find at department stores, but at the much more affordable price point. In the end, we came up with the idea to create Sleep Project with that image.
Is there a story behind the name “Sleep Project”? It certainly hints at something beyond just products…
At the beginning we were also asking ourselves what it is that we wanted to create. Just products, or as a campaign? So, if you look up Sleep Project on Instagram, there are two accounts. One is where we sell our products, the other one is about education. We want to educate people about the importance of sleep. Sometimes, this becomes an important matter that’s severely underestimated. Sleep Project’s mission is to educate people, to urge people to invest more in sleep.
Furthermore, Sleep Project was born out of our drive to not only generate profit, but also to contribute to the communities around us and minimize our environmental impact. One example is eliminating plastics. As much as possible we use no plastics at all, except for shipment. And we actually tried doing that completely without plastic, but we were forced to still use bubble wrap to avoid damaging our products. Other than that, throughout our entire line of business, we use alternative material that can be reused by the customer.
Other than the importance of sleep and environmental awareness, we also want our business to be profitable for as many people as possible. So, for instance, we created a batik edition to empower batik artisans in Solo who are struggling during this pandemic. We want the existence of Sleep Project to be beneficial not just in terms of profits, but also for the people connected to it and for the environment.
In terms of products, what is it that sets Sleep Project apart?
Compared to what you’ll find at department stores, we have the same level of quality, materials, quality of stitching. But our prices are much, much lower; perhaps a quarter or sometimes even a fifth, because we don’t have to rent retail space, we don’t have to hire salespeople, and we don’t operate huge factories with big machinery and so forth. Everything we produce is handmade and we employ craftsmen who live not far from our workshop in Tomang, Jakarta. I want to encourage the idea that when you buy something, you don’t receive just the product, but also the impact of what it is that we purchase.
You’re best known as journalist and news anchor. How did you learn to become an entrepreneur? Both in terms of running a business and gaining knowledge about the products you sell…
I’m self-taught. There was a time when I would have to go to Tanah Abang or Mangga Dua up to three or four times a week. I’d have to visit suppliers in Bandung, Cirebon, and Solo. But those are the best learning grounds, because we didn’t understand anything. It was there that I learned about things like market tastes, types of fabric, the advantage of certain materials – all from the merchants at Mangga Dua, Pasar Baru, Tanah Abang and so forth.
From there, we built the core of the business. And then comes the people to make it happen. At first, we actually thought about simply reselling. But then our perspective about the business changed and we asked ourselves, why not create our own products? We don’t have the human resources, the equipment, the production space, so why not work together with existing garment producers for starters? And so, Sleep Project began, step by step. I had to actually do things by myself at the time, from packing to steaming finished sheets until two in the morning.
This was truly a business that we built up from scratch. We had no idea, we were totally blind, and we have the bumps and bruises to show for it. But we learned from all that until we learned about the ins and outs of bedding, sheets, fabrics and so on. There’s a lot still left to learn, but bit by bit we’re getting the hang of it.
Earlier you mentioned about collaborating with batik artisans. Can you elaborate on that? And will we see more collaborations like this in the future?
You will see more of these. We’ve worked together with a batik maker called Jarikan. They’re based in Solo and they sell their batik very selectively. What comes next is still a secret, but basically, we are very open to collaborations. One of those will be with a designer who works a lot with traditional fabrics. And we share the same spirit, the same eagerness to utilize batik, tenun, ikat, and other fabrics not only for outfits, particularly those you go out in, but also for things at home. We want traditional fabrics to become part of our way of life, so that the craftsmen working on them can stay afloat during these times when we can’t be out and about.
In the Our Value page on Sleep Project’s website, the brand shares about how it employs college students to help them become independent. Tell us more about this…
We embrace young people because when we, my partner and I, were in college, we were very poor. We had to work very hard while studying to afford tuition. So, we have firsthand experience of how hard it can be. I thought hard about how our business can help those who are struggling to finish their studies, and now, many of our employees are college students. By working at Sleep Project, they can make ends meet while also paying their tuition.
I’ve been in that position, but I was less fortunate in that there was no e-commerce at the time, no social media, so a lot of the work was physical and you often had to commute a lot. With today’s technology, you can work part time while also studying online.
Let’s get back to Sleep Project’s eco-friendly approach. In your opinion, how conscious are consumers in Indonesia about environmental issues and environmentally-friendly products?
You have to admit that there is still a lot of work to be done, particularly for the middle to lower income segments. Perhaps it all boils down to education, literacy, and exposure to relevant information. But for millennials, particularly from the middle to high income parts of society, concern is already high. There’s a study – I can’t remember exactly which one it was but it’s a principle that I hold on to – that says how millennials are more environmentally-conscious, so they tend to select products with smaller carbon footprints, smaller environmental impact.
When I was in college, I worked part time at The Body Shop, so I was exposed to ideas and concepts like being nature-friendly, against animal testing, fair trade, and also fair payment for employees. I wanted to apply these to my business. And, thank God, a lot of people see this as what sets us apart. But I don’t just want to adopt this as a point of differentiation, but we want to also show the public that you can buy something – including fashion and living essentials – while also minimalizing how it impacts our environment.
Last question: How do you see Sleep Project growing in the next one or two years?
Usually, when people create a brand, they will set up a showroom, then try to get their products into malls, for instance. Sleep Project will continue to be online-based due to our spirit of fairness. Fairness in pricing, in quality … you get what you pay for. In the next one or two years, we will continue to be online, but with greater reach, including more varied products.
Secondly, we want to collaborate with more people. We want our business to be inclusive, and therefore include more people, more artisans – and thereby impact the lives of more people.
(All images: Sleep Project Indonesia)