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There’s even a Warby Parker of towels now

Weezie wants to shake up a mundane industry with design.

There’s even a Warby Parker of towels now
[Photo: Weezie]

Who’s your favorite towel-maker? If you’re anything like me, you’re probably struggling to think of a single towel brand. Some of the best recommended towels on Amazon have names so forgettable–Superior, Martex, Pinzon–you’d need to go back to your order history to remember what you bought. The brands stocked by Target and Bed, Bath & Beyond are just as boring. And in any case, since most towels aren’t built to be particularly durable, you’re likely to throw them out after a few months anyway.

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[Photo: Weezie]
Weezie wants to change that. It’s the latest entrant in the wave of startups that want to fill your home with direct-to-consumer products. As millennials enter full-blown nesting mode, they’re ditching the traditional home retailers and looking for online options. In fact, home goods is the fastest-growing product category sold on the internet, reaching $15 billion in sales, and twenty and thirty-somethings are driving this spike. They’re buying their sofa from Burrow, tableware from Year & Day, sheets from Brooklinen, and pots from Made In. Why wouldn’t they buy their towels from a hip, new, digitally native brand too?

“Most people we know don’t love their towel brand,” says Liz Eichholz, who cofounded the company with Lindsey Johnson. “In fact, most of don’t even know what brand of towel is hanging in our bathroom. That’s so strange because towels are something we use every day.”

Today Weezie launches online, selling towels made in Portugal from long-staple organic cotton that you can customize with monograms for $15 apiece. For now, the brand only sells white towels (although you can pick different piping colors for the edges, including blue, gray, and sand). A bath towel costs $58, two hand towels cost $40, and a pair of washcloths cost $20. A full starter pack, which contains four bath towels and two hand towels comes at a 15% discount, at $230. These towels are about twice as expensive as the mid-range towels you can get from Target or Amazon, and on par with luxury brands like Sferra.

[Photo: Weezie]

Johnson and Eichholz met a decade ago through mutual friends (the brand’s name is a nod to Johnson’s grandmother Louise, or Weezie, who always had fresh towels in the guest room to welcome visitors). As they began getting married and setting up their own homes, they noticed a glaring lack of towel brands that spoke their language in terms of design and quality. They set out to create the products they wished existed, and they say they’re funding the venture themselves to retain control over the company–at least early on.

The duo seem to be hoping to replicate the success of brands like Away, which spiced up the extremely dull category of luggage with products, stores, collaborations, and imagery that appealed to twenty- and thirty-something consumers. Away managed to gain traction through it Instagram channel, which reposted many pictures from customers proudly photographing their suitcases in different parts of the world. The brand sold half a million suitcases in its first two years, then snagging a $50 Series C round earlier this year to keep growing.

[Photo: Weezie]
While it may seem odd to focus specifically on a single basic product–the towel–Weezie’s founders were intrigued by the design challenge it presented. After many focus groups, they discovered that people wanted towels that were fluffy but also dried quickly. The problem is that most fast-drying towels aren’t particularly soft. And they also didn’t want towels that produced lint. “Often, brands are trading off softness for absorbency, or the other way around,” says Johnson.

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They spent months visiting towel factories around the world, and discovered a family-owned factory in Portugal that has a long history in the business. Weezie’s towels use organic cotton that’s Oeko-Tex certified to be free of harmful chemicals. The long length of the cotton means its threads are less likely to break and create lint, and the company also incorporated a Japanese weaving technology that traps air within the towel, helping it dry quickly. (A feature I can attest to, since I tested an early version of the product.)

[Photo: Weezie]

In the duo’s focus groups, they also discovered that women often ruined their towels by accidentally smudging it with makeup. To that end, they’ve created special makeup towels that come in two designs, one with emoji eyelids and the other with the words “stain me” scrawled on it. The idea? To keep the full-sized towels stain-free longer–and cut down on the number of towels that get thrown away.

Ultimately, Johnson and Eichholz want to create towels that people will use for years. They found that part of the reason that many consumers don’t seem to care about their towels is because they they think of them as short-term purchases. They assume it won’t take long for them to get stained, begin shedding lint, or get moldy because they don’t dry quickly enough. Weezie’s founders hope that if customers use their towels for years, they’ll develop the loyalty that’s evaded other brands.

“We’re thinking of towels as more than just a functional item,” says Eichholz. “We want people to feel an emotional connection to them, as they enjoy the fluffy sensation on their skin after a shower. We want them to be a beautiful bathroom accessory.”

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About the author

Elizabeth Segran, Ph.D., is a staff writer at Fast Company. She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts

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