Behind the Brand: Piglet in Bed’s Jessica Hanley on building a homewares brand inspired by her love of the British countryside

11/03/2024

In our new ‘Behind the Brand’ series we’re sharing the stories of the exceptional founders and brands in the Active portfolio, delving into significant moments that have shaped growth, the inspiration and vision for the brand, their advice for fellow founders and much more.

Our first interview is with Jessica Hanley, the founder of Piglet in Bed, a homewares brand born in her mother’s garden shed in Sussex inspired by nature and the British countryside. We sat down with Jessica to find out more… 

Can you share the inspiration behind founding Piglet in Bed and what sets the brand apart in the market?

When I started the business in 2017, I was inspired by the startups disrupting consumer categories that I loved. Whether that was Glossier, empowering its community to determine for themselves how they wanted to use makeup, or Outdoor Voices acknowledging that oftentimes, we wear workout clothes whilst chatting with friends on a leisurely walk rather than always competing to be the fastest or most athletic. A seachange was taking place in how shoppers (in particular, women) wanted brands to market to them. The traditional top-down – slightly patronising, patriarchal – style was on its way out (thankfully), and something new was just beginning. This new approach hadn’t made much headway in homewares at the time and I saw an opportunity to nurture a brand which felt natural, effortless, even a bit scruffy – made just for those of us who wouldn’t give a second thought to ironing our sheets.

How has the business evolved since the early days in your mother’s garden shed in Sussex?

In some ways, quite a lot! In other ways, not at all. Despite significant transformations in the business and our product portfolio, we’ve kept our original focus on natural, sustainably-sourced materials, and our love and appreciation for the British countryside. That said, we have pretty dramatically expanded our range, introducing new colours, textures, materials, styles, and product categories. We’ve grown from a limited palette of linen duvet covers and pillowcases to offering heritage patterns and designs across linen, cotton, and wool, and selling bedding, towels, homewares, and new sleepwear. We also have a wonderful growing team to bring these new ranges to life!

You moved to Illinois in 2020 to grow Piglet in Bed in the US. What are some of your key learnings from launching into the US market?

Since moving to the US, I have been able to see with more clarity (and perhaps nostalgia!) how our Britishness is what makes our brand unique and timeless. Rather than trying to adapt to the US market, we are in fact looking at ways to strengthen that point of difference by leaning into British heritage prints and charm which are resonating really well with our US customers. Moreover, we’ve found our voice on social media – in particular short-form video mediums, such as TikTok – which has engaged broad new audiences in America.

Can you tell us a bit about your fundraising journey? How did you decide which investors to bring on board?

From day one, my co-founder Axel and I were very focused on profitability so that we wouldn’t be forced to fundraise in order to stay afloat. This meant that in the first few years we could grow gradually and steadily, getting to know our customers and our brand at an organic pace before we really started to scale. I am grateful for that time when we were able to lay firm foundations. 

2020 upended that steady pace. At a time when so many people suddenly found themselves homebound and seeking familiar comfort, we were able to triple the business, which revealed areas we needed to level-up our systems, processes, team, website and brand in order to capture the moment. It was at this point that we reached out to Active, who had long been our preferred fundraising partner due to their extensive experience with founder-led businesses who are focused on nurturing engaged communities.

Making the right hires and building a strong team is a key part of a company’s success. How big is your team now and what qualities do you look for in people who come to work at Piglet?

We now have a team of around 40 and are adding new people most months. Getting the right people into the right roles and creating an environment where they can thrive has such an important impact on the business as we grow. We look for positive and kind recruits who are going to add to the team culture, who exhibit entrepreneurial spirit, and who like to roll up their sleeves and help out their colleagues when we need all hands on deck!

2023 was such an exciting year for Piglet, can you give us a sneak peek at your upcoming plans for 2024 and beyond?

2023 saw us dip our toes into retail but 2024 is when we dive in! Already this year, we have opened our second shop in Bath and are preparing to open in Tunbridge Wells in a couple of weeks. We have a handful of other locations that we are exploring for later in the year. 

We also have lots of really beautiful new collections and collaborations in the works that I am so excited to launch. I can’t share too much just yet, but we have a range we have developed with Morris & Co on the way which I think is going to be a big hit!

We are also venturing into the decor space with a range of wallpapers in some of our signature prints and patterns. Let’s just say we don’t think 2024 will be about a minimalist aesthetic in your homes!

Finally, what’s your one piece of advice for a founder in the early stages of building their business?

Don’t get too distracted by the competition. As you build your team, it can be very useful to have people around you who are tracking your competitors’ moves but as a founder, I have found that you need to stay laser-focused on the clarity of your differentiated perspective and personal brand vision. I found this also can help in protecting your confidence (which can be a challenge in the early years) and persuading yourself that, like in the words of Taylor Swift ‘I’m the best thing at this party.’

 

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