Mom Crush: Meet Missy Tannen of Boll & Branch
Five years ago, the Chatham mom of three launched the online company with her husband, Scott. Today, the Summit-based business is one of the world’s top luxury bedding brands.
Boll & Branch
You were a third grade teacher and your husband a video game developer when you started Boll & Branch. What inspired the idea for the business and its name?
Having never worked in the textile industry, we were inspired to create Boll & Branch because we were consumers who were dissatisfied by all of the options in the market. We simply wanted a great product that would feel soft, last a long time and be made in a quality way (and wasn’t so confusing to shop for). It was only after we dug into the bedding industry that we realized the negative impact that the textile trade had on the workers and the land. We knew we could make a better product and make it in a better way that could have a lasting positive impact on the world. We took a leap of faith and created Boll & Branch!
We spent over a month’s time and hundreds of options in naming our company. We wanted it to have meaning to us, so ultimately we came back to the heart of what makes this all possible-- the cotton plant. The white fluffy fibers that we all think of when we visualize a cotton plant grows out of the `Boll’ which, naturally, grows on a `Branch.’ We realized early-on that to truly make a better product in a better way, everything we created had to start with the finest, natural, organic cotton.
Your commitment to ethically made and sustainably sourced items is core to your business. Can you tell us about that commitment and the economic opportunities you’ve created for farmers and factory workers in the process?
When you create a business from scratch, nothing is a given and everything is a choice. For us, we would have had to make a conscious decision to ignore the social plight of cotton farmers and factory workers in the developing world to accept the status quo that the big retail brands in the US have accepted for generations.
Today, Boll & Branch is among a very small number of brands in any category, worldwide, that can tout a fully traceable and sustainable supply chain. Said simply, we treat the people responsible for making our products just as we’d like to be treated.
Most businesses go from brick and mortar to online but you did the opposite. What led you to open your first store in Short Hills Mall?
For the past five years, our company has been an e-commerce company. We continue to be so, but we are interested in being present in the physical world as well. Historically, buying sheets has been a category where people want to touch and feel them in person. We’ve become trusted for being a “go to” brand online, but we realize that there are still some people who’d like to feel them in person before buying them. In deciding where to open our first retail store, the Mall at Short Hills was a perfect choice-- we are proud that New Jersey is our home, and our company office is located in Summit, a short five-minute drive. Our entire office team is present from time to time in our retail store. Even though our physical presence helps customers be able to touch and feel our products, we learn so much from them just by talking and getting their feedback in person.
Boll & Branch
You’ve become one of biggest bedding brands in the online world and have committed to keeping your headquarters in Summit. How important is it for you to keep this business in NJ?
We’ve grown past our wildest dreams, and are one of the leading online bedding brands. But that growth, means lots of good things—in particular we have become the largest purchaser of Fair Trade Organic Cotton in the world (Source: Textiles Exchange Annual Insights Report, 2018). We are proud that the thoughtful choices we made in creating our products and supply chain have actually had a massive positive impact on the world.
As we’ve grown, so have the number of people working in our headquarter office in Summit, NJ. We are proud that our business is part of our local community, and we have every intention of staying here (in the middle of December, we are moving to a larger, permanent office space with room to grow further…also in Summit). We have many New Jersey residents, who used to commute into New York City and now get to work closer to home and their families. We are also within walking distance from the Summit train station for those on our team who do the reverse commute.
What’s it been like to juggle the business with raising three kids?
The juggle is real! I had stayed home with our daughters for a few years prior to starting a business…my transition was from zero to sixty over the period of a few 6 months (from when the website launched to working full time). I just take one day at a time, and I’ve learned to become more flexible. There are days when I’ve forgotten something that one of my girl’s needs, or I feel like I could have done something better at work. But then there are days when I feel like I rocked it and everything just worked. In the end, I’ve come to the realization that in juggling everything, all I can do is do my best, and not beat myself up when things don’t go as I’d imagined. Just making it through a day can sometimes be a huge win.
Our children have been part of Boll & Branch before it was even an idea. So, they’ve gotten to see the hard work behind the scenes and the growth of our team and company. In fact, our team (near and abroad) have been a huge part of their lives, positively impacting them on their journey from childhood to young adulthood.
What advice do you have for moms aspiring to start their own businesses?
If you’re considering starting your own business, I’d recommend making sure you have all of the supports in place, and quickly add them when you find a hole somewhere. You cannot do everything that you used to do PLUS everything needed for building a business, so you need to choose where you spend your time wisely. You will need to ask for help from friends, family and babysitters, to make the transition smoothly for your family.
What’s next for Boll & Branch?
We’re excited about the evolution of retail. It’s an opportunity for Boll & Branch to share our products but more importantly the story of our people, our beliefs and our impact. You will hear about innovative retail experiences in the coming weeks and months from us.
This is such an extraordinary time with unprecedented opportunities to rapidly build businesses that have a real impact on the world we live in. I’m excited and optimistic for the next generation of founders, and would encourage them to “build good” into their business models from day one.