Scott Tannen was a video game maker and his wife, Missy, a former third-grade teacher and full-time mother when they started Boll & Branch in 2014.
While they didn’t know much about the textile business, they were set on their mission—to create the best bedding in the world while ethically sourcing and manufacturing their products using the world’s finest organic cotton.
The upstarts’ formula is working—Boll & Branch is on track to sell nearly $40 million in sheets and towels in just its third year of business.
What was your motivation for creating Boll & Branch?
It stemmed from my motivation to make buying bedding easier. In Boll & Branch, we’ve set out to prove you can produce luxury goods, sustainably, without passing additional costs to the customer. We accomplished this by re-creating a supply-chain that has been wrongly considered an acceptable status quo for generations.
How much did you know about bedding when you started three years ago?
I had 35+ years of sleeping on bedding… and that’s about it. Missy (my wife/co-founder) was struggling to pick out bedding—and I thought her struggle was ridiculous. So, my brazen effort to show her that I could solve her problem in 5 minutes with only Google by my side turned into the deepest rabbit hole I’ve ever fallen into!
What was the impetus behind your commitment to ethical sourcing?
With no disrespect intended, how is this even a question? If you’re starting a business and NOT elevating the importance of ethics across everything that you do, what kind of person are you? To me, there is no other choice when you’re starting from scratch!
Creating a sustainable supply chain is one of the world’s toughest challenges. What in this endeavor has surprised you the most?
Just how hard it would be—the world is stacked against those looking to disrupt the `easy way.’ When you’re paying workers ethically and competing with brands that don’t care about the livelihood of their employees, you need to be brave and strong—because doing the right thing isn’t necessarily the easy thing.
What was your first trip to India like?
Life-changing. I have traveled, but mostly around the US. To me, what was magical was the sense of care and giving among people that have little to give. In this country, we can learn a lot from the developing world. From that moment forward, my motivation to help and make change outweighs just about any personal motivation I could have at Boll & Branch…and it isn’t close.
What impact has Boll & Branch had on organic cotton farming in India?
For 2015, when we were about 25% of the size we are today, the Textile Exchange reported that we were the second-largest consumer of Fair Trade Organic Cotton in the world. That sort of blows my mind.
Not only is demand important, but we’re also not playing games with the farmers. Meaning, we are prioritizing stabilizing their markets and demand so that they can live better today AND tomorrow.
Are customers looking for ethically sourced bed linens—or do you find yourself educating them about the issue?
Customers are looking for exceptional linens and we sell the best. Sourcing and manufacturing ethically is in our DNA and we believe it is the right and only way to behave as a company.
To be clear, our customers buy our product because it feels better than anything else on the market anywhere close to our price point. Ethical manufacturing is not a marketing tool.
What’s your trick for making a profit when your business model relies on materials and labor that cost more?
When you streamline a highly inefficient supply chain, you can reduce the cost of finished goods. We pass the savings on to BOTH the workers and the customers. That is how much waste there is in textiles.
I’ve worked in and analyzed a lot of industries. Textiles is so unbelievably broken in nearly every conceivable way that the savings generated by reducing the bloat is much, much larger than most imagine.
What’s it like to sleep in sheets from Boll & Branch?
It’s like surrounding yourself with baby kittens and bunnies.
If you could change one thing in the world right now, what would it be?
I’d have three extra hours in every day and it would never rain on weekends!
In seriousness, I wish every child in the world had access to great education and took advantage of it. That’s not just a developing world issue—even here at home, too many people do not take advantage of our tremendous education system. Access to education never fails a child.
What did you eat for breakfast this morning?
I had two Eggo Waffles with Cream Cheese and 2 cups of coffee. Don’t judge me!
What scares you?
Mustard. Yellow mustard, in particular. I can’t look at it, smell it and won’t eat it. Vile stuff!
When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be my dad and I thought that was a professional goal. I still want to be him, not for the professional success he’s experienced, but because he was an incredible father and someone I’ve never heard a negative thing said about. He had a magnetic personality and lived his life with a smile on his face. He left us far too soon.
What are you reading right now?
I’m finishing up Confessions of an Economic Hitman by John Perkins, which is excellent.
I went to Vanderbilt, but never lost the love for country music!
Missy, my daughters and I all love Survivor. We’re watching it as a family.
Yellow. It just makes me happy.
Rock, paper, or scissors?
Scissors because you picked paper and I like winning. :)
What’s one question you’d like to ask yourself—and answer?
How can you give yourself the best chance at success? Do a little bit more, and then some.