Road to Challenger Brands: Would You Buy a Comforter If It Helps the Environment?

Buffy's Leo Wang brings change to home goods

leo wang, ceo of buffy
Leo Wang "saw firsthand how the home goods industry has devastated the environment," so he created Buffy to show there's a different way.

The textile industry is among the world’s worst environmental polluters, from the energy needed to grow and manufacture the materials to the emissions that result from shipping and the waste at the end of the product cycle.

Leo Wang wanted to change all that, so he created DTC bedding brand Buffy. At Adweek’s Challenger Brands summit, taking place March 4-5 in New York, Wang will share his story of building a successful, disruptive product while keeping its environmental footprint top of mind. We caught up the CEO for our Road to Challenger Brands series:

How did you come up with the idea for Buffy?
I grew up in the bedding industry. My family has manufactured for big-box retailers for three decades, so I saw firsthand how the home goods industry has devastated the environment. Our idea is simple: What if there were a home goods brand with manufacturing methods so innovative that it could actually help reverse that damage?

I started Buffy to bring change to a wasteful industry. Now, I don’t just want to change how we make things, but the way we think about buying things.

What innovation has Buffy brought to the space?
Innovation starts by offering consumers a better alternative to products they’re purchasing today—alternatives which, compared to industry standards, save an incremental yet meaningful amount of water and energy, reduce our reliance on petroleum energy, and prevent further cluttering of landfills and oceans.

But it’s not just how we source our textiles and materials, manufacture our products, or package and ship them. Unlike other companies, we look at our supply chain holistically to consider where our products go after our customers have used them. To date, that has meant making comforters like the Breeze with materials that are 98% biodegradable, donating returns to charities instead of trashing them, and partnering with sterling organizations like the Renewal Workshop that actually repair products to give them a second life.

What need were you trying to fill?
The need we meet at Buffy begins with making extremely comfortable, high quality and thoughtfully designed home goods that our customers can bring into their homes and share with their families—without worrying about the waste.

We’re building a future where Buffy doesn’t just sell home goods, but in a very literal sense sells beneficial environmental impact. We’re creating a new kind of consumer platform. One that helps slow, stop and, together with our community, eventually reverse what the home goods industry is doing to our planet.

We’ve focused our efforts on designing products that use recycled content and are biodegradable, and we replace wherever possible chemical synthetics with natural ingredients. The result is that when someone buys our product today—instead of a conventional option—they divert waste from landfills and oceans, or return water back to the watershed, and eventually, when they dispose of it, don’t further contribute to landfill.

What’s the environmental impact been thus far?
We’ve taken 7 million plastic bottles out of their journey to landfill or ocean and rejuvenated them as fluffy comforter fill. By making our fabric from eucalyptus—and not cotton, a notoriously thirsty crop—we’ve saved 180 million gallons of water. That’s just our waste footprint. Additionally, we’ve offset over 363 tons of carbon emissions as certified carbon-free shippers through the Carbon Fund.

In two short years, the impact we’ve made has already been tremendous. We hope more companies will follow our lead.

What advice do you have for anyone who has an idea for a product that challenges an entrenched incumbent?
Your product doesn’t need to win overnight. Challenge yourself to hold the patience and commitment necessary to make the change you believe is equally necessary. Why? Because real systematic change takes a level of iterative innovation that is inherently a journey, and likely cannot occur with one product overnight. When I think of brands like Nike, Apple or Patagonia, it’s clear that it was the founders and that brand’s culture of innovation by iteration that is the magic sauce that makes them so valuable, not a stroke of genius embodied in one individual product.

This story first appeared in the Feb. 24, 2020, issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.

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