From hoteliers to bedding purveyors – just add wool
“We didn’t know how to use wool, but learnt the ropes and launched, what is now, a thriving business that has a national footprint,” Aubrey Williams from Karoo Creations
Wool isn’t necessarily the first thing that comes to mind when you think about luxury bedding, but in a world where goose down is the go-to, Aubrey Williams and Lionel Millard, from Karoo Creations, discovered a niche and created a business using just that: wool.
Launched in March 2020, Karoo Creations is now a thriving business that is growing year on year thanks to the popularity of its range of sustainable, handmade, natural fibre bedding.
For Aubrey and Lionel, getting going was something of an accident. When their boutique guest house was closed down indefinitely due to Covid they needed to show their hustle muscle to make a living. The pair founded a new product line by tapping into what the Karoo does best.
When life gives you lemons…
Located in the Northern Cape, the town of Richmond has a population of just 2 500, tiny compared to Johannesburg where Aubrey and Lionel moved from in 2019. Yet they had dreamed for years of opening their own boutique hotel in this picturesque little town. But Covid had other ideas and after seeing an increase of wool products being produced locally – often not of great quality – the entrepreneurs decided their way back into business could be to produce goods made of wool – specifically bedding – that had quality, attention to detail and the customer at their heart.
With a strong background in digital marketing thanks to his previous career working for a large bank, Aubrey set up a website, a Facebook page and, after purchasing 4kg of wool, began to make and market bedding products using an old sewing machine and the skills his grandmother had taught him years before. The first sale happened in March of 2020 and ever since then, demand has grown so fast that Karoo Creations is now making around 16 duvets a day, and well over 300 a month.
Aubrey explains the key role their ecommerce store and social selling on Facebook have played in their growth and success. Thanks to Covid, consumers were house-bound and turned to the internet for entertainment and to browse and purchase new products. It was this sudden change in consumer behaviour that drove an organic interest in the Karoo Creations concept and its ecommerce functionality unlocked the business’s key commercial opportunity.
Initially, the duvets were completely handmade as Aubrey didn’t have the proper equipment to upscale and automate his production. Because of that, it took nine hours to produce just one duvet. But as luck would have it, in 2021, a local alpaca duvet manufacturer offered to sell Aubrey his equipment. Unfortunately, at the time, the price was too high for the fledgling business, but a few months later that same wool manufacturer offered to hand over the equipment for free. Karoo Creations didn’t hesitate and without a cent changing hands Aubrey came into ownership of all the equipment he required to move the business forward.
Very suddenly finding themselves in need of a large-enough factory space, Aubrey turned their beloved old hotel into a workspace, hiring 13 local people to staff the new factory. Every room in the hotel was used for some or other process. A spacious games room from the 1960s, was now being used as the quilting room; the bar was used for sewing and the breakfast area became the quality control space. Even the old lounge is now used to card the wool fibres. The team continues to make their products by hand as far as possible, which creates income opportunities for the town.
Hitting the big time
Churning out duvets, pillows and soon-to-be-launched bedding products, Karoo Creations was a hit across the country. They also found some niche audiences like older women who raved about how the product kept their hot flashes under control thanks to wool’s natural ability to reduce overheating and night sweats.
“When I started researching the qualities of wool, I found that it is naturally thermo-regulating, while goose and duck down insulates. That means down is like a Dutch oven that keeps all the heat in, while wool allows for the natural flow of heat through the fibre. It also has the added benefit of taking the moisture away from your body,” says Aubrey.
Gaining so much consumer attention, it’s little wonder then that the business attracted the interest of a major retailer, @home. Karoo Creations has had two large orders from the homeware store and has retained its own brand name in-store instead of being folded into @home, which is a major win for any independent brand.
Staying sustainable: from wool to bamboo
The next step for Aubrey and Lionel is the launch of their new range of bedding, this time made from bamboo and Eucalyptus lyocell. The wood pulp is broken down, spun and woven into luxurious fabric. Like their wool products, this fabric is highly sustainable, a key value for Karoo Creations.
The success of Karoo Creations is a classic example of seizing an opportunity and not letting a lack of experience in the industry stand in the way. Through hard graft, they turned setbacks into success and their idea into a growing business with a national footprint and plenty of happy customers. And they’ve done this while uplifting the residents of their adopted town of Richmond. Now that’s a story that should really help you sleep at night.