retail watch | Feb 23, 2023 |
Sunday Citizen is betting the farm on softness

Call it the DTC decade. For much of the past 10 years, a steady parade of direct-to-consumer companies has hit the marketplace, especially in the home textiles categories of bed and bath. Each new brand has tried to carve out its place with a particular point of view. Now relative newcomer Sunday Citizen says it has found a niche it can win on: softness.

Originally founded in 2019 as a bedding supplier to the hotel trade, Sunday Citizen is now pivoting to the residential market through a three-pronged strategy of online, wholesale and its first store, which opened last fall in New York’s SoHo neighborhood. But wherever and however it is selling, it is above all selling softness. “We really believe that there’s a white space in the market when it comes to comfort and softness,” says Mike Abadi, the CEO who co-founded the company and continues to own it along with several investors from the original hotel channel.

Softness by itself has long been a selling point for home textiles products. Many of the other DTC brands, like Boll & Branch and Brooklinen, specifically tout the soft qualities of their products, with the former going so far as to say it makes “the softest bedding.” These other brands have used eco-friendliness, premium cotton and pricing to differentiate themselves not only from each other but from traditional retail brands.

Sunday Citizen’s claim to DTC differentiation is the source of its softness—microfiber, a marketing label for what old-timers simply called polyester—instead of cotton. The company’s original product was its blanket, made of microfiber with a specially developed yarn that Abadi helped create when he lived in Shanghai. (“It’s similar to chenille, but it’s an open knit that makes it more breathable,” he says.) From that original blanket, the lineup at Sunday Citizen—so named because Abadi felt that Sunday “was a day of self-pampering and taking it easy”—has expanded to comforters and sheets made of bamboo viscose, microfiber-covered decorative pillows with a memory-foam core and cotton towels. While most products come out of China or Mexico, the towels are sourced from Portugal, with a new collection on tap from Turkey. Expansion into baby and kids products is planned for later this year.

Sunday Citizen, like many of its DTC brethren, has expanded beyond its original online channel into wholesale distribution at retailers like Bloomingdale’s, Nordstrom and Food52, plus pop-ups at Showfields. Abadi says that while 90 percent of the brand’s revenue—“in the eight-figure range and growing at double digits”—comes from direct sales, Sunday Citizen is seriously looking to increase its retail presence. To that end, it opened its New York boutique around the corner from Bloomingdale’s and nearby other home specialty locations. “DTC will always remain the core of our business,” says Abadi, “but we may open a second store by the end of the year.”

The entire DTC category, especially for bed and bath products, has been through some serious rethinking over the past few years. Most companies have opened stores or expanded distribution to third-party retailers. Some have also struggled financially, although it’s difficult to get a true read since most are privately owned.

Casper, which is primarily in the mattress sector but had developed a sizable bedding business, went public, delivered disappointing results, went private again and has since refocused on wholesaling its mattresses to other retailers. Another brand, Snowe, was acquired last December after running into financial problems and leaving a wide swath of unfilled orders and dissatisfied customers.

So, as with many other DTC players in the soft home sector, Sunday Citizen continues to navigate its way through a turbulent marketplace. But Abadi believes its positioning will make it stand out and succeed: “We’ve learned that softness is what makes our products special.” If he’s right, the brand may make it through a hard time.

Homepage image: Originally founded in 2019 as a bedding supplier to the hotel trade, Sunday Citizen is now pivoting to the residential market | Courtesy of Sunday Citizen


Warren Shoulberg is the former editor in chief for several leading B2B publications. He has been a guest lecturer at the Columbia University Graduate School of Business; received honors from the International Furnishings and Design Association and the Fashion Institute of Technology; and been cited by The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN and other media as a leading industry expert. His Retail Watch columns offer deep industry insights on major markets and product categories.

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