BR Interview | Miruna Pantazi (Koala Living): We try to work as much as possible with other small, local businesses who share our values and respect for the planet

Mihai Cristea 19/04/2021 | 17:15

A business launched during the pandemic, that cares for the environment and is sustainable. A therapeutic blanket has been successfully used by therapists to treat people who suffer from insomnia, stress, burnout, anxiety, depression, ADD, restless leg syndrome, autism, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson, etc. BR talked with Miruna Pantazi, co-founder Koala Living Shop, and found out more about the business idea, first steps, positioning on the market, competition, the COVID-19 pandemic impact and many more. 

By Romanita Oprea

 

How is Koala Living positioning on the Romanian market?

Koala Living is a local Romanian business that was created for the sole purpose of helping our customers sleep better, feel better and live better. We believe that achieving a sense of calm and relaxation in our life starts in our homes, in the bed, on the sofa, making a cup of coffee in the morning or preparing a meal.

We design small collections of essential items for everyday use, to enchant the eye and benefit the body. The main products we offer are weighted blankets, a new category in our market, but one which has grown considerably in Europe, USA and Australia in the past years. Our products are meant to be used and loved for many years, encouraging a responsible consumption out of respect for our customers and our planet.

 

What is your main competition?

In terms of direct competition, there is a very limited number of players in the market, however, our brand is the only one positioned in a premium category. Weighted blankets come in many shapes and sizes, what matters most is how they are made and what they are made of. We are addressing a more educated consumer, who is concerned about the quality of the products they are buying. That is why we chose to produce the blankets in the E.U. with a family-owned factory that specialises in sensory products and can produce them at a very high standard – using organic OEKO-TEX cotton and micro glass-beads filling, which is the best option available (they are natural, chemical-free and make absolutely no noise). Equal weight distribution is also very important for weighted blankets, so the Koala Weighted Blankets are manually filled with the same quantity of micro glass beads in every chamber.

Many weighted blankets we looked at in other markets don’t have a removable cover, which we think is a crucial element if you want to have a long-lasting product. That’s why we also designed special covers with 10 inner ties that attach to the blanket itself making sure it doesn’t slip inside. We are sourcing the fabrics from a Romanian factory which allows us to work in small batches and ensure a very high quality. We offer several colours to choose from (all dyed with GOTS certified pigments) and also matching pillowcases.

When it comes to sleep disorders almost anybody can be a competitor because it is such a complex matter. We like to think more of complementarity because sleep is related to health, habits, anxiety, stress nutrition and so on.

 

How does your anti-stress blanket work?

Most people use a duvet or a light blanket to cover themselves while they sleep. While this may feel soft and cuddly, the signals this sends to the brain are quite the opposite of helping us calm down and fall asleep. This is where the Koala Weighted Blanket differs completely – because it has an added weight (hence the name weighted) which triggers in the body what is known as Deep Touch Pressure Stimulation, a scientifically proven method to help you sleep better.

When equal pressure is applied to the body, there is a calming effect on the nervous system. This enables an increased production in serotonin and dopamine which are the hormones responsible for making us feel happy, but also decrease cortisol levels, the stress hormone. Another benefit is the natural production of melatonin, the sleep hormone, which regulates sleep.

While some weighted blankets can make you feel hot or sweat during the night, the Koala Weighted Blanket is very breathable and suitable to be used all year.

 

What are its benefits for stressed, burnout people?

When you’re stressed your cortisol level goes up. This is a fight or flight reaction built in our Paleolithic brain meant to help our species survive. The cortisol is just a booster to help you make an instant decision, it is not the mean to level up for a long time in our body. However, if our bodies produce too much cortisol for prolonged periods of time (because of various stressors in our life) it leads to anxiety, stress, burnout, insomnia and even more complicated disorders.

Sleep is fundamental for our health, well-being, coping with anxiety, depression, even for maintaining our body weight. The Koala Weighted Blanket is what stands between you and a good night’s sleep. It is designed to gently hug your body and apply a soft pressure that almost instantly calms you down and lets you drift to sleep more easily. The weight is what makes the difference. The feeling of being wrapped in the Koala Weighted Blanket is like being embraced or having a relaxing massage. It is designed for individual use and weighs around 8%-15% of your body weight. We offer 2 weights – 6.5 kg and 9 kg.

Therapists have effectively used weighted blankets for people who suffer from sleep disorders, anxiety, stress, burnout, insomnia, depression, ADD, restless leg syndrome, autism. Today, they are increasingly the preferred choice over other types of duvets due to the beneficial effects on sleep quality.

 

What about for very heavy work loaded business people?

Especially this segment needs a good night’s sleep to cope with the heavy amount of stress coming their way. Still, this should come with the change of lifestyle for this segment as sleep needs to be taken care of sort of speak, meaning that leading a chaotic life until bedtime won’t help you sleep better or feel better in the morning.

Achieving a good night’s sleep can be done with a proper Sleep Hygiene – no screens two hours before bedtime, no caffeine after 4 pm, no alcohol before bedtime, a temperature of 19-21 degrees in the bedroom, breathwork or meditation before going to bed, a relaxing bath and so on.

 

What do you offer differently?

Being a 100% family-owned business we try to work as much as possible with other small, local businesses who share our values and respect for the planet. Each item is delivered in eco-friendly, recycled or reusable packaging. We don’t use any plastic, instead, each blanket and each cover comes in its own reusable premium cotton bag, which is the same beautiful fabric as the covers.

We choose quality over profit since producing in the EU is more expensive than say, China, but this enables us to have a better control over the entire manufacturing process. We want to honour the promise made to our customers – that our products are made to last for a long time.

Our main point of differentiation with other brands who offer similar products is a perfect mix between form and function. We did not want to compromise on either, that is why our products are made from scratch (we are no resellers or buying bulk). It took a lot of time and effort to obtain a high-quality weighted blanket which really helps you sleep better while not compromising its aesthetic – our covers are beautiful, have an amazing texture, are easy to care for and will fit in any bedroom. We did not want to make people choose between beautiful bedding and a functional weighted blanket. The reactions people have when they receive theirs, the messages they send us, prove that we took the right decision.

 

How was 2020 for the business? (turnover, clients, communication)

Koala Living was launched in late 2020 after having worked most of the year on prototypes, finding the right suppliers and creating he entire infrastructure for the business. We pretty much started at the same time the pandemic hit so we had to course correct some things, but we are big believers in constraints which lead to a more creative approach.

 

How were you impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and how did you adapt?

Our business was created in the midst of a pandemic. A global trauma like this needs to be addressed by the way a brand is positioned and talks to its customers. We strongly believe in a gentle way of living, in buying long-lasting and ethical products, creating less waste. Our brand and products are a reflection of these values we deeply engrained in all that we do.

In a way, the pandemic made everybody slow down and take a good look at what truly matters. It also created a huge wave of uncertainty which triggered stress, anxiety and fear. The Koala Weighted Blanket addresses these issues directly because it helps you relax, calm down and get a good night’s sleep. Many people struggle now to fall asleep and rest properly, much more so than before this whole pandemic started. Of course, there are a lot of things you can do – meditate, do yoga, breathwork – but the weighted blanket has a very direct way of helping with sleep disorders, unlike any other product.

 

What were the main actions you took and why?

Sleeping better and feeling better shouldn’t be a complicated argument to make but we used to live such hectic lives that slowing down was a luxury most of us couldn’t afford. All of a sudden you have an entire world waiting to see what’s next, our regular lives disrupted in so many ways – it’s no wonder sleep doesn’t come so easy.

I believe that in a way, we launched Koala Living at the right time because people now need help more than ever. It’s just a matter of getting the message across and start a real conversation about sleep – why it matters so much and what you can do to improve yours.

 

What do you foresee for 2021?

That’s a tough question for all businesses. We expect to see a steady growth once we reach a larger audience and more people start using the Koala Weighted Blankets and spread the word. The adoption period is longer than other categories, especially since this product is still unknown. We have to grow both the category and our brand which is no easy task.

We hope Koala Living can at least offer an island of personal calmness and stillness while dealing with this reality cocktail and give our customers a strong foundation each morning after a good, sound sleep.

 

What are the main trends in your industry now and what is your approach towards them?

With regards to sleep – sleeping better isn’t a trend but a must-have. This topic has gained a bit more traction lately, but compared to other countries it’s still very low.

What has grown exponentially though is the Well-being category (yoga, mindfulness, self-betterment courses, all sorts of programs you can join). This is a fundamental shift, it shows people start to be more and more interested in improving their lives (and not in a consumerist manner by simply buying more stuff). They want to be more educated, take control of what they eat, how they work out, how they think and feel. For us this is an immense opportunity – education is our main focus with regards to sleep and living a better life. Our hope is to offer our entire audience inspiration to be more mindful and intentional with their choices and lifestyles.

In the Journal on our website we just launched a series of interviews called “In Bed With” where we will interview professionals from the medical and well-being industry on topics related to a better sleep and ultimately a better, healthier life.

 

What are the business directions you want to communicate more on 2021 and why?

So far we had a great response to our brand and the conversations we are building with our audience, but especially to our products. Overwhelmingly people who start using our weighted blankets are amazed how calming they feel and how it really helps them fall asleep faster and not wake up during the night. After a long time of experiencing sleep issues, waking up rested and fresh will feel amazing.

We have some new launches prepared for next month. There is a growing interest in children’s weighted blankets and it coincides with our plans to offer our customers the whole range – toddler, children and adults. We will also design fitted sheets and flat sheets to offer our customers the whole range of products needed to create a beautiful bedroom.

Most of all we are going to stay committed to our promise: Helping people sleep better, feel better and lead a more gentle life.

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