It's my dream to one day be able to transform my home bedroom into a restful sanctuary made up of my five-star hotel bedroom favorites: gorgeous, perfectly pressed linens, chic and soothing shades and textures all around, none of my usual bedside table clutter, not too modern but not too old world, and filled with decadently comfortable pillows.
In my lifelong quest to five-star upgrade my bedroom into a non-weird cross between my favorite hotels, Plaza Athenee and Park Hyatt Seoul, I discovered Pluto pillows. They are totally customizable, made with super sophisticated technology that makes them a solid contender for those five star pillows of my dreams.
I had a chance to chat with Pluto's founder Susana Saeliu about how those among us who do not live in a five star hotel can journey onward in our quest to convert a home bedroom into the ultimate personal retreat. Here are Susana's words of wisdom about how to decipher the difference between all of the bedding options out there, where she thinks the industry is headed next and some of her favorite bedroom upgrades.
Susana Saeliu launched Pluto, the first direct-to-consumer (DTC), personalized pillow company in March, 2018. She was previously the founder of Kora Brand, a bamboo bath tissue company, and the COO of Tradex Marketplace, a reverse logistics company that processes customer returns and overstock merchandise from national department stores. She worked alongside the largest bedding manufacturers with years of material research. The woman knows the sleep industry better than most.
Before we get to pillows, let’s talk mattresses. They are another key to this whole five-star sleep set-up. What is your take on the current set of mattress offerings available?
The number of DTC bed-in-a-box companies that have launched these past few years have really changed the way we buy a bed. Gone are the days of visiting your local brick-and-mortar stores, trying dozens of confusing options, and paying traditional, large markup for these mattresses. Instead, we have intense competition between many DTC mattress companies that compete on price, quality, customer service, trial periods, ease of returns, warranties, etc. We also see some of the old guards coming out with DTC mattress brands themselves due to the impact these new companies have had on the industry. Each of these DTC mattress offerings are also known for a different “feel” from one to another (if you dig a little deeper), but it is still definitely hard to know which one is ultimately best for you – hence the intense marketing of easy returns and lengthy trial periods.
Quality-wise, they’re all pretty similar and it’s frankly too early to say – none of the DTC mattress companies have been around long enough to tell who is truly ‘best in class’.
How are consumers supposed to tell them apart?
It’s definitely hard to tell them apart, and I’ve had conversations with friends who confuse one from another when describing which one they were most interested in for a new home, for instance. That’s why I feel each of these DTC mattress companies spend so much time, effort, and money to carefully craft distinct brand images for themselves: from goofy, memorable commercials, to being the brand that gives back to their community the most, etc.
Do you think the competition in this space is helping people find better solutions and get a better night’s sleep at a better price point?
I believe so! When there’s this much competition in a given industry, there are many more choices available for consumers to compare and contrast, which is ultimately a great thing.
What about the smart sleep systems, like these new, connected sleep pads? Are these helping- have you seen any evidence that tech products like these really aid sleep?
I think it’s worth mentioning that a lot of these smart sleep systems aren’t as precise as they claim. The technology isn’t there yet to measure your brainwaves at home (the best way to measure sleep). We toss and turn during restorative sleep stages, so just recording movements can be misleading. However, I feel that if someone can benefit from the placebo effect of these smart systems, and are overall more aware of how much sleep they’re getting, there’s value in that as well.
Your new company Pluto is a non-smart, customizable pillow system. Why didn’t you go the smart route and do you think veering away from ‘smart’ products in the bedroom is a trend?
In terms of pillows, there’s a lot of research pointing out that smart pillows are the least valid and accurate in terms of actual research. Most importantly, we believe that in a fast-paced world filled with great technologies, electronics shouldn’t have a place near our heads when we sleep. Instead, we wanted to focus our efforts on creating quality, innovative, open-cell materials that are temperature-regulating and better yet, personalized to an individual’s preferences and body stats for optimized support and comfort.
We’re not sure if there’s a trend of veering away from ‘smart’ products in the bedroom, but what we do see are new smart sleep products coming to market quite frequently. So there’s definitely people who want data on the way they sleep, but along with that, there are also many others who don’t want electronics in their bedroom or near their heads.
What do you think traditional pillow retailers weren’t doing right, and why don’t you think the now relatively mature DTC mattress brands haven’t gotten pillow systems totally right?
All the DTC mattress brands have changed the way we buy beds. However, we felt that the way we purchase pillows largely remained the same. We go to a store, and we test out aisles of options with our hands, squeezing pillows that say “soft, medium, or firm” and realizing that what’s “firm” from one brand, can mean “soft” from another and a “side-sleeper” pillow from one brand can mean much thinner, etc. We also tend to buy what appears to be a great first impression, taking that back home to sleep on, and realizing that it actually results in terrible sleep.
I was surprised that among all these great DTC brands, no one has really modernized the way we buy pillows and the materials used. Instead, with the surge of bed-in-a-box companies, pillows became even more of an afterthought – something sold along with the mattress, and with one-size-fits-all designs. We truly believe that getting a great night’s sleep is more than having a great mattress -- where our heads rest matters just as much.
So our proprietary model and pillow designs take a more scientific approach in which we create and personalize pillows to you based on your body stats, how you sleep, and your preferences.
Our pillows are also a hybrid-design, with a supportive, high-grade CertiPUR-US inner core, encased within an outer plush pillow, both unique to your individual sleep profile. These materials now combine for over 30 variations.
What can people who are currently overwhelmed by all of the DTC sleep choices do to feel more in control or avoid just shopping on price?
It’s very important to not just shop on price. All of the DTC sleep choices have a ton of five-star reviews. However, you really have to dig a little deeper and find legit customer reviews on three important points:
- Product feel and durability
- Ease of returns
- Customer experience
Ease of returns and customer experience matter most because at the end of the day, you’re buying something you haven’t truly felt in the comfort of your home. Going with companies that have truly great customer experiences can save you a lot of headache – especially in cases where there is some trial-and-error involved before arriving at that perfect sleep product.
How do you ensure you’re getting the best night’s sleep? What is your nightly routine?
To be honest, it’s very hard to shut-off when you’re running a start-up that you’re incredibly passionate about. I’m a complete night owl, but I’ve never regretted going to bed a little earlier than I actually want to – and I try to remind myself of that every night. Before bed, I list out all the things that are top of mind, whether it’s something I have to do tomorrow or even a plan I’d like to execute in the following month – just get it all out. I also tend to keep my workspace very separate from where I relax and sleep. Lastly, going to bed the same time every night (as best you can!) has also been incredibly helpful.
If you're considering a bedroom upgrade, here are Susana's favorites:
- Google Home or Alexa: I have one and it's the perfect alarm clock, great way to check weather, snippets of daily news, and a great way to play your favorite music.
- Candles: Love anything from Diptyque, Jo Malone, or even the Blueberry Blitz from Tyler Candle Store
- Premium nice sheets that are also breathable - I really like the Twill collection from Brooklinen and also the Threshold Organic Sheets from Target that fit very, very well (they don't move around and surprisingly soft for the value)
- Quiet air filter - I use the Coway AP-1512HH
- Ambient lighting, dimmable and not harsh is key