‘Plain’ linen is big business
There is nothing glitzy about linen. Its character is “dead plain” and not something you will find on the ever-changing hamster wheel of fashion runways.
And therein lies the allure.
“Linen is so straightforward,” said Tricia Rose, founder and owner of Rough Linen in San Rafael. “You can develop a relationship with this material. It struck a nerve with me, and it has struck a nerve with other people as well. I want everything to be quite calm and tranquil. It just struck me as that’s exactly what bedding should be.”
Rough Linen manufactures sheets, covers, duvets (comforters), curtain panels, table linens, towels and pinafores from fabric imported from Belgium, France, Lithuania and Belarus.
Linen is made from flax and is one of the world’s oldest and strongest natural fibers. Very little is manufactured in the U.S., as it is labor-intensive to produce.
Many years ago, after Rose found a plain linen pillowcase in her grandmother’s house in Scotland. Charmed by the simplicity of it, she started to design, cut, and sew bed linens in her spare time.
Rose, originally from England, has strong family ties to Australia and came to the North Bay area in 2001. Her background is in making corporate and documentary films.
In 2009, she took a photo of a duvet cover she made and sent it to Remodelista, a homemaker’s blog site. It went viral and the next day she had 10 orders for duvets to fill.
At age 62, her life was transformed.
Rose spent the next three years buying and washing the fabric, designing, cutting and sewing bedding, all by hand in her dining room. Her output was about two duvets a day, then she would spend at least two hours a day marketing the product.
“It was so thrilling. Honestly, for three years my feet never touched ground,” she said. “It was so heady to see results so quickly. And don’t forget, I was 62 when I started this. That’s Grandma Moses. It’s the classic little woman at home starter and it grew like you wouldn’t believe, in a very steady way.”
In the first few years, Rough Linen generated about $2 million in sales, in a home textiles market of about $22 billion a year, according to Home and Textiles Today, an online and in-print industry analyst.
Rough Linen sheets cost $140, and though the products are plain and simple, Rose is meticulous about details. The material is woven on old style looms “so the salvages (edges) are made properly,” she said. “I cut to the thread for accuracy and fold the fabric as precisely as origami before sewing so our minimal seaming is exact.”
It’s not a hard product to sell, Rose said. Most of the sales come through the website. The company rarely does any traditional paid advertising, preferring to keep it organic, with an “authentic feel.”
“We approach marketing in a friendly way, relying heavily on social media (Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest) and referrals through partnerships to spread the word,” said Rachel Ritz, Rough Linen’s marketing representative. “We also partner with bloggers and stylists. The first print ad will be coming out next January in Marin Magazine’s SPACES issue. It will be interesting to see how locals respond. I don’t think people in Marin even realize we’re here.”